The sounds of music
MUSIC is supposed to be a universal language, but with our four most marginalised African languages that is not the case.
Few hits are written in xiTsonga, Tshivenda, isiNdebele and Seswati in popular genres such as African pop, hip-hop and kwaito.
South Africans, including musicians, pride themselves in 11 languages spoken across the nation yet when it comes to other forms of expression, the trend assumes another tone. Music seems to take the lead in determining which languages are dominant and which are marginalised.
What could be the reason that one of the rainbow nation's most uniting weapons fails to cut across all borders? Some experts from the music and entertainment industry give us their insights.
Native Rhythms founder Sipho Sithole spoke independently on the subject: "The issue of language and music has many facets. Traditional music is undermined by the authorities at all levels - the government does not see the need for traditional music festivals or initiatives to invest in traditional music.
"There are musicians who still write in their mother tongue such as Thomas Chauke, and others who are representative of these musicians but they are only accessed by a few because they are not seen as 'cool'.
"Then you have the so-called mainstream music that enjoys massive attention," Sithole said.
Sipho Makhabane of Big Music strummed a different tune: "I have to be honest; writing in our mother tongue comes with its own drawback. If I write my music in Seswati, my fans from North West may not buy the music. It is sad to neglect one's language as every tribe should preserve its heritage, in this case, language.
"But heritage and sales are two different aspects and they tend to clash."
The solution then, Makhabane added, is to at least try the recipe of "mixing all the languages" when recording in popular genres. "Languages such as Shangaan, Tshivenda, isiNdebele and Seswati remain underdeveloped in music with trends being dominated by the overexposure of isiZulu, isiXhosa and English."
Sithole quoted Caiphus Semenya's insight into what made some languages more dominant. "It is easy to write songs in isiZulu because this Nguni language is understood by many in cities".
Capricorn FM founder, DJ Ashifashabba, said the real challenge is the history of our country. The marginalisation of other languages was the result of the apartheid regime where it was not easy to be yourself and proud of your heritage, he said.
"Music is a universal language and one does not have to understand the language to feel its beauty - irrespective of genre or background. The problem is wanting to have a cheque in December along with most musicians. They want to make music every year."
Ashifashabba also used the example of Afro-pop musician Thandiswa Mazwai, who does her primary research about a subject before she writes her songs.
Ashifashabba added that, together with other artists on June 16, they held workshops in which young artists were encouraged to write in their own language.
Tsonga musician Eric "Penny Penny" Kobane, who has held the flag high for his language, said he does not feel he would connect to his audiences if he sang in English.
"It's sad that we are losing our culture to foreign cultures. When one sings in their mother tongue they are true to themselves.
"International people understand my music - not because they know xiTsonga - but because they understand the melody."