Cyril strikes right note with Samas

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

The noise made by certain quarters over President Cyril Ramaphosa's attendance of the South African Music Awards (Samas) spectacle at the weekend at Sun City is baffling.

Detractors have lashed the president for gracing what they see as a frivolous exercise. This view trivialises the important role music, art and culture play in social cohesion.

Musicians have always been at the forefront of the Struggle. Miriam Makeba galvanised the anti-apartheid movement with her hauntingly beautiful, sometimes mournful tunes, much like Aretha Franklin was one of the torchbearers in the Civil Rights Movement of 1960s America.

The Struggle was fuelled by a lot of singing, in fact even post-1994, political rallies and government celebrations are always headlined by music acts who have the power of pulling in the crowds.

Even Ramaphosa's predecessor, the singing Baba from Nkandla of uMshini Wam' fame, was quite a socialite, never to be missed at the annual Durban July, mingling with musicians and TV stars.

Apart from the fact that no one sector can claim to own the president and have his ear, criticising his presence at the Samas belittles the men and women who toil for endless hours to give us soundtracks of our time.

As a guest of honour Ramaphosa received nothing short of a presidential welcome when the Superbowl roared to the sounds of Phakama Ramaphosa ixesha lifikile (Rise Ramaphosa, it's your time), the rallying call that paved his way to the presidency of the ANC in December.

The mood resembled a political rally when the Soweto Gospel Choir led the toyi-toyi as they chanted Struggle song Joina Mzabalazo. The entire arena was up on its feet and fists pumping in the air, creating one of the most memorable moments of SAMA24.

For far too long musicians and artists have felt taken for granted and never invited to the presidential high table. This was a stroke of genius by Ramaphosa. If anything, it reinforced his image as a "people's president".

The only downside was the terrible execution of the awards - the shoddy workmanship was embarrassing. Maybe Ramaphosa caught them by surprise, but while the show had to go on, it wasn't the best advertisement for local music.