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One Time 4 Your Mind

The Immobility of Non-Western Music

Black Coffee performing in Monaco in summer 2019. Photo by Tessa Brown

by TK Moloko

The emergence of South African DJ Black Coffee followed the birth of his breakout record “Happiness”. This was followed with the release of a self-titled debut album under the Johannesburg-based record label Soulistic Music — met with critical acclaim in Europe and Australia but unable to penetrate the $4.898 billion American popular music industry.

With music described as “home-brewed but fresh” and with “future-focused sculptural balance and beauty”, it would appear that he was doing everything correctly: a website, a Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify account. His music has been given a platform, yet no one has directed their attention towards it. Here he is, trapped within the confines of the South African music industry and the very minor exposure that accompanies it. That is until Canadian rapper Drake releases “Get It Together”, a song containing uncredited reworked elements of Black Coffee’s “Superman”. The song is structurally, melodically, and lyrically identical, with the only alterations being the omitting of original singer Bucie – replaced by English singer, Jorja Smith – and the addition of a 32-second hook sung by Drake.

Superman – Black Coffee

Finally, the name Black Coffee appears amongst the likes of popular artists Drake and Kanye West. However, to achieve this, his name is stripped from the title of his own song and instead prefixed with a “featuring”. The west sings his song while he is credited as a minor writing contributor and not the original producer.

Get It Together – Drake

The American iTunes Top 50 currently features a single non-American artist, british singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi. The South African iTunes Top 50 however, features 28 non-South African artists. For an easier comparison, this translates to the United States having 98% local representation in popular music versus South Africa with only 44% local representation. How has western music been able to permeate international media yet music from the remaining six continents struggles – and more often than not – fails to do so? Why, in the age of the internet, is world music still dependent on western artists to mobilize? And finally, do the answers lie in culture, language, history, the omnipotence of the American music industry, or all of the above?

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