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Feted Like a Queen abroad, Given scant regard at home

Words By Reggy Zikalala

RE-INTRODUCING Busi Mhlongo to the broader South African music market was no walk in the park.

The spirited singer and performer had lived in Europe for decades and had built up a massive following there. Busi, or Vicky, as she used to be called, had been hailed as one of the “Great Voices of Africa”.

Urban Zulu, recorded in Durban, Johannesburg and London, was the first album she released in her home-country after many years of exile. MELT 2000 founder and owner, Robert Trunz, had heavily invested in the recording as he had an unshakable belief in Mhlongo’s artistic gift.

A media rollover plan -with a three month turnaround strategy- had been put in place. Yehlisan’ Umoya had been selected as the pluck track.

The album was received with mixed reactions. Commercial radio stations, including Metro FM and Y-FM rejected the album on the basis that it did not suit their music format. Urban Zulu was pigeonholed and its contents simplistically described as umbhaqanga/maskandi, music best suited for African language service stations such as Ukhozi FM. This was despite Melt 2000’s efforts to pitch and position the album as World Music or Afro-pop.

As it has often been the case with great South African music, the British media lauded Urban Zulu and Yehlisan’ Umoya was number one on the World Music Charts for weeks. Domestically, a promotional tour had been put in place. The budget for the road-show was substantially high because a backing-band including top musicians such as the late great guitarist Mfaz’ Omnyama was put together. It was an exercise that required Melt 2000 to seek some form of sponsorship to meet the production costs.

A proposal was strategically aligned to one of the biggest advertising agencies. The first brand/product identified, through the ad agency for sponsorship presented an interesting dilemma. The brand manager (a black female whom the potential product sponsor thought would be familiar with Mhlongo’s music and stature) overruled the marketing manager (a white female) who saw an alignment opportunity from what she saw and heard of the Durban-born artist. The brand manager suggested that Mhlongo was “not a strong enough name” to represent and elevate their brand.

It was the kind of response that was consistent among most ‘young’ Brand/Marketing managers who seemed to know little about Mhlongo’s accomplishments.

The tour materialised. Rashid Lombard (producer of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival) helped with the logistics of the Cape Town event, the first leg of the three legged tour (Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg).

The Durban event, where the Melt 200 team was assisted by Neil Comfort, was a breeze, as it was Busi’s hometown. Mhlongo’s live performances were well received.

Media interviews were done in between the gigs and she got superb write-ups though there were struggles among editors and journalists as to how much space should be allocated to this diva. It was, again, a mix bag of feelings depending on the editor’s knowledge of Mhlongo.

The album took fairly long to grow. It was only after the release of Urban Zulu – The Remixes, which included tracks such as ‘’Oxamu’’; ‘’Yehlisan’ umoya ma-Afrika’’; and ‘’Uganga ngengane’’ that the album got airplay which resulted in improved sales. The remixes were done by highly reputable international producers, such as, Mario C (DJ); Warrick Sony; Gabi Le Roux; and Soul II Black –aka Alexis Faku.

Metro FM & Y-FM could suddenly play Mhlongo’s music because it now fell in their stations’ ‘format’.

Penny Lebyane (of Metro FM) later used one of the original tracks from Urban Zulu as opening jingle for her afternoon slot.

*ZIKALALA was head of marketing at MELT 2000. He runs a company called Zombode Communications which offers a full marketing-range including events

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