4 October 2002

Top Story

MP3s - downloadable digital recordings - would seem to be a natural for a continent as rich in musics as Africa. In reality there have been very few sites and this is probably only partly because of bandwidth constraints. Now one South African download site - - may well be a portent for the future. Alan Levin describes how the indies are taking on the majors.


Mp3’s have now been around for years and far more people, who use the Internet, know what they are. Not all Internet users download mp3’s but the numbers aren’t shrinking. In Africa, we think we have bandwidth constraints, so many are less eager to take on mp3’s. But there is one new success story - it is the age old story of David versus Goliath, and, in this case, it is not about piracy, it is about big record companies against the indies (smaller independent labels).


Music includes many genres, and South African rock music appears to be a genre all of its own. The SA Rock Digest and Amuzine ("African Music Zine") have been operating for over five years. They are run by Brian Currin and Stephen "Sugar" Segerman, who voluntarily update the Amuzine site and send out the SA Rock Digest newsletter (much like Balancing Act) every week. All the content is archived and searchable, and now comprises the biggest online SA music resource . Over the years they have established a global community, and are now so far ahead that it will be difficult for any commercial operation to ever catch up. Recently they proudly announced the launch of the SA MP3 website, now at


This site appears well over a year after the unsuccessful commercial mp3 attempt by a company called Digital Cupboard, which hosted an SA mp3 collection online. is slightly different because it is once again being supported by the community and run by Brian and Sugar. They went into mp3’s less than six months ago, and have already received a welcome response from the smaller, independant labels and artists.


These labels and artists recognised that by giving away a "promo-single" mp3, they could boost their online sales (handled by the affiliated SA Music store One World). It is for these good business, marketing and promotional reasons that more and more new (and old) SA songs flood onto the now titled ‘SA Rock Digest Top 30 SA MP3s Of The Week’ charts’.


All the tracks on the Top 30 MP3 charts are available for streaming and/or downloading online. There is also a growing list of other South African songs of all genres, past, present and future at


The ‘SA Rock Digest Top 30 Albums Of The Week’ charts also offer available MP3 samples off most of those albums as well. All the tracks available for MP3 downloading at are authorised by the respective artists, and all the albums and EP’s from which these songs are taken, are available for sale online at


Despite the ongoing debate about MP3s, it is now clear that many contemporary SA independent artists understand the usefulness of allowing the free downloading of MP3s to draw attention to the artist’s full album. It started as a 78 single that was used to attract new fans to an "album" filled with other 78s by the same artist.


Then followed the vinyl album as we know it, with some extra 7" seven singles (45’s) also pressed for sale and for radio stations. With seven singles being far cheaper to produce than albums, production soared and extra cash was generated for the artist and the record company. Then followed the singles and album sales charts.


The seven single became the 12" single, then the cassette single, and eventually the CD single or CD EP (extended play). But the similarly high costs involved in producing either CD singles or albums, have mostly closed that avenue as an economic method whereby independent artists can promote their CD albums. So what these artists may lose in revenues from giving away their MP3s free online, they gain in exposure and album sales.


Remember that it needs only one person to buy the album and illegally make the entire album available online as a series of MP3s, anyway. That is the old reality, is the new.


A large proportion of visitors to Amuzine, and, and customers of OneWorld, are international. While Local is Lekker, promoting and selling SA music to the World is Wonderlik!


Anyone wishing to authorise their tracks for inclusion on and possible chart placing, please go to


For further info on this topic, please have a look at what singer-songwriter Janis Ian had to say about MP3s at: