They have long been regarded as the unsung heroes of the music industry but now, thanks to “Princess of Africa” Yvonne Chaka Chaka, session musicians and backing singers will finally have a place in the sun at their own dedicated awards ceremony.
Launched during a star-studded and entertainment-packed function at the State Theatre in Pretoria on Wednesday 22 October 2014, the Backing Vocalists and Session Musicians Awards will recognise those hard-working musicians who so often operate behind the scenes, in the shadows and out of the spotlight – yet who contribute so much to a live performance or recording.
The annual BVSM Awards are the initiative of Chaka Chaka through her Princess of Africa Foundation, and have been 10 years in the planning. The inaugural awards will be held in Johannesburg in 2015.
This initiative is particularly poignant for the celebrated songbird, because not only have backing musicians played a pivotal role in shaping her successful career but she also lost her dear friend and long-time backing vocalist Phumzile Ntuli to malaria in 2004.
“These are special artists who bring variety into one’s music and enhance one’s artistry,” Chaka Chaka says. “Without their input, I don’t think I would have made it as a recording and stage artist. I was young and inexperienced when I became a professional musician and they were there to guide me. I owe my success to them. Today I look back and appreciate their guidance.”
She says the awards will be a way of honouring the personal and professional contributions of these behind-the-scenes worker bees, as well as fostering pride in their own artistic creativity, providing national exposure for them and celebrating their gift of music.
Apart from their dulcet tones, backing singers are blessed with a sharp ear for harmony, Chaka Chaka explains, and session musicians are required to be flexible and versatile across musical genres, styles and performance platforms. Through the BVSM Awards, she hopes to provide greater opportunities and recognition for these musicians who form the bedrock of the music industry.
The BVSM Awards will cover a wide range of genres, including jazz, hip-hop, gospel, maskandi, mbaqanga, boeremusiek, gospel and kwaito. They will also recognise the contribution of music veterans from decades past, as well as the country’s most exciting emerging young talents. The following categories are being considered for the awards:
• Best Female Backing Vocalist (studio and live)
• Best Male Backing Vocalist (studio and live)
• Best Session Musicians
• Best Lead Guitarist
• Best Bass Guitarist
• Best Brass Section and Drums
• Lifetime Backing Vocalist (male and female)
• Lifetime Session Musician (male and female)
• Best Backing Vocalists of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s (males and females)
• Rookie of the Year – Backing Vocalist (male and female)
• Rookie of the Year – Session Musician (male and female)
The BVSM Awards were launched in suitably glamorous style on Wednesday night: the State Theatre was abuzz with iconic talents from the South African music world and proceedings were led by celebrity MCs Bob Mabena and Penny Lebyane.
The evening’s entertainment programme, under the directorship of Victor Masondo, featured a vibrant musical journey through South African music from the 1960s to the present day.
Occupying centre stage were a stellar array of session musicians, finally given their well-deserved place in the spotlight: Bernice Boikanyo on drums, Godfrey Mgcina on percussion, Gabs Stuurman on piano and keyboards, Ntokozo Zungu on guitar, Victor Masondo on bass, and McCoy Mrubata on saxophones and pennywhistle. They were joined by some of the country’s finest backing singers: Mandisa Dlanga, Stella Khumalo, Nonhlanhla Mdluli, Fani Ntlama and Zamo Mbutho.
Said Mandisa Dlanga, a singer and dancer who has worked with local and international artists such as Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela, Stimela, Jennifer Rush, Paul Simon and Chaka Chaka herself: “This is the best thing that has happened to us backing singers. To be acknowledged by a successful and well-travelled musician like Yvonne means a lot to us. I wish other successful soloists and bandleaders will think like her because we have been instrumental in crafting their careers.”