FEATURE

May the FREESGOSMAS Live the Longest

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As politicians feared losing their wards, Free State gospel artists geared for their awards, writes Art State Editor Ace Moloi.

The first edition of the Free State Gospel Music Awards (Freesgosmas) took place on Saturday, 30 October 2021, at the photogenic Ilanga Estate, north of Bloemfontein. The awards mantra, according to their website, is the recognition, development and exposure of Free State talent. The night of the awards was a breath of fresh air in the climate of the city, a firecracker that released a sound of praise from our province to the God of our providence.

The MCs for the awards were Tshepo Maseko of the SABC2 Gospel Classics fame and The River actress Tinah Mnumzana. CUT FM stars Karabo Sands, Kekeletso Spyker and Tebogo Thapong held the floor-presenting gig, interacting with the sizzling personalities on the red carpet who were dressed so breathtakingly you would think they were bridesmaid at the wedding of Jesus the Groom and His Bride, the Church.

Freesgosmas were executively spearheaded by Medupi Molotsi under the mentorship of the iconic Zanele Mbokazi, who masterminded the Crown Gospel Music Awards (Crowns). In the past, the Crowns were criticized for marginalizing artists who are independent and not from Kwa-Zulu Natal. Just a few years after the Crowns were inaugurated, the Independent National Gospel Music Awards (INGOMAs) were launched, attracting over 500 entries. Since then, the national awards movement has splintered into provincial awards in Mpumalanga (MGOMAS), Limpopo (LIGMAS) and the recently launched North West Gospel Music Awards.

Locally, the need for the Free State to have its own awards for its Christian creative workers has long been in the conversation. And despite the anecdotes shared by some people that the Freesgosmas were a ground-breaking award-giving occasion, there have in fact been gospel music awards before in the province. In 2019, the less newsworthy Free State Victory Gospel Music Awards (VIGOs), organized by Dan Entertainment, took place on 15 December 2019 at the Mangaung Civic Theatre—without any trophy for the winners. VIGOs were captioned as spotlighting, celebrating, recognizing and honouring “Free State gospel artists for their labour in the industry and their dedication in spreading the message of Jesus Christ through gospel music”.

With the deletion of “Victory” in the ‘first’ Free State Gospel Music Awards, Turnitin would reject the Freesgosmas for plagiarism because the name is, plainly, Free State Gospel Music Awards like the VIGOs. But similarity reports aside, the Freesgosmas moniker itself is unnecessarily slippery and tongue-twisting. On the awards night alone, there were so many variations of the name’s pronunciation as if it were Worcestershire Sauce. This necessitates a need to call them something else catchier, hashtaggable, memorable. However, Medupi Molotsi firmly disagrees with my position. “I refuse to believe that it’s not a memorable name and catchy. Actually, people are now familiar with it, and they are cruising nicely so with it. It has grown massively so … Our vision is clear that we had to bring Free State together. Hence the name is given a provincial identity,” he replies through the awards’ public relations consultant.

Nonetheless, what’s truly memorable about the awards is the striking professionalism with which they were curated. With a few sporadic glitches on their livestream, Freesgosmas made for a proudly Free State viewing pleasure from the comfort of my home. Outstandingly, in a region known for tardy marathon shows, the Freesgosmas were time-conscious, not much in their duration but the crispy transitions between agenda points. MCs Tshepo and Tinah managed the ceremony seamlessly, bringing their individual flair together to keep the crowd turned on and expectant. The line-up of evangelical foot soldiers mustered for the occasion included Thabo Lebeko, Lebo Matumba, Andiswa Mbantsa, Keletso Mofokeng, Youth Ablaze and Teboho Moruti, whose song Ntata Rona resembles Mbesi’s Letsatsi La Bofelo.

Nominations accommodated individual artists, groups, music projects and radio shows, all of which were decided by mass vote, not adjudication. Bloemfontein-based broadcaster, Jabu Ntuli, scooped the Radio Show of the Year award for Lefika La Phodiso, a Christian show that airs on Sundays, 6h00 – 09h00, on Free State’s leading community radio station, Motheo FM. The veteran presenter and pastor at Global Reconciliation Church (GRC) considers listener engagement and content relevance as instrumental to his victory. Ntuli says: “I believe it’s because we address issues that affect people on a daily basis and look into God’s Word on how to address them. Some guests share their lives’ stories or experiences as a testimony to help those who may be going through the same and believe that they won’t come out. Also, my level of engagement with listeners provides them with an opportunity to speak their minds in spite of who they are.”

The 2019 VIGO award-winning artist (Best Newcomer, Best Gospel Song and Best Gospel Artist), Keletso Mofokeng, won the glamorous Album of the Year award for Season of Divine Rest, of which Ya Re Tshepisitseng is a frontrunner and won a VIGO award two years ago. When Keletso performed Ya Re Tshepisitseng, it roused the audience into a sing-along frenzy that could only be matched by the charismatic Teboho Moloi’s time on stage. The Bapa Le Nna star, who cultivated the long-standing foundation of his career by singing everywhere there was a crowd in and around Qwa-Qwa in his early days, was honoured with the Special Recognition Award for his sterling representation of the Free State.

“It’s truly humbling and rare to be recognized and honoured by those close to you and not only those far from you. I’m eluded by words and my heart swells with joy and gratitude as I look back at what the Lord has done in my life. I’m overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit,” shared Moloi on his Facebook page.

Another recipient of an honorary award was Zanele Mbokazi, who enjoys a motherhood of many gospel awards. The former Ukhozi FM presenter was honoured with the Humanitarian Award, presented by awards CEO Medupi Molotsi. Some of the night’s big winners included Artist of the Year Biki Mafabatho, Sello Malete, who was named Best Male Artist, Mohlomi Mohale, who won the Songwriter of the Year award, as well as backing vocalist of the year, Dikeledi Ngeno. The winners were announced by the likes of MojaLove TV presenter and INGOMA COO Thabang Mnisi, Bon Hotel Bloemfontein’s Asavela Mbatha, marketing intellectual, Dr. Nthabeleng Rammile and outspoken businessman K.B Lebusho. Each award was supposed to come with a cash prize, but this offer was called off when the provincial arts and culture department adjusted its sponsorship budget for the awards.

For me, it was worth admiring that I didn’t know most of the nominated artists, as majority of them were not from, or based in, this city. Nominations came in from all regions, thanks to the marketing of the awards. Equal representation – even if by perception – is the adhesive that will keep these awards solid and prevent divisive breakaways. Naturally, all of us who love the music industry pray that Freesgosmas stay for a very long time and may even want to know how we can contribute to their sustainability. So, I asked Molotsi what it would take to mark the awards safe from Hurricane Dipolotiki, and in a tone reeking of a superiority complex of Messiah proportions, he told me to go “make some research on who is this Dups guy” before self-importantly listing his personal bio that nevertheless did not speak to the spirit of my question. I thought he would mention the teamwork making this dream work, or benchmarking with industry counterparts to remain ahead, or fundraising, or galvanizing and inspiring a sense of ownership to a point where residents fund the awards and avoid having to depend on government sponsorships. But, no, I must Google “this Dups guy” to find my answer about sustainability, because he is a self-sustaining behemoth. Overall, such was Molotsi’s attitude towards my questions, displaying smirky disdain for commoners like me as he walketh the streets like a colossus.

Whether or not the seemingly bedridden VIGOs will recover and stage their second run, any honest person in the music industry will never speak of gospel music awards in the Free State without crediting them for, at least, templating. One thing is certain, though: when VIGOs do come back, they will find a new sheriff in town in the form of the Free State Gospel Music Awards.

Freesgosmas have set a standard for other music awards to follow, and that bar cannot drop. There’s a lot for other organizers to learn from Freesgosmas (even though on a national spectrum those lessons are bare minimums, but ha se mo-Jozi mo). Firstly, featured artists should only sing one song and keep it flowing. Secondly, do your best to stream the whole ceremony to near-perfection. Again, invest in building crucial industry networks with strategic institutions. And make sure that everyone who wins an award does not lift the trophy in the spirit but physically has it in their hands—and cash.

May the Freesgosmas live the longest!

Ace Moloi is Careers Magazine’s Business Development Manager and former Lesedi FM current affairs presenter. He has moderated panel discussions for the Free State Department of Education, the University of the Free State and the Free State Literature Festival. Ace Moloi was named among the 2021 Sunday World #UnsungHeroes and holds the prestigious Chancellor’s Distinguished Young Alumnus of the Year Award from the University of the Free State for his illustrious career as a writer, author and corporate communicator.

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