the United Colours of Africa




The vision of the Downtown music hub is managed by a board with cultural knowledge, wisdom and good standing in the community. The chairperson is Don Laka, and the board includes musician Oupa Lebogo, Greg Maloka MD of Khaya FM, singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Lindamuzi Ngoma, a choralist and great teacher.

CEO Chola Makgamathe says, "Our intention is to be an agent of change, a facilitator, a catalyst, a home for the music industry. For people to be able to come here and get the empowerment that is necessary to join the market. Our role is to assist people to become self empowered because when you do that it only benefits the industry as a whole."

The downtown music hub accommodates a five storey corner buiding. The three state of the art recording studios are on the 2nd floor. Rehearsal rooms on the 3rd floor, whilst the ground floor is the first ever music museum for South Africa.

Since establishing the Downtown music hub, some of the provincial structures such as KZN Music House, The Miriam Makeba in Eastern Cape and Cape Mic in the Western Cape are now up and running. The mobile recording unit is not yet realised. A training room for students may still become a reality as with a performance hall.

However as of the launch, the Downtown Music Hub will be ready to accommodate school tours, classes, incubators and workshops for students, tourism and music development through rehearsals and recordings. It is already functioning with recordings. The huge studio one was inaugurated with a recording by Rebecca Malope, studio two is the home of maskanda music and studio three is brand new waiting to be inaugurated.

Furthermore there are a lot of unoccupied buildings in the area which will make great conservatories, education and business facilities. And that is something the City of Johannesburg needs to get involved with because as Johannesburg is becoming a centre for people from all over the continent, it should like Paris become another centre for playing and recording African music.


Interview Chola Makgamathe

How did you plug into the music?

I am an attorney by profession. I was practicing law and then I left because I had a baby and I wanted to spend some time with her. And then a friend of mine said the department of arts and culture was looking for somebody on a short term basis to work on a project that dealt with legal at downtown studios. I came on board and I have been here ever since. Obviously there have been some changes. This project was a DAC project under Palllo Jordan, given some of the research that they have done, the white paper that they have done a couple of years ago. And there were various other pieces of research that was put together by the industry and stake holders. They decided part of the issues we are looking at is the quality of what is produced in South Africa that is not making it internationally appealing. Then you drill down and you find there is an access issue to facilities where people can produce the quality that is required to make our products appealing because this is a multibillion dollar industry and can make significant contributions to the GDP but we are just not there yet. The DAC decided that one way they could intervene was purchase Downtown Studios, renovate and recapitalise the studios so you could then provide facilities such as this. The issue is production of music is one phase, you get your master, and there is all the stuff that happens afterwards that people can't do. They come to studio, record, and then they are sitting at home with their master and there is nothing they can do with it. What our board did in its business planning is we looked at the entire music industry value chain and realised with a twenty year view. We looked at where we could intervene or where we could be a catalyst for change primarily for local disadvantaged music groups or entrepreneurs in the music industry. We decided to look at seven strategic thrusts where we could intervene: production, publishing, distribution, and broadcasting, manufacturing and packaging, education training and development and heritage.

There isn't a music museum in the country and the history of this place is so amazing. You saw the wall of people who recorded here. Basically anybody of a certain age in the music industry and those who are deceased has done work at this downtown studios and previously Gallo records. We wanted to honor that and we wanted people to have a place to come and see the role that this place played in the South African music history, in the fight for democracy and the role that it is still playing and the role that music can play as a catalyst for social change and all that kind of stuff. This is a heritage site and we are going through the process of declaring it a heritage site just to attract people to the city. Maboneng are already doing that and there is a lot of gentrification happening in the city but nor from a purely musical perspective so one way is to bring people as part of a tour to come and see the history of South African music.

With respect to the publishing we want to have more entrepreneurs in that space; disadvantaged entrepreneurs, previously disadvantaged entrepreneurs in that space. So people can see how that works and understand that you need to get those issues right in this industry because that is the genesis.

There are one or two tenants in the building that do the manufacturing of CD's.

Production we do. In two of our studios we have the best acoustics in the country. In two of our studios we have state of the art facilities, a 72 channel duality SSL consul in our studios, our flagship studios for choirs, big jazz bands and people with huge ensembles. We want those kinds of people to use it.

Studio 2 we didn't change the desk because our traditional client base loves the music that that desk produces. So, we kept the old desk. They love that desk and there is a strong belief that that was a hit making room. If you look at your Thokokazi Langas who is still winning SAMA and SATMA's producing music out of that room; and Hashi Elimhlophi still comes through. The late maskanda artist was recording in that room for 9 years and every year he won a SATMA award. That room we left the way it is with a view for changing it because the desk can only stay that way for so long.

And then studio 3 is for the younger market; the headphone generation. It is a smaller room but it has got a brilliant desk, a smaller version of the Duality. It is a 48 channel AWS in there. Quite a few international artists use that. It is the same capabilities as the bigger desk. It is just smaller and user friendly. That is the market for that room. And the film guys, because music and film go hand in hand.

We have plans to build a proper mastering room and that will be in phase two of the recapitalisation.

Education training and development: We want to have partnerships. There is the whole SETA accreditation etc. And to be an agent of change the best thing is to be a facilitator and have partnerships with people who are already doing what they are doing. We don't want to take business away from places who are training sound engineers. We want people to understand the business of music and the value chain and how they can use that. And we want them to understand how the music industry works as a whole. There is a room that used to be studio 4 on the first floor. It was misused, but we could convert it to a training facility on site but a little out the way so students can do their thing there.

Another thing to add on the production: One of the issues that were looked at was us, taking away from the independents or smaller studios. We do not want to compete with smaller studios; in fact we would like to encourage smaller studios to bring whatever products they have to us so we can assist in finishing. We truly believe it is better in a big studio! And we are open to finishing off whatever you have done in a smaller studio and introduce them to bigger desks and help with improving their technical capacity and also working with record labels big or small and we could have a good relation with Indies because they need the studios and we need the partners to take the product through distribution . Traditional distribution people selling CD's are still there; selling CD's at taxi ranks and out of the boots of cars. Online, yes but the market penetration is not that high. Artists are still making more money from doing live shows than from streaming. But that is a space that we would like to be involved in. We have a 5 story building.

The board members that came on board were carefully chosen to speak to various aspects of the music industry?

T he whole point was to have a board that represented a diversity of the music industry. Our chairperson is Don Laka. We have Mandla Maseko who is on the board of AIRCO and MOSHITO. He is also quite a prominent leader in a number of other music organizations. We have got Greg Maloka. He is MD of Khaya FM. He brings that to the fore and the broadcasting element to the fore. Legendary Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Nomthemba Ilonsi, an attorney. Lind Ngoma, huge choral background and great teacher. Oupa Lebogo, former SG of Kusa and also a musician. Hotep Galeta passed away. They were appointed by Minister Xingwani and we are engaging the department on the appointment of further board members into fill the gaps because there have been a number of changes with the ministers in the department. The board we have is a strong board and they truly understand the music industry and contributed immensely to getting the downtown music hub going.

What about Moshito Airco and Downtown what makes it so ?

The structure of the Downtown music hub is an NPC, nonprofit company. Whilst we are charging for the use of our studios we are required to spend any monies we make on keeping the business going and our developmental agenda. A NPC is not prohibited from making profits; the issue is what you do with those profits. Our rates are so low anyway those in terms of us being commercially driven we are not at that stage. We still receive funds from the DAC and NAC going, so we are not going to become purely commercial. What could happen is that companies can be formed for a particular purpose but the purpose of the Downtown Music Hub will remain to developmentally orientate.

How could Downtown affect Moshito ... where everyone needs a chance...?

I believe it can. Where there is a commitment from our stakeholders and where there is leadership from the board and where members hold an entity accountable. Always showing the value of what a developmental agenda can achieve at the end of the day it benefits all of us. It buoys everybody.

How would you affect the Downtown Music Precinct:

Our location is not the best location in the city, but I have seen what Maboneng has done? A few years ago you wouldn't have thought people would be coming from the suburbs in their numbers to what is a grimy part of town. If you move one or two streets away from Maboneng you see town in all its glory. But with persistence and commitment, I believe there will be a spill over affect. ABSA has reinvested quite a bit keeping up the area and surrounds. And we are sandwiched between the two.

But the city is a city for a reason. It has that vibrancy that is required, but at the same time in order to attract people to the city and make them feel safe you have to make some changes to the environment that is there. And that is something that the city of Joburg should be heavily involved in because there is a lot of by law enforcement, looking at abandoned buildings and finding out what is going on, finding landlords and not allowing the urban decay that is happening. There needs to be a part played by the city of Johannesburg.

We have to do what we do best, attract people to come use our studios, our rehearsal rooms, come and see the museum and what is happening. We need to do what we do on a daily basis. In two or three weeks we would have branded quite a bit of the building so it is obvious for people to see that something is happening.

The business was bought. When you are acquiring you acquire a business, company, asset or combination. There was a Downtown as a company. So the brand was purchased. The Downtown studios are a very strong brand in the market and needs to be reintroduced because everybody under a certain age doesn't know about downtown studios. The downtown music hub as an entity needs to be introduced properly to the market which is what we are planning to do and planning to have a launch on the 5th of November.

What about mobile recording studios?

KZN Music House has recently been run by the provincial government and the Miriam Makeba in Eastern Cape and Cape Mic in the Western Cape. Those are all really provincial structures. This would be the national structure and that could be duplicated at provincial level. We have already started an engagement with KZN because a lot of our client base is in KZN. It has an impact if you look at the value chain. We hope to engage in EC and WC and see where else in the country we can do it, North West as well, because we don't want everybody coming to Joburg. We want to see where else stuff is happening in the provinces. We want development to be happening in the provinces itself.

Joburg is great from a location perspective. This is where a lot of producers and engineers are. But we want that to be happening in the provinces so people can make money from where they are and don't have to become a huge megastar but are comfortable in what state they are in.

What about the mobile recording studios ?

That is something that is part of our production vision. It is something that we are planning to do. We want to reintroduce ourselves firmly and get the requisite partners to do that properly. One of the things that the department wanted is for us to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible, so there isn't this reliance on public funding to do things. We want to launch and get that out of the way because we have got the business we are doing currently. And then we want to branch out into other areas, one of which is mobile recording. If you can send a mobile unit to every corner of Southern Africa and people can record there and then the product will be brought back for finishing then that will be great and then people don't have to come. What is happening is people are coming from different countries. But if we had the facility ready we would send the facility to wherever they are and just bring it back here for finishing. It would like life a lot easy.

Education, development and music for the purpose of the music: Do you have a vision for a heart centered approach to music?

Partnerships with organisations like AIRCO are important because they are supporting entrepreneurs in this country who are trying to make a living from music produced in this country and contribute to this country's GDP. Even if it is sold internationally, local artists benefit from the sale. They are doing a great job with that and we need to stay plugged into what is happening. Not everyone can be a big American star. I think there are a lot of African stars. Nigeria is doing awesome things that we can learn from. Not only in film and television they have been able to colonize us with their culture. If you look at TV, a lot of their content is here because their attitude is it doesn't matter what quality it is, just get it out.

Our intention is to be an agent of change, a facilitator, a catalyst, a home for the music industry. For people to be able to come here and get the empowerment that is necessary or get the connections that are necessary or be plugged into whatever conversation that is happening to get the necessary to join the market. We are very sensitive to that because our board members have seen this game; they have seen how this game has evolved. They have seen their friends die poor, giving their lives to the industry. Our board is very sensitive to that. Let's not just think about the money and creating a huge star, let's create entrepreneurs in this industry so they can become employers. That is what we need to focus on and focus on people creating South African music.

The trend of the industry is going in a direction of