Dancing with the Diaspora
Interview Chola Makgamathe
How did you plug into the music?
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.
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:
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 self-empowerment, self-publishing and self-empowerment to finding yourself. Will downtown be able to keep up with a strong self-empowered development happening globally?
Our mission and vision is to be a catalyst for change to support and empower entrepreneurs. That is the trend internationally, but how many of our artists locally are aware of any of that. Are aware of what is required in terms of your intellectual property rights. Are aware in terms of the legislation that is proposed. Are aware of what you need to do with your product when you have it and stop the myth that the only way to function in this industry is to stand behind a mic. and sing. How many people are aware of how the music industry works? Our role is to assist people to become self-empowered because when you do that it only benefits the industry as a whole because a lot of resources are being pumped into the wrong thing. We were created to support entrepreneurs in the music industry. Musicians are exactly that. They are sole proprietors, they are entrepreneurs. They run a business. A lot of people don't have the knowledge of that and how to function in that matter.
Education is the gift ...
Interview Darryl Heilbrunn
Electronic cigarettes are better than smoking cigarettes.
How have the changes been?
The changes have been quite exciting and phenomenal. We have always managed to survive as a major facility, when people said that big studios were closing down worldwide, we have managed to survive and compete with SABC and the one or two big facilities in the country. We have kept our head above water and we have recently spent a lot of money in upgrading our facilities and we pride ourselves in studio one being the most technically advanced studio in Africa. Studio 3 has had a major revamp and is going to be exceptional. Our studio 2 we have kept in our original format. The whole building has been revamped, the studios have been touched up and tweaked and we are in good shape moving forward. We have managed to evolve quite nicely over the years. We believe we are the top facility on the continent.
Has the area changed?
I have seen good and bad. It is the typical South African scenario, good changes happen in parallel with bad changes it is so typical of the South African environment in every sphere and these streets speak to that. On the one hand there has been amazing developments with Newtown, with the Maboneng precinct and yet us in the middle it has decayed a bit. And there is a bit more riff raff around but we still don't believe it is any more dangerous than being in the middle of Sandton. Our surroundings are no more dangerous than if we were a studio set up anywhere else in the country. And the crime stats prove that. Crime in the CBD is not worse than anywhere else.
How was it in the 80's?
Well besides the apartheid factor which was it is height then. I joined in '88 already talks were taking place to transform the country but there was never any apartheid in these studios. You would come off the streets where people's rights were being inhibited and into downtown studios where black, white, coloured and Indian musicians got on with making good music. We at downtown played quite a significant role in the struggle as a lot of musicians who were exiled like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and guys like Sipho Hotstix Mabuse and a number of others felt free to record their freedom songs here and make political statements via the music genres and we are very proud that we were able to assist the country in its democratic move forward from a musical point of view and being a haven where musicians regardless of their political stances were able to be freely creative in our studios and make music with political statements.
Graceland did recordings here?
Stimela's music was recorded here and they then took it to New York where Paul Simon and his engineer worked further. The initial Stimela recordings on which that album was based were done here.
And Outernational Meltdown?
Yes, Robert Trunz from Melt2000. The melt2000 project was stunning. They booked out our studio for weeks. We just did Melt2000 projects here. It was here that the late and great Busi Mhlongo was discovered by Melt2000 here at Downtown. This is where her first major recordings took place.
When I parked at the mechanics place and said where is downtown studios, he said oh Lucky Dube ...?
Lucky Dube was a very good friend and a Gallo colleague. He was also a tenant in the building and had his office here up until his tragic fate. He recorded most of his major albums here with Dave Segul as sound engineer. Lucky was an amazing human being, an amazing talent, the funniest wittiest person. One of the funniest I have ever met besides Trevor Noah. The last major project we did in Studio One before we started to revamp it was Lucky's Respect album. And it wasn't long after that he was murdered. I have never really recovered from that. This was a building that was built around him to a large degree. He was one of the major spiritual influences to abound here. Whenever he wasn't overseas or in Africa travelling and touring, he was here in his office. And he always had a smile and a joke and a wise remark to make, and I miss him terribly. What a great guy...
Are there any highlights that I should mention ...
From an international perspective having recorded U2, Simply Red, Duran Duran Hothouse flowers; we have done some major international acts. What has built these studios is the South African musicians and all credits and accolades go to them. They are the reason we are still here today.
But I must also take an opportunity like this to thank two specific individuals from the department of arts and culture who saved this building and saved this legendary place. That is Glen Mosokoane and Zwelakhe Mbiba. Those two were visionaries. Gallo were not interested in what would happen to this building once they sold it and they couldn't be, they were under pressure from their shareholders just do downsize Gallo as a record company, dispose of all its assets and divisions. And luckily these two gentlemen got wind Gallo was selling downtown and before somebody could gut this building and turn it into a block of flats, they pitched up at Gallo's doorstep and said we will buy this building and the studios. It was amazing thing to have done and saved a place that is in line to become a national heritage site.
Standing in the studio, I say it must take a lot of training to operate a machine like this. Darryl says it is like flying a jet plane!
Standing in the equipment room, Daryl says,
Interview Lindamuzi Ngoma
Talking to the situation of Downtown, I got involved from the department of arts and culture when the then minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan had this vision to secure a recording facility for the disadvantaged communities. I got the sense that he was exposed to the rural challenges of the black people when it came to the recording facilities. His vision at the time was to have a mobile recording to go to the most remote areas and make recordings and bring them over here to refine them or master them. The feeling was we are missing out and other people do not have the opportunity to get the proper exposure.
There was a time when people came from all over the country, when it was Gallo they would have an opportunity of recoding, without an appointment. You can imagine people coming from rural Zululand or the Eastern Cape or even Limpopo, all the way by train or whatever means of transport and he gets here, he is not booked and has to wait for his or her turn. And they tell them they will only get a turn in a day or two times, or at night the following day. Now, they have to find a place to sleep, even then before the new dispensation it was difficult to get accommodation. So they would either camp at reception, or maybe outside, or find some relatives and sleep over for a day or two. And others would just brave it and sit on the pavement and wait their turn and start singing and entertaining themselves until they get an opportunity for recording. It was bad then, but it improved as time went on, people were able to book and they knew that their call day would be on a certain day and they would come in the morning, do the recording, sleep over and go home.
The thinking when we discussed some of the things with the department of arts and culture is that it would be nice to have a mobile unit to go to the people and record at their areas or venues. It is cost effective for the people. You capture what you want to capture and bring it back and master it and the final product you reap benefits from it if it is good material.
Because of government involvement they were thinking there are areas already with studios in their vicinities. If this becomes a center or hub with mobile vehicles, then we can send the vehicles to those areas to record, and then after recording go to a studio and do the mastering. Then the material is our material at the end of the day, the Downtown material. That is the reason why we have this state of the art recording machinery. It is because of the thinking that the final mastering would be done here. And identify publishers and distributers in those areas to help the locals. To come and identify a publisher or distributer in Joburg when you are out in the rural areas, then you have to find somebody to sell your material. It doesn't make sense to some of us, if you want to sell your music in a different area. Because the people of Joburg, it is not everyone who understands the Xhosa idiom or the Venda idiom, but if it is published and distributed in Venda for the Venda people then they own it. And it becomes better marketable because people become excited that this is our person, our singer ... But you still find that excitement and energy when people come here.
How I got involved, I have worked a lot with choirs, community choirs, group choirs, adult choirs. Choirs from the different race groups. Afrikaans choirs, ATKV, Afrikaans Taal and Kultuur Veregeeniging. Amongst other things they also promote their music. I have worked with the National Choir festival. At one stage I was project manager. And we did a few other initiatives. At one stage we did a conductors workshop to encourage people to sing.
Our biggest challenge is our music is not recorded, because even if people get the opportunity to make demos, the quality is not of an acceptable standard to people at the SABC or the National Broadcasters. They feel the standard is not that good; hence they do not play the music because of the standard. This opportunity of having this structure would help us go to the people and help then produce quality that will come closer to acceptability.
Because of our history it has not up to now caught on. I am talking 15 years ago when this whole initiative was started because Pallo was minister a few years back. We have got this challenge of people not thinking our music is as authentic as it is supposed to be. They are thinking it is mediocre stuff, unfortunately. The people, who were producers or engineers, didn't understand or have a feel for the idiom, African or South African music idiom. For example look at Solomon Lindas Mbube. When it was recorded it was not a hit at the time, but somebody, a visitor, a white person, came from wherever. He heard the sound and said this is interesting; I can do something with this. He came with Mwewe, Lion King and all those things that eventually became popular. People like Paul SImon, would listen to the Mambazi singing and get something and then it becomes popular because of the name. Hence the Black Mambazo got famous because of him. He has got the clout. It is not because the music is great. There are people who sing better than Mambazo. There are male ensembles that are singing far better. They have got a more neater and closer and tighter and a more beautiful sound, but they never have this kind of opportunity. They sing in some of the empty buildings around Johannesburg, they have got their own section and some of those buildings get full. But they don't have this mobile recording facility yet to do the recordings, because they have got competitions that have been running for years. Sometimes it is scary to go to those places because most of the areas are sometimes filthy. And you find a lot of people and you get intimidated. Even myself if I have to go to some of those places I get scared, unless I am invited. The reason why I started attending was because of the invitation I got from some of the guys who are involved in this thing. The performers come dressed up in all beautiful fancy gear and compete. Then we have adjudicators sitting there, adjudicating the presentation. What you get from Mambazo is the tip of the iceberg, there is more inside. This beautiful quality of singing, appearance, choreography, because they complete these guys, they want to show their best. The Mambazo were made because of the clout of the Paul Simon stage they had, so they are more exposed than other people. So if we had more f this mobile thing going to those areas it could still be done. Just to record and bring it back, then people don't have to worry about booking space here.
This is my mission in this whole outfit. It is a bigger dream, but we have challenges because it is not all of us who has the same vision. It was championed by the minister when he left his position; somebody replaced him who didn't have the same vision. The whole thing didn't have a proper follow up. It almost collapsed. It is not everybody who has the same objectives. And other people when they see this type of structure they see it as an opportunity to make money. It ceases to be a people's thing. It becomes an opportunity to make dollars or rands. We are trying to as quickly as possible fulfill the original mandate. That is what we are trying to fulfill as a board.
The NAC have said they want to hand it over to the music industry. Can the board do the right thing and ensure that it does sustain itself as a heart centered venture?
The NAC is supposed to hand over not the project, hand over the structure to us as musicians. We are the custodians, as the board, not the NAC. The NAC were used to purchase the structure and now they are fighting trying to get to run this thing. They have their own board. We have already down our feasibility, business plans and things like that. We have got our programmes, it is just that it couldn't be implemented, because there was this disruption after the minister left. The minister after Pallo, Lulu Xima. We went for a bosberaad in Magaliesberg for a whole weekend. We went through this thing. By the time we were through there was a thick document. She also didn't understand the whole thing. Unfortunately our ministry is the most unfortunate one because it doesn't have ministers who are practitioners. Most of the people there are employees, not artists. It is the officials who are practitioners, but they don't have a say. If they make a proposal, to the minister or the DG, it is not a priority and it takes forever to be signed through. A few weeks' back young people went to Algeria for an orchestral festival that they do annually. This thing was supposed to be signed off, but they only got authorization a day before they left because to the top guys it is not a priority. You make an application for funding. You say it is early enough for next year. Your funding is only approved in March. How do you plan. That is what they do at NAC. It doesn't make sense to some of us. This is the challenge we have about the artists.
I suggested this about two months back. If you can give me space here, maybe I can settle in and maybe help here. I can be part of the whole thing. And if it goes bad, let it go bad in front of my eyes. And then I say I give up. There are people who want this thing desperately but it will go at a tangent and it won't serve the purpose it was intended for. That is why I thought I will be here. My take is that I am here to help give direction or advice where possible and show these guys other possibilities because if we don't do it that way we end up forever theorizing.
People talk about recording. There are people standing here. They come in they have recording space, they do the recording and that is business for the administrator. That is money coming in. There are no focused programmes but there are on paper. We have the documents, distribution, and administration, little classes where people can come from music initiatives to come and see how the recording is done. To come and meet an engineer and learn how to do the recordings, how to plan for a recording, those kind of workshops, which could be ongoing. Then you can invite schools to do their tours. Like they go to a post office to see how they post office works, the buying of stamps and all those things. You can have that kind of thing. Some little incubators where kids can come in. We have started with the museum and it is expanding to the bigger space where you can see people have been passed here and we know the names. These big names were recording here. Now we have to know how they were recording and why they were recording this way. Those kinds of educative information. We would like to see that working this way. If the whole thing has that focus then the government can be encouraged to but the whole block and we have something like a proper hub with little conservatories. Maybe little publishing structures, cubicles and distributers. Here! You don't have to have a big company, you can franchise. The problem is the vision. You have to sell something that people don't see. There is a challenge of belief without evidence.
You have Maboneng up the road, so there should be a natural link with an art district and music district?
Yebo you are very right. There are a lot of things that are happening. I do choirs and there is a lot of choir singing that is happening in the country and it is not properly acknowledged because of the other things, politics involved in it. Politics, not the Mandela politics, I am talking the musicians politics. For instance are you aware that we have a lot of beautiful South African compositions which have not seen an opportunity of being properly exposed on stage because of the attitude. We have been asked by the ambassador in Abidjan to make a presentation of that music to showcase what South Africa has. I work with instrumentalists, string players. So, I have made strong arrangements of choral music because I believe the music our composers did was proper compositions. They are complete as they are. They don't need orchestration. This is how I reason: when black composers write the music, they don't have access to orchestra's but they use harmonies to bring out the beauty in the music. Whilst on the other hand, our counterparts have access to orchestras. When they compose, they think instruments, when the blacks think the voice as the instrument only, hence it becomes choral. The harmonies are first, second, third and fourth parts and then you augment. That is what you do with the orchestra. You have first violin, second violin, viola and cello. Cello doubles with the bass, trombones or bassoons. Clarinets double with the violas and those kinds of instruments with a mellower tone than the bass. And the second violins double with the other instruments, maybe clarinets as well o other instruments in the range of the second voice. And the first violin will go with the oboes and the flutes. And then you write it down and present it as it is, as the composer feels it. Then the music is beautiful, because it is music. The difference is it is a Xhosa song, or a Venda, Setswana or whatever the language, because the music is influenced by the language. I am talking the rhythmic patterns. This is what I am doing. As soon as I have got it right, which is hopefully now? Now is the time said Mandela, now we are going to be take those kids and record them and put them on YouTube so people can hear our sounds.
The music is an acquired taste. If you listen regularly to reggae you will like reggae. But if you stop listening you will tune off. If you have exposure to jazz or classical music, it depends on who you are playing it to and how exposed that person is to the music. Now, the more we expose our music to the people, the more they will accept it. This is how the Americans are marketing their stuff. We are bombarded by a whole lot of American music, to that extent that our children think American music is the thing. There was a time when we had a lot of European music, especially classical music on radio because then radio was monitored those years. The only thing you could hear was Bach, Mozart those kinds of Western classical composers, hence people thought that was the right thing that was the only thing to listen to. There was a time when you could listen in certain areas where people came with vinyls of jazz recordings of Louis Armstrong's and those people and they boasted this was the stuff. And everyone wanted to be like that. What influences you is what you are exposed to.
It appears that the board was chosen to direct the music?
Yes, this was the idea initially. Unfortunately the plot has been lost because of the change of guard. We are in a quandary as we are supposed to getting support from the DAC, they are supposed to helping and backing and giving us an enabling environment. But nobody is doing anything, they are sitting back. The problem was the 2010 scandal so everyone wants to be hands off. Even the minister does not have proper guidance.
A place like this you could have recruited long ago, the Hugh's and the Miriam Makeba's to say you as patrons of the arts, any event we do, and we invite you to be part of it. The Miriam's were not supposed to be dying on stage, still performing at the age of 80. If she had to die on stage it had to be because she loved performing, because she loved to do it and not because she didn't have money. She was broke. She had to go and perform for subsistence. It is wrong. She is not the only one. There are a lot of musicians suffering. We should be identifying them and acknowledging them. What you see in Pretoria, the initiative of Dali Tambo, the politicians and whatever. We should be having statues of musicians, somewhere else, not necessarily in Pretoria. If we can do it here it would be nice. But, how many people have had recordings with Gallo? Very few. Now, if we had the mobile recording that goes to the area and brings the recordings here to expose the people. Remember the project of Pops Mohammed going to the areas. It was a nice concept. This structure should be the one that helps to enhance. A structure like this can reach out to these other areas.
Are you aware that after the renovations we are supposed to launch this thing. It was earlier this year. When he was introduced as a minister. Nothing happened. We keep on asking our chairman, what the story is, he doesn't know also. We are trying to do a launch in October but we are no longer going to target the ministry for invites. We will just open it up. We don't have to wait for permission to launch. The mistake we made initially was to wait for them to give the green light to say we can do it.
If he knew that this place is open for him to bring his tape to be mastered, he comes on his terms. He goes to Chola and says look I have got this material and this is what I would like to do with this music. Can I use your studios, how can we work. The legal people get involved, proper things are done. You don't have to go to Australia or Germany, you can do it here.
I am here to make this thing work. We have been sitting back and I am saying that someone will come and hijack. I was in the struggle, I was in exile so I want my space in Downtown. This is part of my inheritance. So, what do we say? We won't have a leg to stand on until such time that we sort it out.
We open this museum, then we launch it. I have asked to have this space because when people get to reception, this door will be open and people can come in and find out what this whole structure is all about.
If people knew that arrangements can be made. A lot of things should be happening.
I would encourage people to come over with a proposal to come and say look I have got this and this is what I want to do. I am still alive, I don't want my grandchildren to come and make claims and my family to fight over my stuff. I need this to be properly preserved. Make arrangements to edit. He sits as producer and controls. It is up to him.
What about the re-release and re-printing of albums?
This rights thing. If the owner is alive, he has the right to come and propose and make a deal. The place is open. There is nothing stopping people coming and book a space and make the whole place busy in a more focused direction.
Interview Eddie Veale
1. How you went about designing Downtown studios – any special considerations or innovations.
We began by looking at sevrral buildings and tge more spacious was chosen for maximum flexibility and future options. We then discussed the type and volume of work envisaged. Initial ideas developed about the number and size of studios. I worked with architects to develop layouts. I then began working on acoustic designs for the control rooms, these were very important because it is essential that engineers hear the fylk spectrum of sound in its perspective so wherever it is listened to it sounds good and conveys the artestry of the recording. Next i worked on the stidio spaces, i wanted them to enhance the sound of western and African instruments and be friendly to microphones so the recording engineers captured great sounds.
2. How has the recording industry changed during your career?
There have been three; the quest for sonic excellence, increase in the number of recording tracks, and the rush for digital solutions. I think the most challenging has been the digital rush - digital is great for archiving and moving material around. The forgotten factor is that we are analogue and very complex. This reflects in the revival of the vinyl record.
Interview Vusi Mchunu
What is your history?
My name is Vusi Mchunu. I am a heritage practitioner, a curator a writer, a poet. With quite a long history of activism in the arts, culture and heritage space including tourism. For a very long while I have been part of the development of a heritage site in Pretoria called Freedom Park, where I ended being chairperson of the council for the last three years. We are sitting at Downtown studios museum section where I am currently putting up a permanent exhibition, just to celebrate the contribution of Downtown studios. The show is called a glimpse of South African music, because it is not the full story, but it is a large part of the story. The company we have been using to realise and project is called House of Memory which is a heritage solutions company. We have had the oportunity through work from provincial governments, cities, local governments to develop, deisgn, install and realise quite a number of projects.
We started with the Samora Machel museum which commemorated the memory of a great African leader and warrior, President Samora Machel of Mozambique who died tragically with an airplane crash in 1987 in a place called Mbuzini, bordering Mozambique. So, there is a monument there ad a museum there. This museum today displays and carry's h story of Mozambique and the transition through the Frelimo government up until his tragic end. We also have done the Bethel heritage precinct, right inside the town of Bethel, Mpumulanga province. It incorporates a public park and then a statue of a great rural trade union leader called Gert Sibande, the first statue of an African leader in the entire province of Mpumulanga and it also has got a 500 seater pavilion for meetings and celebrations within the park. A few metres up the road we have the statue of Nokthula Simelane who was a student in Swaziland but born and bred in Bethel. Who vanished tragically, abducted by the apartheid security police who was expected of working with the ANC. On the road still you will walk into a huge complex which used to be the police station, the magistrates court, the pass office, the autopsy rooms and the actual mortuary. We have transformed that entire space into a living museum telling the entire story of what in the 50's used to be known as the potato boycott movement relating to the slave conditions under which prisoners were subjected in the Bethel potato fields. It is quite a bitter story but we sort of transformed the story; included also stories of great journalists and luminaries like Ruth First, like Mr Drum himself, Henry Nkumalo. And also incorporated in this project the African knowledge systems especially around the area where the autopsy room and the mortuary is. There is a tradition amongst us, if the person dies in war or in unknown circumstances, or vanishes, his spirit is restless and he needs to be brought back to a space where he can come to terms with the way he departed from the world and also to come to terms with the fact that he will play another role because he is no longer alive. These processes are usually done by people who know, but they use a branch of a tree called Ulamhlinkosi Impahla, which is a branch you use to go to the site where the actual tragic end happened, and communicate with the name and the personality of that person and take that person with the branch to the site where he can find rest. We used that whole space and planted these Impafa trees, three of them. And they are growing very well today just to address those young African males who perished in those terrible potato farms in Bethel. We have also done a number of other wonderful projects like the centenary of the ANC where we did 5 life size statues of ANC and anti-apartheid leaders including the fourth president of the ANC, Josiah Gumede and then the 5th president and the founder of the ANC, Dr Pixley Semene and then the two statues of the anti-apartheid lawyers, Mr Griffiths Mxenge and Mrs Victoria Mxenge, in the house in Umlazi where she was assassinated. And a beautiful statue of the anti-apartheid cleric, Dennis Hurley who founded a school for the deaf called Kwatinta. The statue is right there in the school. But, we have also done memorial pillars for those people. We have also worked to produce books for that project. Many people didn't know about Josiah Gumede. A friend who is an academic did a PHD on that man's life and I convinced a friend and we transported that into a book. That book is available now of that great South African leader. We have gone on to even do heritage training as an entry point into arts culture and tourism training. A beautiful project in a rural area called Kreypan in North West province, about 100km's from Mafikeng where the Anglo Boer War happened. So we combined the story of the Barolong people who are in the area, Boratsidi, with post matric young people. It was fantastic because we worked with University f Wits history department to develop a cause which includes historical theory which includes actual site visits to those areas, it included photography, visits to important education centres like the history department of the University of North West and engaged with a very important person there, Dr Mbembe who is a great historian. He was very excited to come and be part of the project: and also through it worked again in translation which is very important to us. When we do a show we always prioritize the local languages and have English as a language for the greater visitorship. For this project because the kids are mostly Tswana speaking; most of the projects we did in Setswana around the villages, travelling all the time with old people who spoke in Setswana. The work is in Setswana and translated into English. The outcome was fantastic. We not only released a beautiful book on this fantastic project but we also had an opportunity through the municipality which was our client to host a graduation day with the kids, and their parents were there dressed up beautifully getting certificates. And the North West province, they were the first batch of young people who could be taken up by museums as tour guides or whatever because they really had an idea and had gone through the mill. It was fantastic that possibility.
There is a great story of the Khumalo conflict in Tokozo township which happened in the 90's and was part of the elections and post elections, the great conflict between the ANC and Inkhata freedom party. It was the conflict of the hostel people, which was the IFP and the community which was ANC. We did a feasibility study which was for a museum in the township there. For five months we conducted focus groups for a lot of important people and had a day session. Visited the sites, take photos, and our idea was to work towards a Cato Rest civil museum. A beautiful publication that came out of that, an incredible work. But the museum has now been realised. It was the first project we did with a private individual but he failed to work with the Ekhuruleni municipality that they could give him land, that he can do the museum. The project was done and documented and ready for the funding to come through.
A lot of fantastic things, like Codessa, that was the new constitution and the change and it happened in Ekhuruleni and we did a feasibility study which was fantastic work. We as heritage practitioners working with the building industry professionals, structural engineers, electrical engineers, architects, landscape designers and we did a full on feasibility study with drawings. Even quantity surveyors were there. In a park in that town called Kempton Park, they had availed a beautiful park that had water, a dam next to it with a fantastic design. Because you know it was led by Cyril Ramaphosa, and Rolf Meyer, the constitution process and Ramaphosa called it the birth of a new nation. So from that came the idea of the birth of an actual birth, the ovary and the egg and so on. So the building was an egg sitting on a nest ready to open. fantastic beautiful building and the landscape was amazing including the dam. Included in that was a book. For these big projects we always do a book and give it to clients and keep it for our selves.
In brief our experience and our work has been largely to marry our training because we are Western trained in terms of representation of history in terms of design and seeing things. But we work very hard to humble ourselves and learn from the African system people, the so called illiterates, the sangoma, the medicine man, nyanga, the elder and really get to listen to them and get guidance from them. We are very resolute to being to really speak the African vocabulary in our work. i mentioned the ipafa tree. Also it was very important for us that the voice of the people can come through, unchained, unfettered, free. It is very important that the voice can come through. And also if there are different views, because we are very aural. Once you get into that space it is aural as spoken i word and mouth. There are many versions, like the old pieces of what we have today, The Bible. There will be many versions of the life of the Christ. We wanted a possibility of presenting all those voices, challenging as it is.
Like the Samora Machel museum, the big question is who killed Samora Machel? In our investigation we cracked the source of the whole plot and the people who actually killed him. Heritage is a mystery. If you subject yourself to the emotions, the passions, remembrances and the real voices of the people you are working on. It is indeed resurrecting of those people. Those people are great spirits. They will never die. Once through the heritage project you touch them, you work with them. What we normally do is we go to the grave of those persons. We go and introduce ourselves, we kneel there, we speak to the person humbly. We tell the person we are going to be very close to their spirit for a few months. They have no sense of time, but we introduce ourselves. Guess what, lo and behold, those personalities, they get up and they go with you. With Samora I was so frustrated. It is a great story and I felt there are a lot of lies around what happened. And I felt he seemed to be very distant from his own story. But he surprised me. He came immediately and he showed me very clearly that he is aware. He is with us and he is going to assist us. That is why we cracked it. But we could not go around boasting about it, the perpetrators are alive and they are very powerful people. Also Samora made it a point. The top military called me and told me to stop this investigation because they have been told that the perpetrators are aware and they are busy tracking who we are. Because the only language they know is to eliminate. We had to do what we had to do. Because once you are there, you can't stop it. And this is the mystery of heritage. It is usually the stories, the sensitive stories around the African oppression, resistance and liberation. And when you work on it, obviously you are part of it, so it is difficult to betray it because doors keep on opening. And we are grateful for that until we can really unlock the story, there is no retreat. The only thing you can do is avoid the perpetrators directly because at that time I was on their track. We avoided them and found other ways of getting these truths out on the show, because they have to be out on the show: and the same with the Bethel story. The perpetrators are still alive. And I remember when one of them, who was an old man, retired. He used to be a top cop, shoot people, kill people. It took so long and was so hard to get him until I got him and talked to him and he agreed. Everyone came from Joburg, film crew and sound. And I told the guys I am running the show and you must be ready. The man came and when he came he was grumpy, old man. I managed though to get him to speak. He was against being film and he was cursing the guys filming in. But I managed to cool him down. I told the guys no matter what happens just roll it. They were rolling the whole thing and we managed though to calm him down and get him to talk and the beautiful story is that one of his victims was still alive. So in that film you see the perpetrator talking and you see the victim talking and the rest is for you to decide. That is heritage work. I always say it is forensic investigation of you are serious about it and get under the skin of this work because it deals with peoples lives, people who were erased from history. Now is the time for them to come through.
The bigger work has been Freedom Park, which is a major South African liberation project proposed by president Nelson Mandela and then supported by Mbeki. It sought to tell the entire heritage story of South Africa but highlighted the resistance and contribution towards freedom by different people; fabulous experience. It is 13 years in the making. I was there from the beginning, the stakeholder meetings, until I became part of the board, until I became chairman of the board. We have released a book that tells the entire story of Freedom Park. It is an amazing book with different people contributing, architects, landscape designers, and great African spiritual leaders like Credo Mutwa, Mankomo, Mama Suku from Bakatla in North West. It is a fantastic archive which we created there and African centric buildings and space. That is fulfilling in terms of ones contribution to the new nation in South Africa.
And as one is talking one is doing this project here: a smaller project for a bigger idea, because South African music is in a strange place. There is no significant memoralisation, preservation, presentation of South African music in any city or any rural area or town in this country. There are small so called exhibits you will find in musical schools or universities, normally they will take some of these African instruments and put them in a box. I saw it at Unisa and they will write what is this and what is that. A show is a show which has got a narrative, a context, which reflects the high points, the low points, the major players and so on. It incorporates all these things. Music in South Africa has been one of the serious main fronts of maintaining the identity when the colonial and other forces really sort to eradicate and erase the cultures of the peoples. Music has been the most reliable depository of all those facets of life as experienced through the calendar of festivals. We African people, our New Year is in August with the first rains. We call it Simela. That is when our year starts. It relates to the new moon. And three months later or four months, going into January that is when we have the first fruits festival. Because we have the first fruits, usually pumpkins or beans which we planted with those rains. We didn't have maize on those days. We had sorghum as our staple food. From the first fruit you get all the other festivals. This is our calendar and it goes all the way up to July which is our year end. Our calendar is the lunar calendar. Those things before we plant and do the festival of Nomkulwane which is the rainbow goddess, the daughter of the creator, which is done by maidens naked on the field. They do the dances and they do the planting of the seeds. But, it is symbolic, it is calling Nomkulwane to wake up and come closer because now we are starting our season of planting and harvesting. Around that this is the music. Even the naked maidens on the fresh fields after the rains, they will be singing and dancing and chanting. The music is so central. In the African system, language, music, poetry, it is one thing. It is one. It i snot separated. I find that with this worth I have explained to you and also the kind of musicians we have produced since our traditional times. And the music we have produced, the variety, the genre, the age, there is not a single serious space where you can go and see and live and experience what we are sharing between me and you. It is an indictment. It is not there. This show is a small attempt. This show celebrates people who recorded here. Largely it is awards, which is okay. I feel the music and the musicians who are really special caste of people; you can hardly feel their presence. And I am trying to mitigate that with the idea of the centerpiece with the musicians dressed up, with the idea of the screen here with the DVD's: with the idea of the loop of music playing continually. To get close to this special caste of people called musicians. But it is still a challenge and there is still a big gap about a serious South African music museum. That will be the day, with all that they can offer us and all the platforms for music being what it is today. And including a performance hall attached to it where from time to time great musicians can come through.
South Africa has been industrial since the late 19th century. Which means if you talk about Southern Africa, you are talking about the entire Southern African coming to live and work here. And they bring with them in every suitcase that comes through, a quarter of that suitcase is music and dance and culture. Even previous to that. Talk about the times of the Dutch East Indian Company, they bought people from West Africa; the griot from Sierra Leone and they brought people from their colonies in the East which is today's Malaysia. The people who brought the poetry, the chanting, the culture, they were Muslims. Where is the space that makes us appreciate all of that and share all of that?
We inherited in this country a heritage landscape which is totally biased, totally apartheid outlooking, totally colonial outlooking, totally distorting, excluding, alienating our story; the story of the Africans. As advanced as we were in terms of the museum world in this country we were very primitive because of what I just said. Our work since '94 is to transform that landscape. Use some of the example I have given you where our methodology. We have developed a methodology which is as a relist of years of work in this transformation space. Our methodology unlike the people who have done in the damage, in our methodology, we are not afraid. We will never erase the colonial times, we will never destroy their statue, we will put them in a context. We will never erase. There are always versions to a story that enriches us, enriches our generations. Our work is in that space which is so restricted. To work so hard to get our voice as also part of the debates and so on. The rest is for the next generation to take it further. At least we have laid the foundation for that.
The project here was as a result of the vision of the former minister of arts and culture, Pallo Jordan who himself is a great jazz afficianado and he is very much into the music space. His idea was to avail top of the range recording facilities at discounted prices particularly for the music of the mass of South Africans. He ever went a step further and said even make mobile recording facilities. like a big bus with complete facilities and go to Msinga. I am Mchunu, I come from Msinga, Msinga is a grand area in Greytown. It runs through all the way to Dundee with towns like Kidsdrift, Tugela Ferry. And within it you get all the people. Zondi which is on my mother's side, Ngubane, these are big nations. Mthembu, Mchunu, Mabazo, Majozi. These are big nations on that line. And they are nations that inspired Johnny Clegg to do the music he did. That is the place. His idea is that a bus goes there and parks at Tugela River at the bottom Klipsdrift for the next two weeks and all the musicians comes with the music and they do the recording. This is fantastic. It is still a dream of the future. Now they have done the great work of these studios which are state of the art. And I see that it is very busy for gospel, maskanda, soul. They have got on the third floor rehearsal room. Always full. And they can go from rehearsal and record. And they are still developing the facility for printing the CD, doing the sleeve and so on. It is a good project and I think it is going to be viable soon because the African popular musics whether it is Shangaan, or Zulu or Xhosa has got a huge market. And maskanda currently there is a craze in KZN. You can't go into any town and see two or three different festivals being announced. There is a big craze for maskandi. The radio stations are just playing maskandi. It is a huge market.
What about Pan -African music, can Joburg become a centre for other African music?
It is happening. There is hardly a CD released by your Maifikizolo's or prominent bands where we don't hear afrobeat from Nigeria. You don't actually find them playing. The African musicians from other countries are here in Joburg. They are starting to get prominence. They are collaborating with other musicians. Even right now, Hugh Masekela's music that he is going to be doing for the Joy of Jazz festival next Thursday. He is bringing a whole bunch of musicians from Harari. Oliver Mtukudzi, Xai Xai, an Mbira ensemble and so on. That is the trend. Joburg is really cosmopolitan. I went last week to the Jozi book fair and I found there a band lead by a DRC jazz piano player with South African musicians. And they were playing his music. That was fabulous. It is happening in Joburg. It is a wonderful development. People tday have home studios, but because of the good quality facilities here when they are ready with their demos they do come here to do the final mixing and so on.
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