Home to the Story of South African Jazz
VINYL AND THE RECORDING INDUSTRY
Historically the record industry is at the forefront of false perceptions, inequality and lies. With the establishment of the internet the record industry fell dramatically to less than one tenth of its previous value. This too was a two sided coin with the fall out of the dark side being supported by a loss in revenue by the musicians themselves.
The destabilisation of the record labels has exposed another rung on their investment ladder and that is the records or LP's. LP's still hold a significant value for traders. All this record stock is owned outright with no royalty payments to the musicians. We have a case from Durban South Africa where a single LP of a SA Jazz legend (Kippie Moeketsi), thirty years after his death, sold for a phenomenal R16 000. This is certainly more money on record sales than Kippie ever made from that album.
In an equitous society, these musical jewels would not be traded by ruthless business people with no benefit to the musicians. They would bereturned to the musicians. The call therefore is for a global sensitivity to re-patriation of second hand records from shops / archives and collectors to the musicians who created them. And the big question is who is propping up the second hand record industry and why? Through understanding, we transform:
What is the music industry?
First of all there are three main components, the recording component, there is the publishing component which is the business of taking songs and publishing them and the third component which I am not going to get into is the business of bringing live musicians to venues.
The music publishing business actually started in 1820 when the first method of printing sheer music was perfected. And by the end of the 19 th C the music publishing industry, sheet music and dissemination was a mature industry. There was Tin Pan Alley in New York, Denmark Street in London. South Africa by contrast was slow to develop. There were individual composers here who were commissioned to have their compositions printed and published as one-offs, we didn't have a proper music publishing company in this country until 1949 when MPA, Music publishing in Africa was set up as an in house music publishing company by Gallo.
The first practical and patentable method of recording sound was Thomas Edison in 1877. And throughout the 1880's there were incremental changes and improvements. The first recording company the North American Photograph Company was set up in 1889. The name soon changed to Columbia Gramophone. It is a recording unit of Sony now. Throughout the 1890's the industry grew and by 1900 it was estimated that there were already annually some 3 million records being sold.
The first recordings of South African material as a result of international interest in the Anglo Boer War in 1900 and 1901 were three version of the Transvaal Volkslied, the National anthem of the RSA republic. A military man recorded an instrumental version in New York. There was a Dutch woman who recorded a version in Holland and a German version.
In 1920 record sales in America reached 100 million records. In this country, since the 1890's there had been records imported, but in terms of recordings by South Africans, there were less than 300. South Africa only had a mature industry here towards the mid to late 1950's. By that time you had multiple companies here. You had multiple pressing plants pressing fairly large quantities of overseas recordings. And at the same time there was the development of an absolutely incredible local catalogue of music. By 1960 issues were in the multi-thousands but not more. The other remarkable thing was what an incredible diversity of music was being captured on those issues. First of all there was an incredible fractionated market in terms of customers buying this – they were a hugely cultural diverse group of people. Also there was an interesting financial model. One of the biggest companies in the 1950's was Troubadour and their financial model was that the artist came in, they would press 300 copies of the record. If they could sell the 300 copies they basically broke even. If they happened to sell more than that, then they were in profit. Why this model worked is because the companies were vertically integrated to the point that the successful ones owned everything from the time the artist walked into the recording studio, to the pressing plant, to the distribution, all the way to finding the copies of the records, in some cases directly into the hands of the customers.
In 1959 – 60 Eric Gallo's mentor and dear friend, Ted Lewis who later became Sir Edward Lewis was head of the Europe Decca company. He came out at Eric's invitation and there was quite a big to do and he gave a speech at the old Carlton Hotel wherein he stated in terms of per capita record buying that South Africans bought more records than any other country of the world. In 1969 there were 7.5 million records sold here which about 1.5 million were African. In about 1960 the head count at Gallo was 950 people. That was just one company, you had Teal you had Truetone, EMI. So, it is probably safe to say that excluding the retail, the music industry in this country was probably employing 4000 people. If you compare that to today, there is probably 400 people. By 1960 this was a big and very mature business.
There almost seems to be a time lag in adopting to changes in the business. Let us consider the matter of formats. This music was being recorded and pressed originally as 78 RPM records. The modern LP record was introduced in 1948 by Columbia records in America. The 7 inch single with two songs on each side was introduced the following year by RCA Victor in America. That pretty much wiped the 78 off the map. By 1955 the 78 was obsolete. The only reason in America that they kept pressing it was because there were still so many 78 juke boxes. South Africa by contrast, the first LP's were only pressed in 1954 and it was only in 1955 that they had the first South African content. When it came to the 7 single replacing the 78 and rock and pop and boere music it was only 1960 that the industry made a concerted effort to introduce the 7 single. The 78 only truly died here in 1968. They were pressing 78's for the African market until 1968. We were one of the last countries in the world to still be pressing 78's. That lag carried on. When it came to the introduction of the 8 track, and the cassette there wasn't such a time delay.
The first cassette plant was set up in 1971 by Phillips and Gallo. But look at the introduction of the CD. 1988 was the first year that internationally CD sales exceeded the sale of LP's, yet we only built our first CD plant in 1991. The same happened with the next revolution in format which was the computers and downloads.
The first South African to make a recording was Johannes J Smith. He was an elocutionist. In the pre TV radio days, people would pay money to go and hear people reading passages from Shakespeare or Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. In May 1906 Smith made two single sided records for the Gramaphone Company in the UK. He went back in 1910 and made some more records. Smith later became the first editor of the WAT, Wordeboek van die Afrikaans Taal. About 6 months later the first Springbok rugby team was led by Paul Roos. His son many years later was actually the co-founder and first director of SAMRO. They showed up in England and made another 4 sides. One of them was labelled Springbok Choir and War chants.
The first actual musician to make a recording was the following year in 1907 by a woman named Ada Cherry Kearton . She was an opera singer who was born in Natal. She went to England in about 1900 and her repertoire was strictly European. In 1908 a women who was born in the OVS named Annie Visser made a recording of the Transvaal Volkslied. This was maybe the first South African music by a South African musician to go on record.
In 1912 one of the founders of the African Native National Congress, Saul Msane went to London and made some more spoken word recordings like advise to young men. He was certainly the oldest person of African origin to make a recording. He was born in 1858 so was 54.
A field recording unit from the Gramaphone Company came to South Africa in 1912 and made 265 masters in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Those were the first records made in South Africa. The most popular were spoken word recordings. There was an English lawyer who had a side interest in being an Afrikaans comic monologist by the name of Willem Versveld. The Afrikaans music tends to be hymns and European style music. They recorded quite a few African groups. This was the first recording of South African vernacular music, the rooted styles of the country. The 1912 recordings were all issued here on the Xonophone label. That was the expensive label that cost 3 shillings 6.
Following 1912 there was a 15 - 16 year hiatus. There were a few people that recorded in the UK. One of them was Sol Plaaitjie, another co-founder of the ANC who made the first recording of Nkosi Sikelele. In 1924 Edison Bell in the UK sent a field unit to Cape Town and made recordings with artists connected to the Cape Town symphony orchestra. It is all Western Classical music. They made the first recording of Die Stem with none other than Marthinus De Villiers who wrote the music. Die Stem was a poem and De Villiers set it to music. In this instant De Villiers was playing the piano.
Companies were appointed as the so-called exclusive agents for certain record companies. For example Mackay brothers which actually started in Cape Town in the late 1890's. They were the exclusive agents for the Gramaphone Company and importing His Masters Voice label. In addition they were also importing gramophones and the biggest part of their business was importing sheet music from overseas. In the pre media age of music it wasn't the artist but the song that was actually the hit. In addition to the Mackay brothers there was Polliack which was the exclusive agent for the Columbia Gramaphone label out of the UK which at that time owned the US Columbia label. There was the Jutta company which still exists today mostly as a text book manufacturer. They were the exclusive agents for Edison and Bell.
In 1926 a new upstart appeared on the scene and that was a 21 year old Eric Gallo. He became the exclusive agent for the Transvaal for the Brunswick label. Brunswick was an American record company that started after the First World War. It was originally a billiard and pool table maker that went back to the mid 19 th century and then they got involved in building gramaphones . Then they started a record label. And in the mid 1920's they decided to expand internationally and Eric ended up being the exclusive agent. That is how the business was structured. In 1928, the Mackay brothers which was generally a very conservative outfit, that was run by a bunch of very dear Scottsman. They all of a sudden started a programme of taking a lot South African artists to London to record, one of which was the first coloured musician to make a record, a guy named Mac Jackson and A Hayward. These are the first records that are specific stylistically that is South African.
1930 is a seminal year. First of all HMV Mackay brothers send Ruben Kalusa to London. In terms of African music development that was a very important landmark. Earlier in the year there was a big hoohaa. Polliack said listen we as agents for Columbia Gramaphone are going to bring a Columbian unit down to South Africa. And we are engaged in a talent contest. Auditions are up for people who want to record for Columbia. This came to the attention of Eric Gallo. And he decided to get one up on the competition. He gathered a couple of Afrikaans musicians, sent them to London to record for a small label called Metropole. Eric's records were on sale about two weeks before the much heralded rival of the Columbia field unit. The records were very favourably reviewed. They were an advance in Afrikaans music. From a stylistic stand point they reflect the fact that from 1927 / 8 both Polliack and the Mackay Brothers had been importing to great commercial success America country music. And these records of Eric's were in Afrikaans but most certainly influenced by Dixie Blues. When the Columbia unit showed up here they first recorded in Cape Town and then they moved up to Johannesburg. They actually set up in the studio of the Johannesburg radio station, called radio JB located in the Stuttafords building on Eloff Street. There was a starting variety of stuff. From the African side they recorded the first decent version of Nkosi Sikelele by St Peters School. They went out to city deep mine and recorded a whole slew. It was the first recording of Mozambican timbila music, Shangaan, Xhosa, Zulu. Hugh Tracey came down from what was then Rhodesia with a group of Karanga male singers. Those were the first recordings made by any Zimbabweans. On the Afrikaans side there was a variety of interesting material, including the first and last recordings of Boere music, concertina dance music that was cut before the overwhelming influence of American hillbilly music changed that genre forever. The definite commercial star of the process was a singer called Chris Blignaut. Blignaut recorded a whole series of records and these records sold 40 000 copies of each. Chris Blignaut was this countries first recording star.
These recordings had vastly better fidelity than the early recordings. That was because in 1925 the first electrical recording process was perfected. Prior to that, the artist would play into a series of horns that was connected to a stylus, and that cut a wax master. Now this system basically the sound was gathered up by a microphone and transmitted to an electrical current and too the cutting edge to a wax master to vastly improved results.
2 and a half years layer Polliack finally gets a field unit and they make more recordings. This is 1932/3. This was a joint expedition between Mackay's and HMV and Polliack at Columbia. In 1931 those two companies merged in England and formed Electrical Music Industries EMI.
After that initial success Eric Gallo kept sending artists to Metropole and then in late 31, early 32 Metropole went bust. Eric with his gambling temperament set up a permanent studio in South Africa. It seems like an obvious decision now, but no doubt people at that point thought he was absolutely nuts. Nonetheless he bought all of Metopole's recording gear and he brought their engineer, an Anglicised German by the name of John Hett to Johannesburg to install it. It was first installed in a basement underneath a so called bioscope café, which is around the corner from the Rissik Street post office. They had some great parties there. The first masters only came out in 1933. Phil Goldblatt, Eric's first employee said they were never able to make a satisfactory master because they could not insulate the street noise. In early 1933 they moved the recording apparatus and set up another studio in 160 Market Street on the mezzanine floor. In the middle of 1933 they started recording satisfactory masters. Eric's gamble paid off almost immediately. The following year an underground miner and railway shunter by the name of David de Lange made a record called ‘Waar is Moeder.' That record went onto sell 150 000 copies. The 78 was a fairly perishable item. It could be played only so many times on a wind-up gramophones and it was scratched, unless you managed to break it first. If a record was popular, a person might buy 5 or 6 copies.
A couple of years later he followed up with another very popular record, “Suikerbos” which sold about 200 000 copies. The first African hit record Mbube by Solomon Linda and the Original Evening Birds was recorded in 1939. This record sold about 100 000 copies and this record was still in the Gallo catalogue in the early 1950's, so that figure might have been the sales over a decade.
So, then comes the second world war which totally disrupts everything because although Gallo had a recording studio, they didn't have a pressing plant. And there were a couple of other rival companies that had started up by this time. They were all sending their masters to Decca in the UK to be pressed and by 1942 the disruptions to the merchandise was such that it was simply not possible to get pressings in England anymore. In the Gallo Afrikaans series there is a block of about 15 numbers that have never been found. Apparently those records are sitting at the bottom of the ocean.
One company that did start pressing records in this country was located on the South West Corner of Commissioner Street, a company called Lafayette. I once interviewed Yuri Ferreira. Yuri recorded there and told me that it was a primitive operation. They had a single microphone. The studio was on the second floor of this building and the pressing plant was underneath. As soon as they started recording they would press an alarm so the factory downstairs would be quiet. One of the records that came out of there apparently sold 30 000 copies. The quality of the pressing was some of the worst ever.
The Decca factory was actually bombed at some point in the Second World War. It was only 1947 that people started picking up the pieces. Gallo totally quit recording anything. Along with the Mackay brothers, Polliack and Gallo kept themselves in business by importing pressings from India of American recordings. In the late 1940's there is an incredible expansion in the business. Gallo built its pressing plant in 1949 and by 1951 they were pressing 1.5M records out of that one facility per year. And that was one of 4 or 5 pressing plants that was going full blast all the time.
What were the general circumstances of the industry?
From that period up to today you had a situation of well-established majors and then over a period of time there would be consolidation. There would be independent companies that start up and they would be consumed eventually into the bigger companies. The sum total of what Gallo now controls in terms of all these companies. It was originally a dozen independent companies. For example in the 70's you had Rashid Valley who thought that no-one was paying enough attention to recording African Jazz so he set up Ashanti. Lloyd Ross saw that record companies were not recording Afrikaans music so he set up Shifty. Damon Forbes in the 90's set up Sheer sound to record African jazz. Over time the labels either ceased operation or they would eventually get consumed by the majors. Sheer was sold to Gallo two years ago. Most recently Kalawa was sold to Universal. This is a corporate pattern that has been present in the industry since the early 50's.
It is interesting to note the companies that survived, the big ones, were the ones that were always vertically integrated. From the minute the artist stepped into the studio to record to the record being put on the shelf. In certain instances that companies even tried to get the product to the customer by forming several record clubs which if you signed up you got a free record. That was one of the characteristics.
One of the significant peculiarities of the SA record industry was this situation with African catalogues. The record companies were owned by white monopoly capital. But they had no idea what the African public wanted. They were basically forced to hire African people to find that talent and record it and figure out how to distribute it. Some of these individuals became incredibly powerful. As a matter of fact, they ran virtual fiefdoms within the companies. There was only a handful of them, Cuthbert Matumba at Troubador, Rupert Bopape at EMI and later at Mavuthela which was an African division setup specifically at Gallo to cater to his administrative empire. Strike Vilikazi at Truetone, David Thekwane at Teal, Hamilton Ndzimande … these guys in deepest apartheid, those few individuals, they exercised the greatest administrative and financial power any Africans anywhere in the private sector had. The influence these guys had on the development of African music in this county was incredible.
Royalties and payments in general:
Part of my brief was to handle the legacy of all of these artists complaining that they recorded records that sold millions in the 1950's for a flat fee. If you look at royalties in an international context, it is true that going back to the earliest days of the industry, starting at the turn of the last century, opera singers were the first recording stars. Enrico Caruso for example, those guys did get royalties. Caruso in his career of roughly 20 years collected 1M pounds in royalties. But, royalties were uncommon. As a matter of fact, even in the US, it took a 2 and a half year recording strike from 1942 – 5 to force record companies into paying royalties in the US. During that period of time if you were a member of the musicians union which was very powerful, you were forbidden to record for a US record company. And then there was a shorter strike in 1948 as well. Royalties were by no means a given.
In the early 1950's Nico Carsten was definitely getting royalties. From a record that sold for 3 shillings 6, he was getting a penny a record. Early 1950's you started getting more royalty deals. There were certain African artists at the time who were lobbying and they were told quite untruthfully it was against the law. But what broke the barrier there was that Spokes Mashiyane the penny-whistler was recording very successfully for Truetone from about 1954. In 1958 Gallo wanted to lure him away, so gave him royalties. And the secret was out. And from that point onwards the royalty payment was practiced.
This sequence of events is more or less happening at the same time in the UK. Until 1973, artists were given a choice whether they would take a royalty or a flat fee. Most of the rural artists, the non JHB circle of musicians, they would opt for a flat fee, like the first recording session for Ladysmith Black Mambaso. Those flat fees were quite negotiable.
In 1956 Drum magazine reported on a Manhattan Brothers 25 th anniversary concert in Selwyn Hall Downtown Johannesburg and reported what a great contract the Manhattan Brothers had. They were paid 400 pounds a session. In comparison a telephone operator was earning 15 pounds per month.
The all-important interface with radio:
The first commercial radio station was KDKA started in Pittsville Pennsylvania in 1919. The BBC started in 1922. By the mid 1920's there were three privately owned radio stations in this country, in JHB, CT and DBN. They were all consolidated eventually into the Schlesinger Empire, the African broadcasting company. Schlesinger owned all the theatres and film studios etc. And then in 1936 the African Broadcasting Company was nationalised and the SABC was created. Right from the days of the ABC, playing gramophone records was a big part of the programme and also a method of getting the public to know that records were available. After the Second World War there were DJ's playing records and playola was most certainly already part of the programme. In the 50's the price was a pound a play, so some things never change. At the same time record companies would pay to have half hour programmes exclusively dedicated to their latest records. The problem with marketing African music was that there was very little airplay. There was an English and Afrikaans service, there was a half hour two days a week for African programming, a lot of which was done live. The Manhattan Brothers said they made regular appearances. There was also a system called radio diffusion system which was actually housed in a separate facility than the broadcast house. It was like a system of direct telephone lines that was wired into certain places in Soweto, like Orlando West and East. You had a sort of a stupor in the corner of your match box with a volume control. Two other companies, Troubador and EMI had mobiles which were like trucks. EMI had a VW bus with turntables and an amp, and it had a speaker and they would drive this thing to township radio stations and play their latest records. If you liked the record they would give you a slip with a catalogue number and you would take that to the dealer and got the record.
In the early 60's mobiles were banned and at the same time the Bantu radio system started up. The underlying philosophy of the Bantu radio system was most insalubrious in terms of the political situation. It was part of the government programme to promote ethnic religion. There was a station that only played Sotho records and another one that only played Xhosa … But, from a musical perspective this gave tremendous marketing opportunities and opportunities for more African music to be recorded. There is a vast expansion in the African catalogue. There was an element of censorship that came into the picture.
dedicated to LOVE, UBUNTU, peace on earth and many friends quote the source © 2000 Struan Douglas of AFRIBEAT.COM