Tag Archive: @south african music industry


Passionate About The Write Things

Passionate About the Write Things

Inez Patel

 

Starting off with ‘Bra Hugh’ as the take-off cover, this has been a magazine that represents the diversity and talents of the South African music industry. This is the kind of media that our country will benefit from: passionate and interesting pieces of work that encourage the consumption of South African products. Editor, Miles Keylock, gives some insight into the magazine and how they manage to live up to the reputation of the Rolling Stone name and yet still maintain a local focus.

Considering that there are sixteen Rolling Stone magazines produced globally, such as Rolling Stone Brazil or Rolling Stone Japan, Rolling Stone South Africa has quite a substantial status to live up to. Especially with the success of the American Rolling Stone, that according to Miles employs some of the world’s best writers and photographers, this magazine has a large name to follow. When asked how he gets the magazine to fulfil its international parent’s legacy, Miles emphasized the need to create a voice that is representative of the diversity and wonders of our own country. He articulates that it is not about being parallel to the American magazine but rather about being a production in its own right, using South African content and stories. As Miles says, there are “very few global artists that are striking for South African sales” and so that is why the magazine places such a large emphasis on local content.

Rolling Stone has always been known for its legendary covers. With the first being a “pure coincidence”, according to Miles, in getting the talented trumpeter Hugh Masekela to be on the initial cover page. Miles smiles as he remembers the moment that he knew Hugh would be the perfect first cover. Apart from being an iconic South African musician that “embodies the Rock ‘n Roll spirit” of the magazine, Miles says, it was Hugh’s vibrancy and powerful performance which immediately told him that “this is our rock star”. It is inspiring to know that the magazine really does take into deep thought what embodies their magazine and how to show this well. Since that day, Rolling Stone South Africa has always embraced that wild and free ‘rock ‘n roll’ spirit. That is what it takes to be on the cover, “you don’t have to be a brilliant artist to get into Rolling Stone”, says Miles, you only “need to have an attitude”.

The most recent issue had Spoek Mathambo on the cover. As Miles speaks about this young artist, his enthusiasm is obviously visible. Although why wouldn’t it be? Miles describes Spoek Mathambo as a “young artist who has given his art so much time in terms of thinking about what he’s doing”. As someone who has a fascinating story to tell; who has created a space where he has found his voice, it is clear why Miles agreed to putting Spoek Mathambo on the latest cover. He, like Hugh Masekela, is an image of what Rolling Stone is about. A magazine that puts a large emphasis on local artists that have interesting stories and an attitude that is bold and creative. Miles mentions how a lot of advertisers put pressure on the magazine to put sexy women and white people on the cover because those typically are better for sales. “Integrity can very easily go out the window”, says Miles, but once again he always tries to stick to his morals and put genuine people on the cover and not stoop to lower levels of commercialized advertising. Miles states very firmly that “Rolling Stone is about integrity”.

Listening to Miles, the Editor of Rolling Stone, really makes it seem as if the South African media industry is something to be proud of. Not only does Miles expect a lot from the artists that he features, he also expects a high quality of work to come from his writers. He mentions what an honour it is to be able to work with great writers such as Rian Malan and Evan Milton. Writers that have a “360 degree commitment” in that they are able to express themselves in a personal and honest way. The stories in Rolling Stone are about getting to know the artist and hearing what they have to say. Being able to answer “pop cultural questions that the man on the street asks” and thus being a magazine that is easy to relate to by a broad audience. It is not difficult to see that Miles is very much a believer in passionate writing and writing with story to share. As clichéd as it may sound, Miles affirms multiple times how important it is to “write from the heart”. He mentions how it is very easy to know whether you believe what a writer is saying or not, and Rolling Stone is a magazine in which he genuinely works hard to create a layout of sincerely written and engaging stories.

The future of Rolling Stone seems very bright and full of possibilities for even greater success. In such a technological society, the fear that traditional print media is being replaced by online content is a significant issue. However Miles is adamant that this is not where Rolling Stone South Africa is headed. It is a magazine that tries to “keep it as real as we can” and this would not entail having readers scanning over online articles in a superficial manner. The most important part about the magazine is for readers to feel a part of it, which cannot happen online because articles are “designed for print”. It is a comfort to know that there is still hope for actual print media, as it is hard to compare reading something online to holding a tangible book and actually engaging thoughtfully in the process.

Miles Keylock was a surprising speaker. It was somewhat unexpected to hear such honest and energetic responses. In turn, it felt as if one was really able to get to know Miles on an everyday level and as a result really believing the things he has said. His passion for writing, music and the magazine is moving. Having such a passion for the ‘write things’ might just be what this country needs to become even further immersed within and supportive of its diverse bowl of talents to show and stories to tell.

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The Mystery of the Jungle

The Mystery of the Jungle

Inez Patel

 

I first heard this song when I was about 5 years old. Sitting in front of the television, young and carefree, I gazed at bright images of friendly lions, laughing hyenas and wise baboons. What did not cross my mind, and has not crossed many people’s minds, was that this song had in fact been around longer than I had; it had travelled the world more than I had and had been impacted by many other people. The truth is The Lion Sleeps Tonight is neither an original Disney song nor creation of any of the other American groups that performed it.  The question is how did a song by a traditional Zulu man in South Africa titled Mbube come to be the commercialized tune that it is today?

The story starts with Solomon Linda, born in 1909 in Zululand, South Africa. Inspired by American Jazz syncopation, Linda mixed this into his traditional Zulu songs which he performed at weddings and special occasions. In the mid-thirties, Linda and friends headed into Johannesburg to find work. Singing on the weekends, they managed to obtain quite a reputation for themselves and so a few years later The Evening Birds emerged. They were “a very cool urban act” – Rian Malan. Always sharply dressed in matching pinstriped suits and bowler hats, The Evening Birds had the town talking. It wasn’t just their accentuated dress code that brought them the attention though; their music initiated the take-off of isicathamiya music. Isicathamiya music is characterised by a lead falsetto voice (has the texture of a female voice) sung over a group of bass voices. With this, The Evening Birds achieved a harmonious blend of voices that also had a sense of traditional African choral music. In addition to their dress code and style of singing, The Evening Birds had one more element that helped capture the attention of the crowds. This was the tightly choreographed foot stampings that accompanied the singing and when done perfectly in unison, made the floors shake.

The Evening Birds had always been a highly influential group. Their innovation of isicathamiya style was followed by the likes of Paul Simon in his collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  Their song Homeless shows a clear influence of isicathamiya in terms of it’s a capella singing; Paul Simon’s lead falsetto voice over the rest of the bass voices. However, the original title of the song was Mbube. Linda’s Mbube influenced many in its journey across the globe, but in a way in which nearly all acknowledgment of Solomon Linda was overlooked. The Evening Birds first recorded Mbube in 1939. They recorded at Eric Gallow’s studio which was the first recording studio in sub-saharan Africa. The song is said to have been inspired by a childhood memory of The Evening Birds’ in which they were chasing a lion; the word ‘mbube’ means lion.

What is it about this song that made it so remarkable? When recording it, the first few attempts were rather weak but once they had finished, Griffiths Motsieloa, the first black producer of the country working with Gallo, knew that they had created something of significant value. The song’s underlying chant of the isicathamiya bass singers accompanied by Linda’s improvised falsetto yodelling created a distinct musical creation. By 1948, Mbube had sold about 100 000 copies. Yet somehow all that Linda received was 10 shillings from the studio. This is then where the copyright issues came into play. Once shipped overseas, the tune was heard in about 160 different recorded versions, played in about 13 movies, a few TV commercials and played endlessly on the radio.

Pete Seeger, was a banjo player in a folk group called The Weavers. When The Weavers listened to the song they heard the word ‘wimoweh’ instead of ‘mbube’ and so Mbube became Wimoweh. Seeger most certainly managed to stay true to the song’s style of singing as he wailed his heart out to capture what Solomon Linda had achieved. Rian Malan noted how Wimoweh was “by far the edgiest song in the Weavers’ set”. Of course the song was embellished and Westernised with blaring trombones and trumpets as well as singing strings to wave through the melody. Seeger did however acknowledge Linda, tracked him down and sent him a $1000 and further instructed for the same to be done with all future payments. Turns out that Linda’s family did not receive the payments until much later.

Following this, the song was further adopted by others such as jazz musician Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac and The Kingston Trio who managed to keep it on the charts for as long as three years. The major revamp of the yodelled tune came about when The Tokens took interest in it. The Tokens were a boy group from Brooklyn. They knew the song but producers wanted it to have a more modern feel with lyrics. So Wimoweh was sent off to George Weiss, a prominent name in the music writing industry. The dismantling of the song resulted in the replacing of the ‘primitive’ howling with “In the jungle, the mighty jungle” as the words to carry the original melody. When recorded, the further addition of an orchestra, drums, guitars, percussion and an opera singer were recruited. With this, The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens reached Number One on the national charts. From this, it eventually came to be the song most people know from Disney’s The Lion King and thus being a song that Rian Malan deems as “a song the whole world knows”.

That is the story of the evolution of Mbube in terms of its musical developments, however, another significant aspect to look at is the copyright and royalty issues. In 1939, when Linda and The Evening Birds recorded the song they walked away with ten shillings because at that time, according to Rian Malan, “no one got royalties, and copyright was unknown”. Joe Mogotsi of The Manhattan Brothers also mentions in A Lion’s Trail, a documentary on the story of Solomon Linda’s Mbube directed by Francois Verster, that in that time “black people were really not allowed to have a royalty”.  The ten shillings that Linda got was for handing over the rights of the song to Gallo. Following this, Gallo sold the rights over to TRO even before The Weavers got a hold of it. For The Weavers, this was just a song from some man in South Africa that had never been copyrighted. Therefore the song was pretty much free from any responsibilities and was thus attributed to a Paul Campbell who in fact turned out to be merely an alias. It was common practice at that time for many songs in the public domain to be claimed by fake names so as not to be directly embarrassed if the song did not succeed.

Following this, Wimoweh was taken on by two RCA producers through The Tokens and they found out that Paul Campbell was an alias and that in fact the song did not really belong to anyone. So when The Lion Sleeps Tonight was released it was under George Weiss and the RCA producers’ names. Things did not go so well when one of Seeger’s publishers heard the unforgettable melody in The Tokens’ arrangement and then demanded that all publishing rights be returned to him. Yet in the end, to keep good business Seeger’s publisher allowed Weiss and allies to keep the writer royalties for the song. Therefore the new copyright agreed to give credit of the song Lion to Paul Campbell.

In all this, the name Solomon Linda was forgotten. In 1962, Linda passed away without having received anything close to the money and recognition that he deserved. His family were left in poverty, not even able to pay for a gravestone to be placed. Once journalist Rian Malan became interested in the story, he tracked down a number of individuals involved in the royalties that the family were supposed to be receiving. This included the family’s lawyer, Larry Richmond (president of TRO) and Harold Leventhal (dealt with The Weavers). In the end he discovered that the Linda family were only receiving 12.5% of the Wimoweh royalties and only 1% of The Lion Sleeps Tonight revenues. Eventually a large lawsuit emerged with the heads of TRO fighting Weiss and Co. over who gets the copyright of the song. In the end TRO tried to redeem themselves in urging for the Linda family to get their deserved recognition. The case ended with Weiss winning the copyrights to the song provided that 10% of the royalties went to the Linda family.

In all fairness, Linda did hand over the rights of the song to Eric Gallo all those years ago and so legally his family were not completely entitled to anything. However it does seem like a happy and just end to a very long story that his family get money from the royalties as some form of acknowledgment of what Linda created for the music world. Now, there is great hope that when my children are watching Disney’s The Lion King and singing that remarkable tune, I’ll be sure to tell them that that song was in fact a song by one of our very own South Africans.

Cape Town’s Local Talent put to the Test

Cape Town’s Local Talent put to the Test

Inez Patel

 

Zula Bar has become one of Cape Town’s best spots for music lovers to go watch their favourite local bands. Just the other night Zula hosted the talents of Bicycle Thief, Peachy Keen and Fire Through the Window.

Although the night started out a lot slower and emptier than expected, by 10pm Bicycle Thief finally took the stage. “If We Pretend” was their first song that kicked off the night with a strong rhythmic drumming beat. The serene and smooth texture of lead singer Tim Lester’s voice, while being a contrast to, complimented the stadium rock sound of the band. Along with their catchy melodies and really exciting guitar riffs, these talented musicians know how to give a good performance. They gave an honest impression that they were giving their all while really enjoying their music.

Following this act, Peachy Keen showed up with a performance that blew me away. Their integration of country style vocals, rock backing and a hint of the 50s kept the audience engulfed. Described by one audience member as being a “really interesting mix”, this band is most certainly something I will keep looking out for. The general atmosphere of the band is very different, apart from the incorporation of a gorgeous double bass, with their rather fair mix of male and female counterparts they are definitely creating a revolutionary musical atmosphere. Their song “Shot a Man Down”, which they’ve just released a video for, had the audience simultaneously doing some form of dosey doe dance and a 50s twist and shake. As these talented musicians shout out to the audience “I wanna see you rock ‘n roll like you’re in the 50s” you hear the groovy plucking of the walking bass line emanating from the double bass. It’s all just such a fun vibe being created. They embody their act completely, from the singing to the instrumentals to the women’s cute matching red Dorothy-type shoes. A performance I will never forget.

Although they were supposed to be the main act of the night, Fire Through the Window seemed to have lost their ‘fire’.  Their music in general was not awful and it might just be that they had a tough act to follow. Yet many of the audience members had in fact agreed with me that they did not put on a very striking performance. Fire Through the Window has been doing really well in the local scene and so a part of me thinks that their performance was lacking because of the unbalanced sound. It was very difficult to hear the vocals over the other instruments. Besides that however, there was something else missing, one audience member when referring to the lead singer said bluntly that “her persona is shit”. As much as I’m very much for successful female musicians, Sinéad Dennis did not have the vocals to stand out and seemed to focus more on twirling her hair than putting on a good show. The one song that did manage to get some excitement out of the crowd was, as the band said themselves, “easy to sing along to, it’s just do do do”. This doesn’t seem like much of a compliment as the music of this song does not show off any special musical talents, as can be noted by the simplistic lyrics.

So that was it, three bands performing on a Saturday night in Cape Town. Is it something I would do again? Sure. At the end of the night, I went home and listened to Bicycle Thief’s new album Ammunition that the band had handed out and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the live performance. The songs I downloaded from Peachy Keen took me right back to their fun performance. Unsurprisingly, listening to Fire Through the Window’s stuff recorded was a very different experience. It seems as if they might not be one of those bands who perform as well as they can record. In my opinion it is really important for bands to give performances that are as good as their recorded music; a good live performance is unforgettable and is ultimately what keeps you going back.

 

Local is not Lekker

South Africa is a country that is incredibly rich with musical talent and we always appreciate having international bands perform here. However, the assumption that South Africa remains silent when there are no international acts is not true; this ‘gap’ is instead filled with local acts that are  just as incredible as anyone overseas. But is it possible that we are the only ones who know of the talent that so many South African musicians possess? The loss of South African heritage in artists who are successful internationally is making this a definite possibility. The United States is where everyone makes it big, but sometimes, it is also the place where musicians forget where they are from.

A friend of mine decided that to make her singing and acting career a reality – naturally she had to go to the USA. On her first visit back a few months later, she still had her South African accent and told us that her manager thought she should keep it because it “made her different”. On her next visit here (about a year later), however, her accent was the strongest American accent I had ever heard. Apparently being South African wasn’t working out for her musical career after all.

Like my former-South African friend, Seether is a band that has taken on American attributes. The band was started in South Africa in 1999 and by 2002 they had reached international fame. Since then, Seether has been based in the USA and have only come back to perform in South Africa twice, in 2006 and 2008. “Well first we’re just going to Europe then we’re going to countries we haven’t been to before we’re going to Australia [and] New Zealand and then after that we hook up with 3 Doors Down in Europe and we finish the tour with them and we come back  [to the US] and we do a Nickelback tour in April and June I think,” says Seether’s front man, Shaun Morgan, on their 2012 tour. Hopefully one day soon South Africa will feature in one of the band’s ‘world’ tours.

Like Seether, Civil Twilight is also a band that seems to have lost touch with their roots. Formed in South Africa but based in Los Angeles from 2005, the band had their ‘big break’ in 2007,  and since then the only time they have stopped by for a quick concert was in October 2011, at the Rocking the Daisies festival in Cape Town.

I’m sure if either of these bands could justify themselves, they would argue that it was the gaining of success that made them abandon their heritage. To get to where you want to be, sometimes you have to make certain sacrifices and give up things you don’t want to give up. In the case of Seether and Civil Twilight, they are both rock bands and have no particularly unique aspects to them that could make them stand out. Their genre is a genre of the Western world and to be successful in that world, they have to live and breathe Western culture. But is it worth it to have worldwide success when you don’t have your country standing behind you, for the simple reason that many South Africans do not even know that these bands are originally from their home country?

Die Antwoord is a band that seems to be doing incredibly well internationally even though most of the global audience can’t understand their lyrics, let alone their name. The band’s uniqueness is what got them an act at Coachella in 2010 and what makes them one of Fred Durst and Katy Perry’s favourite band. The uniqueness I speak of is their completely weird music, which could be placed under the genre ‘Zef’. Zef is Die Antwoord, Die Antwoord is Zef; there is really no other way to explain it. In a nutshell, Die Antwoord’s South African-ness is what made them so well-known around the world. Now isn’t that a treat?

And then there are artists, such as Paul Simon, who aren’t even from South Africa originally but have used huge parts of South Africa’s genres in their music. Paul Simon’s album, Graceland, was released in 1986, and was a huge hit. Simon included many South African aspects in this album, such as the Zulu Isicathamiya singing style and the Mbaqanga style. He worked with the internationally recognised Ladysmith Black Mambazo as well. It was a perfect mix of American and South African styles. Not only was this Paul Simon’s most successful solo album, it also won several Grammy Awards and reached number 3 on the US Billboard 200. A classic example that South African music is not only limited to the South African audience, but internationally, it is enjoyed just as much, if not more.

The only way the music industry in South Africa is going to be noticed is by musicians who take the world by storm and let everyone know where they are from and that they will always remain Proudly South African. Bands like Die Antwoord, Freshlyground and GoldFish are bands that are not giving up on their country, and still call South Africa their home. That’s not to say that Seether and Civil Twilight aren’t completely wrong in ignoring their roots, their genre demands the taking on of western culture. But maybe it’s possible for these bands, in their next few albums, to start bringing aspects of South Africa into their music. The South African fan base would love it and they would probably make many more fans in their home country, fans that may not even particularly like their music, but will support them because they are South African; they are part of a community.

That friend of mine who went overseas to reach her dream? Well, I think if she wanted to tell the world she was South African, she could. I doubt that this would make her any less successful than she would be taking on this American persona. Surely it’s better to be known as the “21-year-old South African girl with a voice like gold” than “just another American teenager who is exactly like every other female artist out there”? It’s about being noticed, standing out. Fitting in doesn’t get you noticed, you just become a part of the crowd: a tiny drop in an ever-growing ocean.

A WORD OF ADVICE FROM AUNTY ROSE

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A powerful band comprised of three powerful men, Rosemary Towns End is the freshest upcoming band in all the land. They played their first gig early last year and having shared the stage with Taxi Violence, Hog Hoggidy Hog and The Plastics to name a few, they are quickly becoming everybody’s favourite aunt. I had the pleasure of sitting down with front man, lead guitar and vocals, Cyle Myers, who had a few pearls of wisdom to drop.

Cyle walks towards me in a pair of his famous skinny jeans (which apparently do not belong to him) and with a huge smile on his face, says; “I’m happy today!” Yes, indeed he seems rather pleasant, unassuming and ready to be serious about band stuff. Maybe.

It has been said that the band does not really take themselves seriously, and in no way are wanting to be famous rock stars. These guys are only and all about the music, and whether they make it big or not is irrelevant to them. “I just dig jamming,” says Cyle, and the passion is evident in their super tight, live performances.

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  Cyle Myers, lead guitar and vocals, Zula Bar, Cape Town.

RMTE are taking things to the next level without even trying to; their dirty, bluesy, grungy sound is a breath of fresh air compared to all the indie bands drowning out the local music scene. Influences include Wolfmother, The Black Keys and The White Stripes, which comes through strongly in songs like With Your Sails and California Lover. Instead of following the indie trend, these guys are keeping their feet rooted firmly in the grime that is true rock n’ roll.

“I don’t wanna find like, an identity in a band”, says Cyle, “like I’ll put the effort in that is required, but if it doesn’t go anywhere like, I’ll just go surf and still be happy playing for two people in a bar.”

As chilled out as the band is regarding fame, they are working hard to ensure they bring good tunage to those who are willing to listen. Recently joined drummer, Asher Gamedze, is bringing in a different beat. Opposed to the regular 4/4 time signatures, Asher is chopping  and changing it up “which makes it more interesting, and it’s kind of difficult as well because you’ve gotta like change your whole approach to the song and it gives the song a new flavour, which I dig!” an enthusiastic Cyle exclaims. Expect some spice on their new track Mr. Brown “which is our hardest song, because of all the different parts” says Cyle, and is almost ready for its debut performance. Excited? I most certainly am.

Bassist, Jaryd Davidson, is also working on a new song, but not much was revealed about this one. Both Cyle and Jaryd write lyrics, however according to Cyle: “Jaryd writes a lot of lyrics and is actually a better lyricist than I am, like he writes really good lyrics and it flows really well…he is like more of a poet, I think [laughs], in a non-gay way.” Girls like musical poets. Just saying.

The song Gypsy Caravan, written by Cyle, was in fact inspired by a woman (like most things in this world), and marks a time where Cyle let go of himself. No, not in the eat-too-much-and-gain-20kgs kind of way, but more in the: “instead of planning every manoeuvre like a chess game, just go with the wind and see where you end up” kind of way.

Now, the band is hoping that the wind will carry them to save up enough money to record two singles, and perhaps a music video, and because the band is so responsible with the money they make, this might happen sooner rather than later.

Even though Cyle has little faith in the South African music industry and believes that its a “pipe dream and doesn’t really go anywhere”, the attitude has most certainly increased the fun factor for him and makes clear that he is in it for the pure enjoyment of making music. However, if you have lost your faith in South African music, catch Rosemary Towns End live and make sure you are prepared to have your face melted and your faith restored.

By: Iman Adams