images from the melt2000 and forest jam archives kindly supplied by robert trunz
Mabi Thobejane: “Chicken Man”
“With music, everyday try,” says Mabi. “And pray!” Mabi is a world traveller with music, all the way since 1965. He lived in Harlem between ’72 and ’77 and travelled all over America. Like a resident director he can stay behind his drum kit for hours on end. 5,6 hours he says. This is the trance of the music. Mabi is master of the trance and at last he is home. Perhaps there is no irony that the surname of Robert, Trunz sounds like trance? Because Mabi and Robert have become best of friends, business partners and brothers …
We don’t read music, but I am starting now with scales. Scales is the one that builds the music. You have to know your key. From scales you get the chord and from the chords, then you can make a song. Maybe somewhere you want a minor and you put the minor. Maybe you want a sharp, you put a sharp. I am learning now. I am not going to use the book, only to be right. To know this chord, how many key notes are there. Now I am practicing. They say it is never too late to learn. That is why I have got books. Simphiwe is the guy who helped me. He was playing piano, trumpet, percussion and marimba. He told me, ‘You want to know how to play piano, I can see.’ I say okay lets go and buy books and we bought books and now I am reading those books. I am far because I am in the music. I know 3/4 4/4 6/4 6/8. I want to get in and then I will sing something with the piano.
Because piano is a percussion instrument. That is the sort of thing, remember Moses when he did Genes and Spirits, he used to ask you (Mabi). Moses did a lot of research, even in studios, you see that in some of the videos, when in the studio and everybody was hanging around with him and he was trying to play the rhythms with his hands.
And he used to come to me and then he say please can you play those things with the sticks and then he tries it with the piano and he gets it right. He says, ‘Ja Ja no, this thing is here’. He was not jealous. His wife was jealous.
He wanted to know so much knowledge. He loved to have all these people around because he learnt. A lot of the things he did on Genes and Spirits is because he was around. They were recording at EC1 studios of Juno Reactor in London. There was Mabi and Amampondo guys travelling with Juno Reactor. He was learning from them all the different rhythms. I think that is the beauty of the label, the fact that you could get together. We don’t have that anymore. I hope that somebody at some stage will see the value of a farm like this, to make a school or a place where young musicians and young artists can access the knowledge of these people around. Mabi can teach.
Aisha, I just show her a simple rhythm. And she played it and I left her alone to play it. She told herself and she played it. A simple beat but it can mean a lot.
In a school like this you can have different seminars, different weeks in the period where there are school holidays where you can take in younger children 12 – 15.
I like them from 11 because I started at 11. You are already there. You can take things and put them in your head and come back and remember them. 13, they start jiving. Girls, they like boys and boys they like girls by 13. It is the first time they start to see this thing. They go and concentrate on it and they don’t care about school. Most kids at 13 they start to fail.
Schooling on a farm will also be nice, even for a month, the whole vegetable things; the sustainability of a place, and then go back to a normal school and carry something over there. You can’t change the world by doing things that are not practical. This is a very practical place.
The thing that I don’t want to leave is this thing of poultry because this thing of poultry is going to help a lot of kids and it is going to help the future of the kids to know how to hatch the eggs.
You know what? When I pray for my ancestors I kill chickens. Those chickens open my road. Those chickens they help me to talk to my ancestors and my ancestors can join me quicker. I slaughter at all times.
The thing is I don’t stay in one place and my wife goes to church and the kids are very rough. Kids nowadays don’t want to do nothing. You can’t tell them to do that thing, they will never do it. Now I say because I am travelling, if I had chickens they would die because they don’t care about them.
That happened to you before.
Yes I had about 100 chickens.
My investment was gone, 100 chickens.
It was my stepbrother and his friend. I borrowed them the incubator. I don’t want family in my business, no more.
You were as lucky with business partners as I have been.
Does trance music bare similarity to the traditional African music?
Mabi says, despite Roberts interruptions
Rob changed me to techno music. We were going to the studio, recording and Ben was there from England. Robert said Mabi what about drinking tea or coffee. I said Ja that is a good idea and we went. Robert said Mabi come here, there is a guy in here called Ben in England, come and listen to what is going on. I get in there and listen and say Rob, this is the kind of music that I like. Who is this? He says it is Ben. He says Mabi, can you do something with him now. I said okay, ‘let’s do it’.
Robert comes in,
It became the first trance track with African rhythms and the track was called Conga Fury and it made it into films and all kinds of stuff. There was a series of cartoons that came with the Matrix film, and there like everywhere they were playing it. Here Moyo, they used his track in their music. You must go little back. There is another step missing here. Ben, his wife Norma in 1994, came to the studios here and I don’t know if you knew Norma before that? After that I invited them to come to the desert, to the Bushmen expedition, so Ben and Norma came. Norma was filming and Ben was recording with me. Ben is quite a spacy character. Whatever music he does you can actually see a sequence of a film in it. His music is very easy to use on films. He writes scripts. Maybe one day he will make his own film. He was doing music for a very famous cartoonist. They sell millions all over the world. Ben is highly known. There was a time when they were touring with Moby, after Moby, the whole thing started to take off. I heard that the people who came for Moby were more into Juno Reactor so that got June Reactor their own tours in United States and all over the place, and especially Japan.
Finland, Budapest, all over, Zurich, Washington, you name any city… For Juno it was every city.
Mabi used to go around with a High 8 camera, he was filming all this funky, weird shit. I got those cassettes somewhere. When you look at some of the stuff that Mabi filmed over the years it is hilarious, you can make something out of it. A really important, amazing story about Mabi filming his own shit. Do you remember the film about Rowan Atkinson, Mr Bean. You (Mabi) are the closest to that. I must find the cassettes.
What you and Madala do without the computers seems to be trance?
But, but you can’t say it is also another kind of trance. It is the origin from which the kids have taken the techno and that style because it is a repetitive thing which actually goes on which actually puts you in to trance without actually having to take drugs. The misconception of techno, even in Durban, the whole doof doof is you have to take drugs. But if you have trance on the level then the repetitiveness is still there but the intensity is different. It is the energy level that is worked up. You can’t work it up in the same way with drugs. There is a time when they played and very often I had the most beautiful experiences when Mabi played with Amampondo. With all these people on stage, and there were times with Bruce Wassy and Changuito, Airto, and all these guys together in one big room with nothing else just percussion; the hair stands up. Then you feel this energy that is there. That is the trance music, like when you go to a sangoma gathering or whatever, it is nice.
In trance you go out, away, nobody can talk to you, only the music will carry you. When that music stops, coming back is like dropping down.
What about the painting? (Mabi paints himself before performing)
Sometimes I thought about changing. Ben said yes. From there, Mandla is a Xhosa guy and he knows how to paint. I said Mandla I want white in there and black in there and a stripe and Mandla did that (pointing to his face). And from there I went on doing that and then I decided I want to be a black and white leopard and then I started painting dots on me. And then I said now I am right now. Without that, I am not Mabi playing. That is where I get into trance, when I painted myself like that and I am wearing the African clothes. Immediately when I wear those clothes and I am on stage I am in trance, I am gone. I come back later. The only way to play in that cave, because when you are in that cave, you don’t see nobody, you just listen to what you are doing and that is it. You don’t have to look at nobody, you can close your eyes and just go. When I am with Madala it happens every time like that, all the time the same.
You can use trance to communicate with the ancestors instead of killing chickens?
No I communicate with them, I just talk to them, just like I am talking to you. I say now I am slaughtering this for you people to enjoy yourselves. And I am going to dance so help me, dancing on stage and help me in the show I am going to that it must be successful.
Is Madala slaughtering chickens?
He is not slaughtering chickens. Madala is lighting Mpepu. In Durban they have got medicines to light. Me I use chicken. The African healers, every healer I ask they say, ‘you, white chickens’. There is another one that told me, ‘your heart has lots of chickens, what do you want to do with the chickens?’ I say. ‘no to sell’. He says ‘you are right’. If you do that you will be alright. That was how I started and there were plenty. We sold others and ate others. If you talk to your ancestors and somebody does a wrong thing behind you, the ancestors can see, they are going to hit that guy.
How is Robert addressing African customs?
Although he is white, he knows because he has been with Africans. He knows everything. Robert I think of him like a family brother. When I want Robert I ask one person Madala where is Robert and he will tell me where Robert is.
Interview Byron who made Spirit of the Drum album about Mabi Thobejane
When I met Mabi I had a studio already for about ten years and I was writing mainly dance music and one of the things that got me into dance music was the Juno Reactor stuff on Blue Room. I remember Mabi’s face on the front of cover, one side black, one side white.
Black and white piano, black and white keys.
I heard a lot of stuff before that inspired me but when I heard the stuff with Mabi I felt there was something African with real rhythm and heart, the motherland speaking back to us. It felt very good for me at that stage because the psychedelic scene was only really born in ’96. It came from Goa and that is where electronic music became spiritual again. Because electronic music had lost that in the 80’s. It became about money and sex and those kinds of things. And people searching through techno. But when it went outdoor in India; that is where it went spiritual again. It is in the East. Electronic music had moved to the East and found its spirit. It hadn’t really moved much to the West yet. And then it started to move West and I find that Africa is right in the middle of the two. It is like the two different lobes in the brain; the male and the female. And the planets, move like that for me. It is like the nose in-between. The long vibration, it knows. It is balanced. Somehow it felt like music needed to come out of Africa. Because that is where the rhythm has always been. The strong flow of rhythm. If you look at African people dancing. Six months old and that little guy has got rhythm. Mabi really inspired me to keep writing to keep in the scene. And then I met Mabi through Robert and Lianne. Me and Mabi clicked straight away. And I would have loved to write a lot of music with Mabi. At the time, he was working overseas.
We were working everywhere. If we do America we do America to the see. And if we do Japan, it is Japan at the Fuji Mountain. People will come with the escalator, a lot of people, but they don’t see the one that goes down, you see only the one that comes up. That is okay. When Juno is in the trance and the African dance; they like that all over the world. We have been all over, Finland, Iceland, Ukraine…
Wherever Mabi goes he sparks a fire in the people’s bellies, they want to move. I have seen Mabi at some events.
(He says to Mabi)
Remember that time we were at the earth dance and I had to stand at the door. Those other ladies were coming and talking to you.
I took Mabi to an Earthdance and he played. It was electronic music and people were dancing and having a good time. And then Mabi was on stage just by himself and the music stopped and just Mabi played with the drums and people danced. He called people from the back with the drums. He would see the people standing and play one type of rhythm that would get the people moving. And he would reel them all in until the people were dancing. He is fire.
If you use this beat, it is alright for them to dance. Because you don’t go faster, you don’t go slow, you go just there, just like you walk. It is where they start dancing. Donga toka donga tooka … You saw that in Durban? That is the dance. In Juno the electronics they produce is what we record. Me I am playing with that. It becomes nice because I can twist the people. That music we did you can’t twist the people so I have to twist the people live. Show them the way. It is like magic. That is what Juno Reactor is about.
Dancing is like medicine, it is like a spiritual process that people go through to dance and that is how it has always been since the beginning of time. It was not because people wanted to look flashy at a club, it is spiritual, they want to heal themselves; they want to celebrate. It is something that came from inside. And Mabi taps into that, the real humanness, the real soul and heart of it and that is how he gets people moving. He uses that energy; that flow. And then I felt that this is what music is lacking; this kind of fire, this kind of inspirational energy that is so human to us and then I searched all over for music like that and samples like that and artists like that, that I could mix into my music. I searched into sample CD’s worldwide and no one had done samples on proper African rhythms because I wanted to put that in my music and Mabi was busy and all over the place. And there was a gap and I felt we needed to document Mabi and get him out there and get it into all the studios. People can start feeling that real rhythm, that rhythm that has got heart and soul in it. At that time Mabi was really busy he did the music for the second Matrix movie in the part where there was that big party…
Matrix the first one there is a song there, Conga Fury, we played with Ben. And then Reloaded; we made percussion there. On Reloaded we put every percussion there, the whole percussion is me and Ben. And then the big band, the orchestra of Los Angeles, the guy Doug, he was there also when we do that thing. He puts some things there, some percussion, other music and the orchestra. It was so nice for me to experience. My bass drum, when it says goom; they have another thing that says goom. They were asking me who made this drum. I say ‘I made that drum.’ They say, ‘no man that drum’ … Because I can play that big drum here, you will hear it at the gate if there is a big sound system. When I play goom ta ta tak goom ta ta tak, people they move and that is the right thing.
Mabi was busy working on the music for Matrix. He was coming back and was going to be here for a short while, I had a little gap so I said Mabi I am booking you as soon as he came back. He booked on the flight, he was back for one or two days, so we went into the studio for one or two days, just recording all the rhythms, documenting each one. And then I spent months cutting them up so they can fit on the samplers, packs for different samplers. I spent about six months working on that. There are lots of rhythms, separate mics on different drums. And then I recorded Mabi doing different rhythms with the voice. Even when Mabi is talking to us, he says it is like this daga doo. It is his voice already, it is coming from inside, he doesn’t even need drums. Just that is beautiful. We documented that and I was in Cape Town, I had been promised by one of the sample people that they were going to take the project. They are pretty much the only company in South Africa that distributes samples and had the monopoly on the market. At that time you couldn’t really get much downloaded stuff, you had to buy disks for your studio. I didn’t get a contract with them but they said of I print that amount, they would take it all. After I went back to them, I went with the boxes in the car. And they said to me we are not going to take this project, it is in competition with the project we are about to bring out. Bastards! I had given them the idea and they made an African sample disk. At the time I had put all my money into printing the disks. Also I had another project I had just released. A DVD of all the visuals I had made in combinations with the sounds. #D landscapes that were moving to the sounds. I played at Vortex down in Cape Town, the first guy to play his own visuals and DVD’s together in front of a crowd. I ran out of money and there was nothing I could do. I decided I need to get a farm because I always wanted to live outside of the city and get settled. I was never really relaxed, I was always trying to write music and make money and all this kind of stuff. I moved up to Joburg and it took me four years to get a farm. I am living in a big tent. I have started to buy equipment again.
Drum Spirit DVD
It is called Drum Spirit. It is still very useable information. It is ancient new rhythms, a part of who we are. They will always be relevant.
Can you convert it to education?
Yes I would love to take it further and work with Mabi. I wouldn’t know where to go right now. My head has been in making money. I have only just bought equipment again, and now I am sitting next to Mabi. It is like a full circle that has come back again.
The wheel goes that way. It is round. When you start here, you come back there again.
What is the spirit of the drum?
From the ancestors, they are the ones who drive you, because when I am on stage, it is like somebody is on this side and somebody is on that side. When I look at it, it is like there are people next to me and that feeling makes me comfortable and to play and listen to whatever we do. And even when I drop in, drop out, sometimes I am afraid of getting in. By then I will be helping myself just to tighten the rhythm, with the whole body. Not one foot, but the whole body. The soul is the dance the from the ancestors. They keep me moving. Tiki Tiki doom doom, katika doom doom. You see the change. The ancestors are putting me into there. Sometimes I ask myself how did I play that by the show, I don’t know. I say the show was nice, but which song was the right one. I don’t know. It means I was in trance. They put me in and they left me there. So I must look for my place, whdere am I, oh I am on the drum. Sometimes it is like I am watching. I believe in the ancestors. And they like to dance. If I play my drums, they dance with me. That is how I get into trance to be with them, to connect with them. And the people are dance, holding each other, like the show at the Rainbow. People go like a train. It is funny, they start from this side and then they look at the door and then from there they go round. They didn’t want to leave. They enjoy it. I don’t know how many pictures they took because I was with the African attire.
Byron how did you get with Robert?
I had some CD’s from the Blue Room label and they were one of the pioneering labels from the underground dance scene, but not just the techno scene, but the scene that had some magic in it. To meet him was amazing to me, it felt like a really good connection. He is a beautiful man.
Robert means a lot. More than what he is. He collected me from, I was going to die if Robert was not there. Robert was my fan first. He liked me too much. Meeting me we connected just like a nail and a finger. Robert took me, I was sick in Durban. He took me to England to go and meet Dr Michael. They fix me nice nice. That guy got me right. Until everything was fine, even my temperature was down. Everybody wanted Robert. Now I said me I will stay with you, just to feel him. Robert I take him like a, let’s forget him about the culture, but I take him as my younger brother who is clever and I believe in him. I can see a light. And now he came with other people and now I am learning from them. It is the beginning of the right thing. Which is good. We can meet each other and share sounds together. I feel very good, more stronger. Lets do it together, because together we can make it. If I am not there and you are not there, who is there? There is nobody there. So, we must all go in there and check what is happening. I thank God. If God can help Robert this second time. Let him make this second time, first time. It must look like it is the first time not the second time.
Interview Robert Trunz about Madala Kunene Cullinan Sunday 30/01
For me it was a reunion of the two. I haven’t seen them for many years now. The last time I saw them together was in Montpelier in France, they did the festival le Printemps. It is a real nice festival and they were there in residence for a few weeks. I hadn’t seen Mabi so it was nice to see Mabi live again and especially in this place that in a part of Johannesburg that I didn’t know even existed. I haven’t been there a lot, so it is quite fascinating to get such an incredible feel going in such a small place and Steve Mokoena is doing some nice stuff.
Madala I experienced on the 20th December at the Rainbow and it got better in the second half of the concert because Bernard (the bass player) came to me in the break and said ‘Oh Bafo, heish it doesn’t sound nice. What can I do?’ I said I know it doesn’t sound nice. I gave him a few tips and they adjusted the whole system a little bit and afterwards it sounded really good. That for me was also a very interesting gig because it had the sax player Mdu Magwaza from Mango groove. I only saw him on pictures when they were playing in America because I had a real bad taste in my mouth after a concert with Madala way back in 2006. Mbeki was still in power and Mbeki’s wife did a thing for local handicraft. Local craftsmen were invited to come and present their goods in the presidential gardens. Mbeki’s house was there in the corner and there was a huge lawn, like the old apartheid governments’ beautiful gardens and beautiful buildings. And she had a very expensive little tent and in each tent there were local craftsmen and so she brought along all these diplomats, people from the whole world. We had to stand on the side because Madam President was coming and all this. They spent an extraordinary amount of money on music as well. I thought a good investment. We had a few people playing there including Madala. And he had a sax player and a trumpet player playing with him, terrible. That is the worst nightmare concert I have ever heard of Madala, and I don’t know why, these two guys just didn’t gel. But when I came to this gig at the Rainbow I was expecting one of those sax players, but it wasn’t, it was the guy from Mango Groove and that was really groovy. I think for bigger concerts this is a good formation whereas the more intimate Madala is the one with Mabi which is the one I like, with guests. Gontse was playing. That is the side of Madala I would call Madala unplugged. For me the Madala unplugged is the one I love the most. He attracts a lot of good people, young people and musicians.
I don’t think it was an easy thing to grow up in the 90’s. It felt for me difficult to promote anything like Madala. The only two that ever made it was Busi because of her powerful appearance and not only that she has been around for some time and came back from exile. Or Moses was the other example. Otherwise it was practically impossible to promote that kind of music that we did. It was much easier to take them to London and fill a place there. Or take them to Europe. Here, nobody gave a shit in those days. Now that is changing.
Coming to the farm has always been, especially throughout the 2000’s when I was living here, a very important meeting place. Not only a meeting place but a place where a lot of things are created, out of which a lot of guidelines were created, music and different collaborations and all of that. One of the great examples that happened here is Della Tamin who came from Cameroon. He was here and they were recording. We did some live concerts with him and he went on from there and is doing very well. Now he is in Australia, last December he was in US. It is nice. From time to time there comes a message saying, ‘Merci Papa…’ I always like that. You have all these people spreading the news. They keep asking where is Melt? I don’t think that Melt2000 has got any importance. Now it is a catalogue, a documentation of a period of time which is passe. It has gone. It is a catalogue and it is fine. We have been moving onto the Forest Jam thing, the education side and that is where Madala comes in very strongly. It was a nice time to be in Durban for a month, to be a little closer to the family and all that and also to have Bernard around and have people playing, Gontse with Madala and all that. He has made a lot of progress Madala and developed a lot of confidence. He is not yet organised and never will be. Maybe one day somebody will afford to manage him and look after him and it will be perfect because he does deserve it. He is such a unique musician. Not only in this country, as far as I am concerned in Africa he should have a similar status to Ali Farke Toure and I have been saying that for many years. I was saying that already in ’95. They were in Europe and parallels were drawn to Ali Farke Toure and Madala. Because we have local traditional musicians like him, they are not the ones that go and live in Paris, New York or whatever, they want to be here. They love travelling and they love to come back because they have a family. He has a family of 9, so it is not easy if you want to keep up with them. But now he has been sitting at home for way to long.
Madala was saying that because of the things that we have been doing in the 90’s and because of the fact that we have had so many strong artists, in the end when the rest of the competition started to catch up on that, they basically blocked a lot of the artists. He thinks he was blocked by a lot of the companies that organise these concerts. It is a mafia, it is a mafia everywhere. Everywhere you go it is the same kind of mafia that looks after the distribution of money that is being given away by the government or the organisations. There are always plenty of people who know how to spend it and with whom to spend it, which is part of the politics or whatever.
I always understood Madala’s English quite well, and I don’t think it is what he says. It is often what he puts into the room that makes you think about things. He has got some quite profound traditional ways of doing things. Deeply embedded in tradition which I also see with Ricky in Madagascar, same thing. But then I also see a lot of the same kind of feelings or views about things that I share with him. It is also perhaps to do with that we have the same star sign. It never really crossed my mind because I can’t believe any of the birth dates that he has in his various different ID’s and passports. Every single document that you ever get your hands on has a different date of birth. Even his birth year they got wrong. Because of sharing similar views across continents it is something that I enjoyed all these years with Madala and to see now the kids growing up all over with a memory that is embedded in them that comes from a depth of people like Madala, it is great. You can see here for example, Msimanga came and Msimanga is Mpumi’s son. When Mpumi was living here before with Charmaine’s Mike, Nico and S’bu down there (in Durban); they all have this memory of that man, Madala Kunene.
And here especially also, Mabi. And now I come back to the thing that I was saying because it is not really a story about Madala, but a story about Madala and Mabi, because that is how it started, that is how I first met them in ’94 when we recorded Outernational Meltdown, because I had never seen anybody playing in time with out of time music, like Mabi. Mabi to me is a miraculous percussionist and drummer who is so close to Madala, it is a brotherhood. I feel also part of that brotherhood although there are different things over the years. Some experiences were very good and some experiences were less good. All in all, with a good relationship, up and downs from time to time. But then I see today the magic that is created when these two guys are together. That magic is just pure. In 1994, the first time, Mabi and Madala were joined by a couple of vocalists and Airto. That was really fantastic, three great musicians together. Then later on when I went back after the recordings with Madala; Mabi had disappeared. He was found in that hospital King Edward the 7th . He was staying with Sipho Gumede all this time and was practically dying. Sipho didn’t call anybody or say anything to anybody. But then after we got him out, a week later we went to do this recording that later came out as “King of the Zulu guitar”. That was recorded in two different locations. The first part was recorded in the backyard of Sipho Gumede’s house in Durban and then we went to a farm where Sipho Gumede’s mother was housing. I never understood exactly to who that farm belonged. Madala said he once gave the farm to Sipho. There hasn’t been a lot of love between those people, especially Sipho and Madala. Madala is not often angry, but he is a little bit angry, when somebody tricks you, you just stay away. I am also a person who rather walks away and that is it, which hasn’t been good financially, but it doesn’t really matter because if my inner peace is disturbed, I get sick; and every time I got sick, and I don’t want to be sick, so I walk. Madala is one of those people. Madala also doesn’t run after people. He doesn’t get involved when people want to do things because of this and that, political gain or put him up as an endorsement. Madala has always said no, which hasn’t helped him in becoming rich. And he has been going through tough times but he is Madala Kunene and there is only one Madala Kunene and there is only one Mabi Thobejane. That second recording, Madala with Mabi, that was out on this farm and there were people there, local people, there was a choir and they were all singing, and there was a river with sand and kids on the other side. Stunning. Very nice, peaceful recording and I think that is when Madala is at his best, the intimate evenings when you just hang out there at his place and he plays and sometimes he doesn’t stop for an hour or two. He keeps going and these days it is a bit different because the bladdy phone rings all the time. He has still got one phone, he hasn’t got to two phones yet. A lot of people call him all the time. And there were lots of concerts that followed and most of the time it was Mabi. Mabi was not there in ’97 when we did Printemps. I think Mabi was in America with Juno Reactor. Juno Reactor was supporting artist for Moby. That got Mabi off to work with Ben Watkins a lot. Then somehow when I was between England and here, 2000 and something, I hadn’t heard much from Madala for a while and then I get a message from someone who was saying that Madala has been publically saying something about music and sangoma’s and it didn’t go down well, Because he was hungry. Somebody interpreted it in the way that as a sangoma you are earning more than a musician, so he should become a sangoma. It went down the throat of some people in the wrong way and there was a lot of hassle and shit going on and even for Bernard and Mabi who have been together for ages and ages.
I wondered what the hell was going on so I called and I hear all these stories, I just got on the phone to Mabi and say Mabi come round to Cullinan. So Mabi comes and I put him in the car and we put some recording equipment and some of his gear and we drove straight down to Durban and I grabbed Madala and I got Bernard and Mabi and we went to a place outside of Durban in a kind of small forest, a park. I just put up bass amp, guitar amp, percussion and two microphones and we recorded. And that became the Uxolo sessions. Out of that afterwards there was a reunion happening again and we did some concerts and something at the bassline with Umshika Shika Qwabe. That night Kwani Experience were playing as the first group. That one we recorded and filmed and put a DVD out in the end. Again another concert with Mabi. It seems like Mabi and Madala are so intertwined, the one pulls the other one out of their trodden ways. Sometimes they get trodden because there is too much fear. The fear of existence, the fear of money, the fear of everything. Madala nevertheless is quite good at having people looking after him and his family. Some may not like that, when you are with somebody like Madala who has so many children and so much to look after you say why doesn’t he have less children and less problems. Having just been there for months and having spent quite a lot of time, everything there comes out of that man and Thando that beautiful women. The children that come out of there is wow and they are all complete individuals. They all have this softness, this Madalaline touch, the line of the Madala’s. Like the last evening before we left they were singing this song. Matthias recorded it on that thing. They are singing about this; “We are the Kunene’s”.
Mabi just joined us, it is nice. Mabi we are recording this interview and talking about Madala and the concert last Friday in Johannesburg and for me you and Madala is like I can’t say something about Madala without you. You had this thing with Ben and all that but in the end, everytime I experience you, happy or great shows is you and Madala together.
I know Madala. Me and Madala know each other a long time. Madala knew me since Malombo. Madala wanted to meet me from Malombo 1965. I keep on hearing about Madala. We were with Sipho. He was playing for Spirits Rejoice. I joined Sipho when he was playing for Spirits Rejoice. Spirits Rejoice were going to fall apart and from there we opened Sakhile with Sipho and Khaya.
How I met Madala, it was the final for me and Madala to be together. We had a show with Sakhile and Madala was playing at the Playhouse. I met Madala there. He started calling me Bafo. And I said I know Bafo, if somebody calls you Bafo, it means you are his brother. It means he trusts you. I said hey Bafo. He said I have seen you with Malombo, but I couldn’t come see you because of your uncle. My uncle didn’t want nobody next to me. Because he thinks they will take me from him. Me, I thought, no this guy has got something. Me and Madala started playing and I liked Madala’s guitar because of Philip Tabane’s guitar and the way Madala plays his guitar, he plays like Madala. I said this guy! We started playing together with Sipho and Madala, and me and Madala were connected every time. Sipho mixed with Madala and Busi. One day it was Busi and Madala playing. Madala says I would like Bafo to put percussion there. So, I said, good. Me, I saw another picture from Busi and Madala. A very bad picture. I said no. Me, I know Busi from long time, Early Mabuza the drummer, she was her wife. I don’t know how they parted, but it was bad the way they parted. When I look at Busi I could see a dangerous women trying to be nice to people with the face. And I wanted to play with Madala because I could hear Madala with his guitar and could join him. But I don’t get a chance with him until Sipho said okay and I can stay in Durban. And now I meet Madala. And that is how we got together. When Bafo plays, he caught that in my brain, when I play with him, we don’t rehearse, we just play with the feeling. The feeling I feel about him and the feeling he feels about me connects. When we go to France, we meet in the plane. We don’t even talk about the show. We chow the show up. We didn’t rehearse we just play the song. We feel it.
How does Robert fit in?
Robert has Madala in the company. I come from Sakhile with Sipho, and now we meet Madala and I said yes, this is the time. We were practicing in Sussex. We used to practice everyday. So you see how much was our practice. Every day in the studio me and Madala until I got used to Madala. If you don’t know Madala, when he plays, you are going to get lost. He plays his things and you don’t know that thing and you like to go in, don’t do that; leave him. We are talking when we play. We are like a team. He feels he is supposed to be in there and then he goes in. Everything Madala is doing I must get used to him. Unless he is going to leave you on the road. You won’t know where he is and when he comes back, it is like a new song. We will play a medley, me and Madala, and you will never see where we do it.
Madala is not reading music. He plays by the feeling, so you must be clever to play with him, play by the feeling also. I am not reading music, but I have an ear of here is wrong, here is right. I can make Madala’s wrong to be a very good thing by just getting in there and backing that thing. The song we start from there and go. Whoever gets out comes back. Madala is like that.
Robert Trunz Trance
There are a lot of young musicians trying to break into the mould that other artists have taken in the past. In the jazz scene there are a lot of good musicians around, including Zoe Molelekwa who stays with me at the moment. There is a young drummer called Stanley who also goes to school. He is from the Moses Molelekwa Foundation. There are very good musicians, Tumi the drummer, Mandla the trumpet player, Nduduzi the pianist. Some of the younger ones are trying to get too political a view across, rather than musical. I also met the guys from Brother Moves On, very nice bunch but they are breaking into the mould of the white people. We were at a concert at the Rainbow and I thought where am I, I must have gone to the wrong place because there were so many young white people. They cater for that large non-segregated market.
I find there is a lot of segregation. People like Mandla are very sarcastic about things. Sarcasm in the music is not a good thing, because it kills the message. Rather than being critical of what has happened we should look to what should be happening in the future. Sadly there is a lot of past that has not been dealt with and I think somehow the past should be dealt with on a political level and as long as the politicians are not capable of doing so and spread hatred as they do now, and there is greed, I understand that there is a difficult message that needs to come across. Perhaps we should put across more happiness in the music than sadness, anger and political views.
I find they are far away from being spiritual. There are messages that I got from a well known musician and he was talking about basically putting me with apartheid. I said why should you do that? It doesn’t help your music and your brain. And I said why are you so angry? There is a guy who works for me, Lungelo. It was something about him. And I like his sangoma calling. Do people hide behind that? What is going in this country. Nobody seems to want to work and everyone wants money for something that doesn’t exist.
And then you have the other scene, the dance scene which is huge like one big business. I go on Black Coffee’s website and I see has a house in America and a house here and he drives his Mazerati at 200 km’h and gets caught. It is completely the other side of political.
Has music come full circle?
I have two outfits who in my opinion would represent my love or openness towards music and genres and electronic and acoustic and whatever and that is Black Motion and Uhuru. Black Motion recently had Madala and Mabi in their studio. One of the Uhuru guys used to hang out with Mabi. If I was still doing A & R work, I would strive to work with these people. I would love to have them remix the stuff we were doing in the past. They are also quite tragically busy.
These guys also play instruments. They are actually doing what we have been hoping and striving for a long time, incorporate the modern beats into acoustics. They all play instruments.
I think one should not look at the musician based on what his dad has done. What I feel with Zoe is that he is still going to University. He still has to digest all the stiff the teach him. He is digesting a lot of the stuff his father did. Obviously there is a lot of pressure on the young man like this to have a genius as a father. I feel rather than commenting on his future prospect, I would think one should just encourage him to find his own style, his own way. We did a track Wa Mpona. It was done by the Forest Jam Groove Orchestra. We then recorded Wa Mpona in Maputo and we had Chico Antonio on there as well. It is a beautiful track. And then we took it back here and we got Stanley to overdub. And Mabi came in and did some overdubs and at the same time that Mabi was here, Zoe walks into the room. So, now we had the fathers song with the sons keyboard in it as well. We have one of the studens from Moses Molelekwa foundation. Ad whilst I went through the separates I found that Shaluza Max was in there, his vocals that have never been used. At the end of the track we are finding in Moses and Max. It is going to be a super track. Unbelievable. Wa Mpona was very advanced in those days. Except for that time I am watching what is going on here. There is a huge market for gospel which must be part of the positive thinking of people that things might be getting better.
I am sitting in front of a huge screen in my office and I have been working on a new Melt2000 website cut down to more of the African artists. I am doing a website that concentrates on the African part of the label. And it does become more understandable why I have done all these recordings. The way I have been able to find and trace all these different details is amazing. It is almost like a complete brain-fuck. I can’t believe all these details and I keep finding all those things I have forgotten which is great. I think what I am able to do now is pout a comprehensive history of what has happened in the 1990’s. Melt2000: Legendary Musicians from the New South Africa.
Everyone broke boundaries.
A lot of the things that was learnt from the remix side with music with no name in the early days has had an influence in this market. Rude Boy Paul, I saw a while ago and he was saying how much he has been influenced by the stuff we have been doing. He dropped Madala’s Ubombo remix in all the clubs.
I don’t want to revive the label it has served its place. I think it is time for someone else to take over. There are other labels. I do invite people to come and talk to me about doing collaboration projects and doing some stuff with material that is available.
We are going to release some stuff with what we have done in the last few years with Forest Jam. I am doing a CD with a promo DVD which will be out towards October. Some of the stuff we recorded on Cullinan with Tarang. It is going to be nice. Stuff we did in Switzerland, Cullinan, Madagascar and in Durban and Maputo.
My story started quite early. Because I grew up with a mother that has been extremely busy running the family. I was the last of six. She was even then at that point of time when all the others were starting to get grown up. I was 6 years behind. I landed up doing all the tasks that before used to be done by two or three of my brothers. When other friends of mine used to have holidays I was working, cleaning classrooms because my mom looked after a school and she looked after three blocks of flats. I was running around in the winter time 5 o clock in the morning clearing snow from the passages, cutting the lawns in the summer time, blah blah blah.
But there was a time when I was given a little radio. It was medium wave because short wave didn’t exist in our region. We had one station. It is called Radio Beromunster. In the old days when I grew up, they didn’t broadcast 24 hours. After ten they switched off. And then they started to play the background stations. Right behind the dial where Radio Beromunster used to be, a millimetre to the right there were radio stations from North Africa, Algeria, Tunisia. I always waited for ten o clock for Radio Beromunster to shut down. I listened to all this music, hence my love from then onwards for the rhythms of Northern Africa.
Because I had to work hard, sometimes my mum gave me a little money to keep me sweet. But money was quite short in those days. My father was a butcher, He was working 4 in the morning till 7 at night. I managed to at some stage buy a portable vinyl disk player, for singles. In those days you had 33 and 45 rpm. The 45 rpm were these little things. There was a thing by Phillips, the first kind of plastic thing that I saw. Because before that most of the things were Baccolyte , this old plastic, very heavy plastic. That was the first modern plastic, injection moulding. Already the mould was in a red colour and it was quite funky. It was running on batteries. In the top there was a little speaker so it was portable. The Walkman came many many years later, but that for me was my first walking vinyl. Because we lived in this block of flats we congregated next door; because there was a school. There was a big field where you could meet friends. I always took my little player and records. Whenever I had a few pennies I would go down to my friends’ mother. My friends’ family name is also Friend; Vreund. His mother had a little discotheque right when you come out of the train station, you walk round the corner and there was a shop. Behind that there was this repair shop for TV’s and radio’s and she had an amazing place with lots of beautiful vinyl’s, so that is where I bought my first music. In that family there were two brothers. The older one was going to school, the class below me and he also shared this passion for music but he also shared a passion for electronics. Early on he always started to repair things because he was hanging out with his father and the people who worked there. At about the age of 12 I got a little amplifier and with an actual real turntable, amplifier, everything in one piece. But the speakers were terrible so we decided we were going to build our own first pair of speakers. The whole thing started. That guy Werner Vreund put the love into my system.
When I got to my twenties I started to travel because I got a job as a tourist guide. And I was first stationed in the old Yugoslavia and later in Spain. You are stationed there and then you receive the customers. You get them from the airport and you look after them during the week and you bring them back. It is a kind of a routine. After three years of working as a tourist guide I went to work in Zurich with a company, they are no longer in existence. They imported some real fine hi fi equipment. When you get involved in this kind of brand, you either get damaged for life or change job. Because of the fact that I was such a big fan of music, it fascinated me.
Let’s go back before I was twenty there was a period of two years between 18 and 20 when I was working, earning some money. At that time there were three of us, a guy called Derek and Mario and myself. We started to present concerts in the University, like a Technikon. We had this concert hall we were renting and we put some concerts up. In those days they were musicians that you may not have been aware of. There was a band Klaus Doldinger, very funky jazzy. There was an American drummer by the name of Alphonse Muzon. And somebody I became good friends with a man who wrote in my opinion the best biography of Miles Davis I have seen. It hasn’t got so many ‘fuck fuck’s’ in it. His name is Ian Carr. Ian Carr was a trumpet player himself in the Miles Davis feel. Great trumpet player, lovely man. So gentle. He had a group called Nucleus. With him we did some concerts. Then he was also in a group called the United Jazz Rock ensemble released by a German label.
There was a German trombone player called Albert Mangelsdorff. These are the kind of names if you lived in Europe 70’s and 80’s, they were on the forefront of creative jazz and fusion kind of stuff; jazz / rock.
Back to the equipment stuff whilst I was working with this company, they distributed some very famous brands like a cassette recorder. Here in SA cassettes were around till quite recently. There was a company in Japan called Nakamichi and Nakamichi was a company that manufactured cassette decks that were able to reproduce music in the highest possible quality. In those days when I bought my first Nakamichi I paid like 3500 Swiss Francs which is R35000 and it took about two years to put the money aside and I got it at quite a cheap price because I think it was R70 000 or something ridiculous. But this machine could get sound out of a cassette that you wouldn’t believe. But there was also some English brands like Wharfedale. These brands used to be very famous for the people. The people who were actually behind the brands were the legends. There was also another brand called Quad which is a very quaint British design that had a very old kind of design, Q band. Very funny looking thing, small and then they did a so called electro-static speaker. I always call it the radiator. When you walk into a room and you see these things in there, you go like okay and put your hands there and there is no heat coming from it. You say, ‘Hey your radiator is not working.’ No this is a speaker and they switch it on and you get the sound coming out of it. So through that I got to know because I was selling in that shop to customers and to dealers. We had all these visits from these different manufacturers that came to visit. I got to know the owners and those kinds of legendary people. After three years there was a lady who came to the shop and asked that I would see her in the next few days. She gave me her phone number and I called her and met her and she headhunted me and got me to come and work for the distributer of B & W. That company also had an expensive Japanese brand called Accuphase and a turntable made in Japan who then in the 80’s already was a gigantic big thing. It had three different parts, a motor and a bell that was driving a huge platform. It was like 30kg, made of brass. And it had a motor next to it which would suck the LP onto the surface of the turntable, that means the LP when you put the needle on, it would be rock solid with no vibration. And on top of all of that it is 30 kg heavy. And that was floating on air like the principle of the hover craft. Air is being pumped in underneath lifting this whole thing and you could just touch it and give it a quick shove and it started to turn. It was completely frictionless. Very expensive. Crazy thing. I was working there for a while and there were like trips for people who would go to England to the factory of B & W. I never got in. Then there was a guy who came in and built up the company because the lady that worked there who used to be the owner, from the morning at 9:30 she opened up the first litre of white wine already. By the afternoon she would start crying because her husband left for South Africa. Mr Pruney left her. He had enough. He is somewhere here in Johannesburg. She is a Dutch lady. And then there is this guy who comes in and buys up the company and he loves also white wine. The perfect couple. Now you didn’t have only two bottles, you had four bottles every day. People when they drink a lot of alcohol at some stage they get very pissed off about things. Alcohol changes the character of people quite dramatically.
One Christmas he was there and I was in the office when he came in and he started fighting with me because I was in the office and not out in the streets to go and sell components and speakers or whatever, which was bullshit, because right before Christmas you don’t want to go to a dealer and tell him he must buy some more because he is busy. In those days the shops were full before Christmas, everyone was buying hi-fi and speakers and all this shit, so you don’t want to disturb them in their process. I refused, so he fired me, thanks God for that. Then I landed up with a dealer. I started to work with a dealer further down on the lake of Zurich on the right hand side, where Zurich becomes Shweetz which is another county and there, right in the beginning there is a place called Lachen which means laughing. The place is one of those peculiar tax havens that Switzerland has created since the Second World War and the reason why Switzerland is so rich today because they did that kind of thing. They attracted people to the country. Before the Second World War, Switzerland was very different. It was a very poor country. After that because of their policies they became famous for attracting very rich people. And Lachen is one of those. There are a lot of Germans there. That shop is very well positioned right next to the lake and there are people who go walking there. It is like Italy a little bit. People go walking in the evening to get some fresh air and socialise and show what they have got, the new Porsche, the new Rolls and all this shit. So, I was introducing B & W to this dealer. And helped him. After I got fired I called him and said, ‘I was going to get another job and thanked him for his support. And he said, ‘what are you going to do now?’ I said ‘I don’t know.’ He said ‘Hey you come to my place, you come and work for me, I put you in charge of the hi-fi section and that is it, okay! I get you a little flat next door I know someone upstairs moving out, give me two days.’ In two days I was there I got into the flat and set up with my speakers and my hi-fi and started working. Within a short period of time I became Switzerland’s top dealer for B & W. I sold three times more B & W in this small little village than any other dealer in the whole of Switzerland. My old boss the one who fired me, suddenly he now had to be quite friendly to me because I was his best customer.
Then there was a trip to England, to go to see the factory. I always wanted to see the factory and the people behind it. This time round he couldn’t not invite me. So off I go. My passion was always languages and I spoke English quite well in those days as well. He asked me especially for the French guys to please do the translations and all that. I had to translate from English to German and French. Whist we were there one evening I got to sit next to a guy called Peter Hayward and John Bowers. John Bowers is the founder of B & W speakers and Peter Hayward was his mate who started a company with him. And we got to talk and John got to like me very much despite my quite outspoken nature. Whilst we were eating there was a drink before and after and a cigarette here and there. So you talk and I started to tell John what I felt about the product and its pros and cons and its potential and its downfall which is quite risky when you talk to a manufacturer because most of these people have blinkers. But John was extremely open. We got to talk. The next day at lunch he sat next to me and said, ‘I have been thinking about some of the things you are telling me and I will appreciate it if we can find some more time to chat’. I said, ‘we are going home tonight’. He said, ‘don’t worry I will see that we can arrange something at a later stage’. Four or five weeks later I got a call saying John Bowers is coming to Switzerland and he has expressed a wish to see me and would I be prepared to take him and his engineer on a trip through Switzerland and spend a couple of days. I said to my new boss, ‘John Bowers is coming and he wants me to spend time with him’. Felix my new boss said ‘hey.’ He was chuffed, he said, ‘John is coming here to my shop,’ and we made the shop spot clean. In Switzerland everything is always spot clean so when spot clean becomes even more spot clean, it is clean. John came. It was a big thing. He laid on some food and wine. Then I spent two days with John and Ray Greenwood, his old engineer friend. And, we went up the mountain. We went to some simple places and we went to some nice places. We had some cheese fondues and we took some photographs, up and down mountains back and forth; on trains and onto boats. You know the lake through Switzerland is very nice for tourists, it is very picturesque especially when the weather is nice. So, for two days we talked and talked. I asked him about the Central European markets and he explained to me that because of historical reasons when B & W started way back in ‘66, ‘67 … Before that he came out of the Second World War and he used to be a communications officer who worked behind the lines in France. He was underground. They got some weird shit. They got bombarded and bombed, and couldn’t get out. John had a kind of a claustrophobia. If he had to do certain things, going somewhere as well he would become very nervous and have diarrhoea and stuff like that because of his nervousness which all came from that bloody war.
After two days of talking about the market position, and having been told the historic background I got to the point where I thought maybe I can do something for them. Their traditional markets in those days were in Holland.
He had a shop. After the Second World War he and a guy called Roy Wilkens opened a shop in Worthing. It is still there run by the son of Wilkinson. They sold the first black and white TV’s. John upstairs had a little room where he modified speakers. He would take the speakers from the manufacture and he would do his own cross over network to improve them. In those days it was the beginning of a magazine after the Second World War, the Bible for classical music, called Gramaphone. And Gramaphone had a couple of reviewers that were like highly thought after. If they said something was good you would go and buy it because it is a reference. There was a little guy called John Gilbert. A lady who bought speakers at John’s shop actually wrote to this guy at Gramaphone to say that he should come to Worthing and listen to those speakers; which he did. And John didn’t know him. He was coming incognito. And he went and listened to them and later on published an article about his visit to the shop which started this kind of new trend. Suddenly John had no more just a little shop and a little room. Now he had so many customers that he had to manufacture more than the one odd pair or so. He decided to take on the back of the shop. There were some garage units and he converted those into the manufacturing place. And they kept this thing B & W, but Roy Wilkens kept the shop and said to John, ‘you carry on with the speakers stuff because it is too risky for me’. And so it grew very rapidly. Now that the first speaker he put out Gramaphone did such a rave review; the next day, this guy Jack Klusenaar , stood there. He was driving there in his outrageous car. Jack Klusenaar is like death on four wheels, or anything that had a wheel and a pedal or a way of making him go faster. He would never go for half. He did nothing in half. His driving style was ridiculous. He had a boat. He crashed so badly he appeared in the newspaper once with a photograph where his boat, because he couldn’t stop it anymore, went up on the side of the dam and it landed up on top of a car. Jack Klusenaar lands up outside of the door and he goes in and says to John, ‘Mr Bowers I want to buy these speakers and take them to Holland and sell them in Holland’. The Dutch are quite close to the English, but the main market Germany has never been looked after. I say to John if there was a change in design and change in approaching the market, then I would think it would be a very good brand for Germany. John then said to me, I was still working back in Switzerland, ‘would you consult for us’. I say, ‘Yes, but I have to ask my boss’. We went into my bosses office and John asked him if he wouldn’t mind if I consult which meant flying over to England once a month for three days. Obviously Felix was very chuffed. This kind of consulting became more and more part of my life. John became my mentor and in the end he asked me to move to England and take over management and marketing and then we tackled the German market.
I went to see the German reviewers. I remember the first interview, poor John is sitting there scared of this big German again. He says, “Mr Bowers what makes you think you could sell your speakers in Germany where we have so many good speakers.” That was kind of the opening I looked at John and said okay. Now he understood. If somebody wanted to tackle him like that he would go into a mode of relentless work to prove to the other person the opposite. He said to me, ‘lad,’ he always called me lad, ‘this guy you are going to help me show him what we can do.’ I said, ‘yeah John I told you long time ago, now maybe you will listen.’ He said I am listening, so we changed a lot of stuff and got into the market. I think B & W is still the biggest selling brand in Germany next to the American thing called Boza, which is a load of crap in my opinion.
That was my beginning at B & W, but I am not an engineer. I have no engineering training. I have no marketing training, I have no degree, I have got sweet fuck all, but the universe has given me a gift to see things and feel things and I started to travel a lot to see people and young people. Because in those days, the kind of people who run the market were quite old and very few young people. Because of the fact that I had been traveling a lot and speaking a few languages, I went to Spain once for a meeting, Barcelona. Now Barcelona is Catalonia and in Catalonia they speak Catalan which is quite radically different to the Castilian and the Spanish that is being spoken in Madrid because it is more like the Latin language. Catalonia goes all the way up to France, a vast reach. Whilst I was working in Barcelona as a tourist guide I obviously had to learn a few words and phrases and expressions in Catalan. I was going out with people every day who spoke Catalan. So I went to this meeting a few years later with B & W marketing, there were two guys that were trying to tell me a load of crap. Every time I asked them questions about what they were doing they would confer with each other in their own language Catalan. So I thought okay carry on because I understood every word they say. I think after about ten minutes when they really tried to pull the wool over my eyes I simply responded to them in Catalan and their jaws dropped. Their faces went red. That kind of thing happened to me quite frequently. You go in and speak English and the English are very well known for not speaking any other languages, just English, so people rely on this fact. That helped with the French, but the Germans you couldn’t fool being Swiss because they knew you speak the same language but it helped to understand the mentality of the Germans. The Germans couldn’t really understand why the Swiss would work with a British company. But then we are so called neutral country bound by the history of the Second World War and all this crap. Now, more and more I got into trying to steer the company to more modern ways.
At a point when I was at B & W the figures at the end of the year, they were quite red instead of black, which has a reason for it, quite a good reason. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, there was a new media coming into being. There were two major companies who fought each other about the standards of that media. It was Phillips and Sony. One of them won and we all lost because then we had CD’s and CD’s are very bad quality. You have Mp3 afterwards and that is even worse that is like the killer story. At the same time there were companies like EMI and Decca, Decca being the first label that released Rolling Stones. Also they had a very strong representation in the classical market. That is how we got into the classical market. EMI, Deutsche Gramaphone, Decca. We supplied speakers to them for their recordings and studios, for their masterings and also for their experiments with digital. And in those days they recorded in digital, quite high revolution, much higher than todays’ CD. I was looking at this whole thing. There was a span of three or four years where they were fighting – those two. It is like Apple and Samsung today, lawsuits, you can’t do this you can’t do that, blah blah. Meanwhile the customer got so confused that they stopped buying the hi-fi because no longer did they know what to buy. They were all waiting for this CD player. As clever as the Japanese were in those days, they were building small amps, well priced amps for about 100 pounds in a really good sounding transistors. And they tried for many years to sell their own speakers made in Japan with those amps but the Japanese ear is listening in a different way to music than the European ear. They were successful until one day one of the Japanese companies, Pioneer discovered that the solution is to engage reviewers and engineers from Europe to design the speakers and then build them in Europe. Suddenly you had Japanese made amplifiers of the highest quality. For me Japan is the same as Switzerland. The quality that comes out of Japan is comparable to what we do in Switzerland. There are parallels. There is an incredibly good watch industry in Japan, like the food. It is very similar. I always admire their precision and their approach. So now they started to not only design the speakers in Europe but build them in Europe which is great. Suddenly people see it is local content. And you do accept electronics that come from there, because you can’t get better electronics than Europe. All the guys in England have built smaller amplifiers. Those bladdy things always broke down. In those day England was famous for their innovation and they were completely famous for their quality control. And it was the same thing for their cars. When you drive a Jaguar, or a Range Rover; in those days when you had a Jaguar you definitely had to have two because you always had one in the garage. It broke down very quickly.
In that time, we were working already for quite some years with a designer called Kenneth Grange, who has an OBE from the Queen, quite a famous designer, he did Wilkinson sword and Kenwood kitchen appliances. He designed the first little Kodac camera which had a cassette inserted. I spoke to Kenneth and said ‘lets design a range of speakers that could compete with the Japanese’. And I said to John, ‘Look John I apologise but right from the beginning I am putting to you a price that I have to sell this product. I cannot go beyond the price because then I will shift out of the market that is now dominating Europe and almost the world and if that is the case then we must act because we are still writing red figures. And what’s the point? It is okay to look after more people, but it has to be profitable so you can employ more people to look after more people’. And we did and we almost had fights over 30 pence. But I said it had to be that price, and they did. Credit to those engineers, and big thanks to John, we had a range called the DM 10, 20, 30. It was spot on. At that point in time I got to know some young designers and we sat together and created the campaign which came out of my marijuana induced brain because every time I smoked something in those days I would always visualise things in front of me. The better the music was the cleaner and clearer it came through the speakers, the more colour I saw and visualised. So, I created a slogan which got me some quite bad comments like you druggy and stuff like that. It is called, ‘listen and you will see.’ It is still the slogan for B & W today. We had a campaign with it. We even did an album. I brought Donald Fagan from Steely Dan. Donald Fagan came out with an album Night Flyer. We did a whole new cover with B & W and when you bought the speakers you got an LP. That was right at the beginning of this digital thing. Not only the time that B & W was selling the speakers in the 70’s, they were always called DM 1, DM 2 etc. And it used to stand for Domestic Monitor. And at the end of the 1970’s, in the 80’s I said to the guys digital will come. It is just a matter of fact. You can’t tell me Sony and Phillips are putting in so many millions and millions of pounds into a technology and then abandoning it, they are not going to do it. I renamed the word Domestic Monitor into Digital Monitor which got me again bad from the dealers, but it worked. As soon as the CD players hit, everything changed again. And immediately all the sales went up across the world, you couldn’t get enough CD’s to sell in dealer shops and we started to manufacture speakers like crazy. We shipped every day, two containers and sometimes three containers. And suddenly we went from red to deep black.
And when I saw that I saw that the factory was crammed. There was no more space and we also had a laboratory there, so the engineers were involved in manufacturing and research. They were consistently interrupted so I said okay hold on. I decided to convince John to move research and development out of the factory and right across the hill, to the region we had all the factories. On the coast, behind that coast, there is a range of hills, called the Downs. If you went over the Downs you came down into a village called Steyning . Steyning in those days was quite famous for a product that is known worldwide by hi fi aficionados and specialists in vinyl. They were manufacturers of Toner. There was this guy called Alistair Robertson, and when you meet him it was like meeting royalty. He had this huge listening room, which is still there, because it was there a few years ago when I went to see his widow. And it had this thick carpet, electro static speakers and you would walk in and you had to take your shoes off, and you got house shoes with gold crown embedded into them. The whole place was hi tech, beautifully done. This guy was hit dramatically by the change. Suddenly he couldn’t sell anything. I got on very well with him and I was very disturbed. That man was a genius, but I saw he was suffering financially as well. He did have quite a high standard of living including his Porsche, but still you could see the suffering and to see a brand like that going down, that has been around for so long was quite hurtful. I went there and he had a factory unit that stood empty so I convinced him to sell it to me, right in the middle of the village. I created a dedicated laboratory research, moved all the engineers and had nice conference rooms and meeting rooms, listening rooms and called it the University of Sound which still stands today.
And at that time ‘84 he decided to look into active speakers which is a great thing to do, a speaker with the amplifier right next to it done properly, is perfect. But those days they were running quite hot, so it wasn’t always a good thing. So we decided to look for an engineer and found this guy called Laurence Dickie, a complete hippie, hair like this and a beard, but utterly intelligent, utterly lovely to be with and incredible knowledge and his parents were both teachers, his mother from France and his father from England. This guy was a genius. But, for electronics he was at times not the right person because he would have great ideas but he would not actually bring them through. He had this kind of English feel, like when you drive the Jaguar you have to have two. One to drive and one to be in the garage to be serviced. But, whilst we were working on this electronics stuff there was a parallel research going on by Dr Glen Adams, an engineer who was researching into the behaviour of the cabinet, you know this cabinet is the wooden thing that surrounds the speakers, because a speaker when it moves, the membrane, when you have bass in it, the energy which is becoming free from this drive unit is often being transmitted into the cabinet which makes the cabinet move as well, so it would create a tone, a resonance. It is a bastard of a frequency. It is 80 hertz. 80 hertz is a very critical low end where a lot of instruments, classical instruments themselves already have their own frequency, like double bass, cello’s and so on. A lot of those instruments would also be quite accentuated in that region. So, you had to get rid of this. Now you have wooowooo from the resonance of the instrument and now you have a second instrument from the resonance of the cabinet because the cabinet does exactly the same. Suddenly in those critical regions you have two resonance frequencies, making it out of control. So, the research started in the new materials in how to make cabinets. There was everything from aluminium to space technology. You know in an aircraft there is a thing called Aerolab, the floor of an aircraft is about that thin, it is very inert and you can’t break it. It is a honeycomb material of aluminium and I don’t know what. It is extremely light. A sheet of 2M by 2M you could lift with one finger. That technology was important in an aircraft because you had to save weight in every corner you can. But, that didn’t work, other things didn’t work, like cabinets made of concrete, fibre-crete and none of those cabinets would yield the results that they were looking for. And then this guy who was supposed to be doing the electronic side, he was very interested in the acoustic side as well. And while we didn’t know that before he was making his own speakers at home. One morning Dick turns up and says, ‘sorry JB, can I have some time? I think I have got something. I don’t want to tread on Dr Glen Adams toes but there is something that came into my mind last night. I was celebrating my birthday last night, and my father was giving me a present and I was indulging in this present quite heavily.’ And he looked quite frail that morning. I said, ‘what do you mean, because I knew he had been drinking last night. And also dope and all of that’. He said, ‘after the second bottle of wine I went out into the kitchen and opened the box that my father gave me.’ He gave him a box of 6 bottled of very beautiful red wine, I even had a sip of it. And then he said, ‘I was pretty pissed already and then I look at the thing and thought that could be a solution’. So, he came in with the empty box, the wine was all gone, accept for one bottle which he gave us. He said, ‘if you look at this thing as the box for the speaker, on the inside it has the divisions, it looks like the matrix. If we connect up that matrix to the cabinet, then the cabinet should be very inert because it can’t go anywhere.’ So, we tried it out and that was it. Ever since, the technology is called the matrix technology and it changed the industry quite rapidly because a lot of people copied it and tried all sorts of things, so that was the beginning.
Afterwards when John became ill I was in that time traveling a lot. I used to spend 280 nights in some bladdy hotel between here and Japan, between Tokyo and Wellington and Sydney, and Honolulu and Los Angeles and back up again to New York and over to London and the next day down to Milan and the next day back up to Helsinki. It is quite exciting when you are young but after a while it gets to you because now you are traveling meeting from meeting to meeting. I always had these little trips in between which I enjoyed, like coming to South Africa. These were the ones that really made my day, coming here in 1981 for the first time. Like going to Australia for the first time. We had a great guy there. He had a farm like this one out in the Blue Mountains. And he had a tractor and in the evening, they drink. I can’t believe how they drink. This guy was always traveling with a little box full of everything he wanted in there, drugs… The next morning at 6 o clock he wasn’t attractive. These kinds of experiences were quite nice and you could start to see a little bit some of the countries and some of the places. My very first trip was to Hermanus. I mean the sunset, shit, yes when I saw the first sunset, the colours. And to see the whales. So the travelling came to quite an abrupt end around the time when John got diagnosed with cancer, pancreas which is deadly; Steve Job. We tried to do everything to see if we could operate. We went to a clinic in Heidelberg in Germany but it was too late. There at the same time, one morning I got into the shower and I tried to grab the soap and I couldn’t find the soap, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was very confused. Suddenly my right side didn’t feel right anymore. It felt wrong. But I was still getting on. Getting out the shower, blah blah, get dressed because the driver would be coming up any minute to take me to some bladdy meeting. And then just before I got into the car, a second wave came to me. There were two strokes in short sequence. Which put me down. They rushed me to a doctor who diagnosed a stroke. I couldn’t move my right hand. My right side was just gone. I couldn’t even speak anymore. I was so confused. And then they put me in a wheelchair. Today you get treatment, physiotherapy. I had nothing like that. I said hey, I must get out of this wheel chair, which I did after a while. So, I fought very hard. In the meantime, John went down. John was losing weight, you could see death coming to him. He said to me, ‘I would like to speak in a letter to all my friends across the world. I would like my friend Tony to take pictures.’ He was ready quite yellow. He said, ‘I want Tony to take portraits and I want to send them to my friends. And you also have a photograph after I am gone.’ I said, ‘oh shit’. So we went to London and Tony took his pictures. Quite funny these two. They got on very well. Tony is quite an old friend of his. They went through a period together when he divorced his wife and I think she is dead now. She is called Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth and her husband was the first non-royal person to marry into the royal family and his name was Tony Armstrong, Lord Snowden that is his official title. He has been working as a photographer ever since. He did a lot of portraits of all kinds of people and lots of books. He took John’s photographs which we could only take in black and white because of the jaundice. Some beautiful photos which I still have. And then John died and he left the whole thing to me. But by now I was feeling that my body was not really back to normal. It was a hard time because we had to take lots of drugs. The chemical industry makes you go and go and go for as long as you can go, but at a price that is very high. You take ten twenty thirty tablets and every five minutes you find yourself in a different reality. In the meantime we had a new American partner, distributer. He started to work with him quite closely. This guy Joe Atkins who today runs B & W. He jumped in and did a lot. So we cemented the partnership. He did a lot of the work that made B & W grow quite fast afterwards. B & W is a company today that does everything, like the Zeppelin in there, to very expensive speakers; the Nautilus and all that. And then after the death of John Bowers, for a number of years we were working on another project. Something like a year and a half before John died he started working on a speaker that was quite funky looking and he was trying to realise an idea that he saw in a patent many years ago. A patent that goes back to the war times. There is a German company called Telefunken, there were two guys called Braunmühl and Weber. These two guys came out with a patent for the tape machine which was applicable for microphones. He was working on that and he involved Dick on this project as well. It was backwards and forwards. Every day they came to the living room. Then when John got really sick, work more or less stopped. Then one of the young engineers fucked it up by losing the cross overs and then he didn’t make a notice of all the changes, so the whole thing came to a standstill and then John died. Shortly before he died, maybe a week or two he said, ‘please put Dick into charge of this project because I like to see this project come to fruition’. So I spoke to Dick and then Dick came to John’s bed and said, ‘yeah, I will do that with pleasure’. And I said to John, ‘I have got some ideas as well that I would like to implement, if that is okay with you’. So then we started working on it for 4, 5 or 6 years. We started building this speaker called Nautilus, these big snails. I couldn’t travel that much. In the meanwhile I got to meet my future wife. She moved to England. And I had also started music.
They year before John died and I had my stroke, I did my first year at the Montreux jazz festival, where I organised a part of the festival in a discotheque called Platinum. So, I got involved with that. Back in the days before John died we spent a lot of time in Switzerland. He loved the country. We often went home to visit my mother. My father was also having a stroke. And then we got to know Claude Knox quite well. And one day John said, you know what we spend so much time down here, let’s rent a flat. Just one village below where Claude Knox lived we found this nice flat in an old building. In those days, in that area of Montreux was very reasonable, beautiful view. We were going between Claude’s place and us and traveling. It was a good place, like you go down on the train and you change train you can go to Geneva and get on a plane. Travel in Switzerland is very nice. So, by around ’92. ’93 this Nautilus started to have this shape that looked like a snail. The phrase Nautilus wasn’t coined at that time. It was just a project. Dick’s girlfriend came in. She is a very good industrial designer. He came up with the basic shape of it and she refined it. And so that thing became a reality in my listening room. By that time I already started to work with music. I founded this thing called B & W music, the label that released under the speaker side, some compilations. We released in Montreux. I had my own part in the festival. Some of the artists said you should put this out and somehow I slid into this stupid thing of becoming a label. Which was the most beautiful time of my life. More and more I got into music and ’94 we launched Nautilus and the year before I was in SA with Airto and after that launch we went to do the Outernational Meltdown thing and from there you know the rest …
At what point did you shift into Blue Room?
Around the same time we launched Nautilus ’93, ’94, remember I told you this place the University of Sound, in Steyning, a very quaint English village, with very extremely conservative people indeed. There was this one morning one of my engineers came round and said there is a cop at the door who wants to talk to you. So I went there, asked the guy in and we sat down and he said sorry to bother you but I would kindly request your assistance to help me rectify something we have a problem with. He said we had this search warrant and they went into a young lads apartment. This young lad was working in the video shop in this village. His mother is English and his father is Iranian. His name is Simon Ghahary. And Simon has got this darkish complexion which doesn’t go down well in this conservative place. So, on suspicion of drug abuse or drug possession they went into this place. But they couldn’t find anything which must have really frustrated them something horrible. They said they could find no drugs, but they said this young man has got a pair of speakers there and I am convinced they must be stolen because how could this young man afford such a beautiful pair of speakers. So, I said, ‘I don’t know’. He said, ‘may I please have your assistance that someone come and verify that they are stolen?’ So, Dick is like the one when you see the cops. I said wait for me for one second. And I went round to the lab and I said, ‘hey Dick’, we were so close friends, we never had this relationship of boss and employee. I said, ‘hey please go with this cop and go and find out what is going on’. He said no problem and he left. Two hours later he comes back, grinning on his face like I haven’t seen him do for a long time. I say, ‘what the hell is going on?’ We sat down and had a cup of tea and he told me the story. He went into this place. And then they showed him the pair of speakers. He told me the story going into this flat and indeed there was a pair of speakers which was like the top matrix speakers in those days. The funny thing is the background of the story will have to go back because Steyning where the lab is, the lab itself is on a passage from the local school. This school brings in kids from all the rural areas, because it is very rural. Buses bring the kids in. In the breaks, they go past the lab to buy the sweets in the high street. The houses are not straight. Some of these places are a thousand years old and older. Beautiful. And so, we always had a skip, a container, like when you break down a house, you have a transport company bring you a skip and then you fill it up and take it away. That is what we call a skip. We always had a skip for all the stuff, when you work there are always prototypes. My engineers whenever they put something in the skip they want to break it down so nobody could use it. I said no, don’t do this, I think it is wrong. Everyday you see these kids going past our skip and I see them looking into the skip and taking things out. I like that. I think it is great. Who knows someday somebody will come along and become an engineer because he has fond all this shit in the skip. Well, this guy who worked in this video shop had this flat just around the corner from our courtyard and he could actually see from his bedroom down to the skip, so every time he came home he looked down and saw there is something they put in there. So, he went in there and collected. Over a period of a year he put together bits and pieces that made a beautiful pair of speakers; cross overs, cabinets, drive units, everything.
So Dick said, you won’t believe what pleasure I had to tell this cop that yes indeed this was a pair of our speakers but it came out of the skip and how proud he was as an engineer to see this young man being able to make a pair of speakers. The cop left and Dick started talking to him. And Simon started showing him some drawings of the things that he was drawing because he loved speakers. And then he showed him the first drawings, the first prototypes and that is the beginning of Blue Room Loud Speakers, the first baby ones, the mini-pods. That is how it started, he was the designer of the mini pods. At the same time, Simon was an incredible trance head, into trance music, Goa and all that. When Simon joined B & W at a later stage, I had Melt and then he wanted to do trance, techno, Goa and all that stuff, so I said okay. The Blue Room speakers go with the Blue Room label, the trance label. Melt is more the Nautilus. When I sold B & W after a while because I couldn’t get on with my partner because I had spent too much money on music, and I hadn’t really had any kind of drive to be in the speaker business as I had before. Because when you get sick you have to make a decision to stay away from it. So, I went into the music more and more. And I decided to sell my shares in B & W and I left. At the same time, Dick in the time of the first Blue Room speakers being manufactured in a separate unit from the factory, there was a big push in the UK for that kind of music, much to the displeasure of the police and the government because everybody was partying. And the kind of people that are partying on trance love to be out in nature. It goes also with the drugs. There were parties taking place everywhere. I remember we went to some Lord Blah Blah’s place whose son was a big techno head and we had this party in the grounds of this castle where they had huge grounds and a beautiful place. This place was amazing and I only found out later that this was the place in England for the biggest variety of trees. There were trees from Africa, the Far East, all over the world. All beautiful trees. I thought I was on a trip. I thought I overdosed. I couldn’t believe it was so beautiful. Somehow the grandfather of this guy was one of the colonial masters being posted there and there, because 25% of the world used to belong to the Brits. He collected trees and he planted them there and they grew like a miracle. He must have known that this place where he planted them had a micro climate like a climate that was very unique for where they would grow. In that time they introduced a bill, the British government which forbid to have parties and congregations of people. So when it happened that there was a party taking place somewhere out on the sea or the beach or the country the police had the right to come in close the thing down, put the responsible ones of the party behind bars and confiscate everything that was there; all the equipment. So a lot of people lost their equipment and landed up in prison. So, Dick who was building amplifiers, he came to me and said, ‘Rob we must do something’. He created a sound system that could be carried around by small people, even young people with a little muscle could just carry the thing around. It was a cardboard tube, 12 inch, 30 cm wide, speaker one end and cap on the other end and then one person could pick one of those up and walk for a long time. If you wanted to have a decent system, the smallest one would have eight tubes of that. If you wanted a bigger one you would double up to 16 tubes. If you want a better system you go to 32 and if you want a real stunner of a party you go to 64. 64 people carrying a tube like that with speakers in you have a great party. You go together and you make up. Between five to 7 and 7 o clock you would receive a call from somebody to say where it is and it was all coded. You had these coded messages and you would know to meet where. And they would all meet there. Within five to ten minutes they would all be there. They would come out of all their holes and pick up the stuff and go and make a party. And when the police come and confiscated the speakers, it was fine because it is all B & W speakers which he had built himself. I gave him the material. The bass units were from our top unit 801, the reference speakers, the mid-range and the beater as well from the top units. If you listen to the system, wow; that was Dick. When he left, he went to a company called Turbosound for whom he designed a horn.
(Robert shows me)
This is the baby. It got him an award from the queen for innovation for this thing. This is his innovation.
Whilst he was working for Turbosound, my company went down. Melt went down, my marriage went down and I decided to come here. And when I came here in 2001 I got a visit from a guy called Philip Guttentag and a partner and they came to me and said they wanted to build speakers in South Africa. Philip and his partner were helping me in ’94 on the Outernational Meltdown series. I shipped a lot of stuff to South Africa and everything came to them and every day they came to the studio to see if the stuff was working. They were hanging out every day during the recordings so I got to know them. I then gave them the distribution of B & W in South Africa. And later this guy Philip got out of the distribution company and came to me to say he wants to build speakers in South Africa. And that is what is called Vivid Audio today and the circle is closed.
Robert Trunz Interview Cullinan 2015
How did you facilitate this process for musicians? (talking about Melt2000)
There was a studio, an old farmhouse and horse stables which the guys converted for me, the old farmhouse was renovated very necessarily. Nico at that stage was very young. When somebody like Flora Purim would come or Busi Mhlongo, you would have a space upstairs with your bathroom. It was nice. The place was called Brownhill farm. You see that alien down here, he was a member of Brownhill farm plus all the fearsome looking alien creatures I had in the garden and on my farm. (these two 8 foot models of extra terrestrials and a baby are now on the Cullinan farm.)
In the stables you could record, so we had a separate control room, small desk. And then a space where you could record, but you could also record outside, take a cable, put a couple of mics and do some nice recordings. On Mabi’s album there was Byron playing trumpet on one of the tracks outside the door. There were a lot of people there, at times Busi was there with Will Mowatt, Amampondo was there. It was a full house all the time. And in those days I spent enormous amounts of money accommodating people. Enabling them to work together. Fearsome sums but in the end it is not really important. They had the opportunity to get together and if that didn’t happen then Melt wouldn’t be what Melt isn’t anymore today. I think we should all try and make an impact somewhere and let it go and start something new because new is never new. I don’t think there is anything new these days that you can say it is new. It doesn’t belong to us anyway. I think personally that I was most fortunate in my life to be able to work with these people whether some of them didn’t play honest all the time. I hope that I haven’t given too many people too much grief. In hindsight all of the beautiful music was created and it seems it is still possible to do this kind of magic in a place like this. There is so much life blood in a place like this. So much memory, so much hope for a better place. I just would hope that some honest people if they are still around would come and share an idea like this. People spend enormous amounts of money on shit everyday on crap they don’t need. And then when they get older or fed up they need to get rid of it. You have to get rid of things all the time to get new things. I like what’s happening here at the moment on the farm in terms of self sustainability. If you could in this environment create an educational place, Ananda always wanted a circus school. He always he said in the circus school they teach you how to walk on a tightrope and if you could do that you could think straight or not think. I think it is a bloody good idea.
Robert says, speaking about Respect by Robert Doc Mthalane
It started out with Mabi telling me about this Jimi Hendrix of South Africa. I didn’t know who this guy is now. Then he went there and recorded some stuff.
I didn’t know anything about this guy. The time comes and Mabi comes with Doc. We have a farm in West Sussex called Brownhill farm and there are two buildings. That has got a house and as you come into the living room and next to the living room is an office and my bed. I know they have arrived and I go into my office and I do some work and then I get up and go out and I see Mabi. “Good flight,” he says ‘Ja, I have a problem.’ ‘What’s the problem?’ ‘Well, Doc is not well. I said, ‘what where is he?’ ‘He is there by you in the office.’ I said, ‘I didn’t see nothing in the office, where is this guy?’ So, I go into the office, I go and see this bed and it has got this thing on top of it and there was somebody underneath the cover and there is somebody very thin. I said, ‘fuck this guy is sick’. So, I said Mabi got to get the guy to a hospital tomorrow morning first thing. But then he wakes up and he knows he is very sick. He says, ‘I have come all this way to England because I want them to fulfil my dream to record. And I want to go out and record because I don’t know if I will live tomorrow’. So we go out into the recording studio and part of that stuff you hear was recorded there. The next day I take him to the hospital. I went with him to a specialist doctor who checks him up; TB. In England TB is wow, it means immediately everything stops. He says to me, ‘listen you do not go home’. I call Libra up, my wife and I tell her that you are not going there for the next two weeks. At the farm at that point of time we had several members of Amampondo, Mabi was there, Madala was there, Doc was there. We were all there for two weeks. Only one person could go in and out of the farm and that was my old boyfriend Xavier, the Frenchman. He was the only one who would drive in there and bring the food. For two weeks, incubation time. I couldn’t go to work. I could do nothing. For me this is a long story. Soon after this, before the album is released, it was so complicated because there were little patches of something that were recorded in Durban. And some stuff that has nothing to do with it. What I didn’t realise is Doc was writing Busi’s first album, Twasa. He was the guitarist with Busi and he wrote all the songs. With everybody involved, Breeze gets involved in the production because we had little snippets and we had to put the whole thing together without him because he even died in the meantime.
This song here is Busi crying over his death. (One of the tracks on the album Respect that was playing at the time of the interview)
I can’t listen to this album without a lot of memory. I still hear today different things and more things.
Doc’s brother, Enoch Mthilane, we used to play together. He was also in Sakhile. It was how I knew Doc. Madala told me about Doc. That time I was still playing with Enoch Mthilani. The brother Enoch says, ‘you know what, if you could meet my younger brother, this music, the one that you are playing, my younger brother can play that’. Your younger brother, I say ‘who is he?’ He says, ‘he is Doc’. I say, ‘where is he?’ He says, ‘he is in Durban’. I go to Durban, because I am living with Sipho there. Can you tell me where I can meet him? He says you can meet him there in Durban at the Bat Centre. It is where I met Doc. I said, ‘Doc I am looking for you.’ He said, ‘my brother, my brother, it is long time that I want to be next to you’. I say, ‘you are the one that is going to play the music with me’. So, we rehearsed a bit and I could hear Jimi Hendrix. Oh this guy. I was fresh from the sounds from overseas in America. That time 1965, Jimi Hendrix was the most heavy guy with the guitar. Everybody was ‘Jimi Jimi.’ I say this guy he plays like Jimi. I ask him, ‘Doc do you know how to play Malombo music’. He says, ‘I know Philip.’ That guy was simple like that. He says ‘I don’t want to play like Philip, I want to play like me.’ I say, ‘thank you very much for that. Me I play like me, you play like you, so let’s go.’ The first song, this guy was killing me.
I had to go to Robert. ‘Rob here is this guy the guitarist, Jimi Hendrix what do you say?’ Rob says, ‘Hey Mabi you, can I see him?’ Rob didn’t meet this guy, it was the first time Rob met him and started knowing him from there. Doc told me he has got the flu. So flu, lets go. I didn’t realise that this guy had TB. In the plane, when we go to England, that guy, he stayed in the plane, he didn’t come out till now. So I go to the people there and I say can you please call for a man by the name of Doc Mthilane. Doc Mthilane, somebody wants to see you. I can’t see this guy. Here comes another guy and he says that guy is in the plane. Hey, now I have to go to the plane. By that time I go with security. He is feeling the pain. I take Doc, but I could see he wants to sit down. I was worried. So we got into the plane. I called assistance to take us to check in. When we come there, Doc wants to sleep. And in the plane he was sleeping all the time and didn’t want to eat. When I look at him I say, is this God testing me? Or what? Or my ancestors, or what? Until Robert took him to the hospital and Dr Michael took care of him. The same day we came there when he wakes up he says, ‘hey studio’.
We came back. And the guy was fresh like me. Fresh fresh fresh and then he went back to those things again. I said thanks god because he is not under our hands anymore. In Pretoria where we got the place for him there were guys who were selling the heavy ones and he used to be a friend of them. Every time he calls me he says, ‘hey Mabi I don’t have money’. ‘But you got paid, where is your money?’ ‘No I sent the money home.’ Robert had to pay for us every month. That is why I say I will never leave Robert because he has done so much for me and us. Robert is my brother. When I cry to him, he helps me. There is no brother that you can cry to him and he won’t help me. I had put him in danger by taking Doc. I didn’t know. But Robert made sure that that guy was well and the guy was well.
It is not only Doc, it is the same doctor I went to with Busi as well in 1995.
It was me, Busi and Doc. We all went to the doctor. The other two died and I am still alive. He did help them.
Busi was complaining about her breasts in 1995. And then I went to Dr Michael and he is like superman, such a human and a great doctor as well. I was there and he checked her up and very thoroughly he went through all the procedures, scans and everything and he came back and said, ‘Busi, you know there is something there lurking for you, and it can get to you very easily because you are angry, very angry. I don’t know about what, it is not my concern or for me to ask. But if you carry on being so angry then the cancer will get to you.’ Breast cancer has a lot to do with undigested emotions and he said, ‘you must be careful.’ And then when it was serious, ten years after, I was already separated from her in terms of agreements, but I always went to her and I went to her when I heard that she had found these lumps. We had through this farm here, through people like Lianne we got to know a guy called Dr Mary who lives on the way to Limpopo, just before SAPI. He is an amazing doctor. He is the world’s worst person in terms of what he did. You go to him and you are sitting there and he says ‘Ja Robert’ and he lights the first cigarette and then he says afterwards you must do this and he lights the next cigarette. The ashtray is full. Then afterwards you must stay there because you have to stay overnight as it is so far away. So he says ‘stay for supper;. He gives lots of vleis, big portions like that. He used to have ten angels across the country. There was somebody down in the Durban side, a doctor. These people are working very undergound because they do certain things that are not exactly to the liking of the chemical brothers because they have learnt to treat certain diseases and certain cancers. I know about this guy who was very good for breast cancer. I had talked to Dr Mary before that. He said, ‘this is the guy to go to and gave the phone number’. It is not easy to get to those people, to get a phone number for these people is not easy. I go to her and say ‘Busi, I know you are very angry with me and that anger is not good for you but please don’t go to have an operation because afterwards you will have the chemical treatment and it will not be good for you. I said look here is a phone number, all you have to do is go to Richards Bay. You must do it yourself.’ The rest is history. I don’t know why people can be sometimes there I am not the easiest, I can be an areshole.
The part where you say Doc is writing music for Busi. He told me that; Doc. He said, ‘you see that album, I did everything.’ That is why I said, hey I trust him because in Durban guitar is gold. Ischatimiya, Mbaqanga. Which is nice. That is why I like Doc, Jimi Hendrix in Durban. Because I was from Philip. I needed someone who was next to Philip but in another way.
Even at home I didn’t know how to get other channels on the DSTV, but they knew the number. They taught me. But I bought the TV. You see I learn from kids also.
I say thanks for Robert to come back. When I look at Robert now he is now in a normal place and not abnormal because a lot of people used to drive him crazy, even the wife drive him crazy. You go home, you don’t know which way to go, that way or this way, oh fuck I am going to sleep.
Robert Trunz Interview Durban 2015
He takes me to sit low down on a rooftop overlooking Durban
I come here because of the acoustics. Can you hear that? Because you wanted to hear with more volume. What is happening here in this concave, you amplify the sound. So, when we sit here you hear more. It is like the loudhailer – ‘hello is there anybody in there?’
Good, Ananda … Do you remember the Shrine. Next to the Shrine was his cupboard. And on this cupboard one day appeared this cut out photograph from a newspaper of Mr Virgin, Richard Branson. I already knew a lot about this guy from what you get to know from the press, because I lived in England, so Richard Branson was quite a familiar name. I didn’t realise he had never heard of him. He just saw this picture and something that this guy had said and he just cut it out and put it there. And, he always wanted to meet the man. But then, a while later we explained to him who he was and what he was doing and so on, because we found an article on the internet or a newspaper somewhere where Richard Branson said he would pay the people who gave him a solution to counter global warming. Ananda always told us about these things, very accurately, who will be doing what and what is going to be happening, like this date of the collapse of the whole financial system. He predicted that years ago, very accurately. A lot of things that he said were coming true. Others didn’t, but some of the ones that are in my memory are the ones that have come true.
He kept asking me about Branson. We were actually making a documentary, a DVD that we were trying to get to Richard Branson. There was this recording with children from the Rudolf Steiner school where Nico used to go. And there were some people there during that recording, it was quite interesting, the children and how he talked to them. He always had crazy solutions for everything. And also he had some solutions for the global warming and stuff like that. He wanted Lianne to put it on video. And then he was talking to him and you must find that video. Ask Lianne to give you a copy because a lot of the insight is there.
Did you understand Ananda from the beginning?
No. The story for me was a master disciple story. He did speak about global warming in his essay, ‘reality of God.’ He puts it together with the ego.
Yes it is. I am very grateful for the time I spent with him or was able to spend with him. Sometimes we had fights and troubles. He helped me a lot through my life, in the later part of my life. After going away from England and coming down here because this country was a complete change over. Even during the time I recorded with all these guys I never spent more than a week or two, three or sometimes a little bit more. But never enough time in a place to understand.
What Ananda did was he was teaching. He was teaching you, whether you understood it or not was not his concern but he was teaching you. He was teaching us, he was teaching everybody all the time. But, sometimes he would get very angry. His whole story was that he had to be able to transform that anger that he had into peace and I think he did achieve that.
How much did Shana inform Black Coffee;s sound?
You know I did the first Shana’s and it was at the second EP that we had a fallout with Shana and then a couple of weeks later Nathi came round to the farm and said, ‘look.’ I would never have an issue with him, he is not the kind of person I would have an issue with. He is too much a gentleman. He came to the farm and said, ‘I don’t want to fight with you but I would like you to sponsor me as I would like to go solo.’ I said yeah, I helped him with his first initial equipment, computer speakers, amps. I got him off the feet. I gave him Busi’s material to remix. There was one of the tracks from Mabi and Thabang “Chililo”. I have a very high regard for Nathi. I find it very difficult to say ‘Black Coffee.’ That is the name he goes by. For me it is my boy. I knew him from very young and then you always have some you believe in very strongly and then you have others you don’t believe in at all. I think believing in him, he certainly has shown the kind of strength that comes with disability. Because to be the only one armed or one arm used DJ in the world who does so much work and puts so much effort into things; for that, you have to be very strong. After his accident left him disabled, he just carried on and did what he wanted to do and I think he is a great example for this country, the youth, because he denounces drugs, alcohol and all that because he saw what happened. In that accident that happened to him, people died in that accident, lots of people, it was a taxi running into a group of people. There is a very interesting documentary on residential advisor which is a UK website, very popular website for electronic music, perhaps the reference website in the world. They did a documentary on him. There is only one part out, there is a second one coming later. The first part is the early days, even before the Shana, what happened to him. What I didn’t know is when they first started filming him, they filmed him as part of a documentary they did on Johannesburg. On that website you will find very interesting documentaries on electronic music from each major city in the world and there is one on Johannesburg. And that is where he appears. And that is where they got to realise how well known he is. Hence the more filming and hence doing a whole documentary on him. He is extremely popular in Europe. He is filling huge venues. When he plays places are packed. What happened – Residential Advisor; there is a girl who runs the show, she called me a week before I left for Madagascar and she said would I be in London. And I said not really because I am in the last preparation days before leaving for 3 months to Madagascar. She said she would like to interview me, I said why? She said we are doing this documentary on Black Coffee and he mentioned twice in his interviews that I was his major inspiration for the work that he is doing today and I suppose partly responsible for what he is today, which is great. Wow, ok. I went to London just before I left and gave an interview and part of it will come out in the second run of the documentary. It is interesting because there is always a cycle which closes.
For me, Durban was a very strong link. The closest of all the artists to me in terms of forming a part of my family, my son and my ex-wife we are very closely linked to Madala. It was Madala who introduced me to Busi and it was Busi who introduced me to Nathi. It is quite interesting to see that loop closing because it all starts here and ends here. And now I sit under a tree with you in Durban.
In 1993 or 4 I was in Matric and I wert to Jam ‘n Sons upstairs, Urban Creep were playing and you, Madala and Airto were there…
Sipho Gumede was playing that night. That is the beginning of MELT. It was 1993. It was the night of the concert of 4 th world at the Playhouse. There was a concert and that evening after the concert Sipho took us to Jam ‘n Sons and Sipho was playing with his group and Madala was playing. I hadn’t seen Madala that night. He was there. We came late. We missed Madala funny enough that night. I was not getting to know him until the year after. After the concert we went back to Herbert’s office and Airto and Jose were there, myself and Sipho. He took us back and he looked at Airto and said, ‘Airto, nobody comes to South Africa without a mission.’ That is in the booklet. And then he said to Airto you must come back and work with these people because a lot of the people you are seeing tonight have never been out. The only one who had been out was Sipho, he had already played overseas with Sakhile. He had played at the Montreux jazz festival and places like that. Madala had never been out of South Africa. Airto said ‘Ja Ja Ja, but why me?’ You are the one that is known. Airto in those days was very well known. I couldn’t believe it because we had always been left under the impression that nothing had penetrated South Africa because of the boycotts and all that and there would be no music available in South Africa. But obviously the music had come into South Africa because a lot of people had LP’s. They all turned up with LP’s. When the people came to the venue, they all came with LP’s; that is the thing in my memory. This was ’93, the changeover. A lot of people came with their LP’s and wanted to have their LP’s signed. I know because Airto spent an hour and a half afterwards signing all those thing and talking to people. That actually delayed our departure to go to Jam ‘n Sons, so we missed Madala’s concert.
In the end Airto said, ‘Ok I will come back.’ And we said Ok you must come back next year. But as you know in a country like South Africa where the change has just started to take place, to say something like that and to hear it from someone as highly regarded as Airto, being one of the members of Miles Davis’s group, starting up Weather Report with Joe Zawinul and Miroslav Vitouš and the sax player, Wayne Shorter. It is obvious, you can’t just say ok I will come and then change your mind. And then it suddenly dawned on me. Everyone was looking at me because I was the person who brought him to South Africa, on invitation from Darius’s wife Cathy Brubeck. So, I thought oh shit what am I going to do now. I knew that I had to somehow convince him. Because I knew that Airto would go back and have Flora on top of him and I don’t know what and other shit. I knew he would say I have got no time. And that was the case. He didn’t actually realise that I was getting a phone call every week from either Pops or Sipho, asking when are you coming. I was tight lipped finding excuses, every three four weeks talking to Airto saying you have got to do something. One day when I saw him on a gig. I just took him aside and said, ‘Airto do you realise what the hell you are doing, do you realise what is happening here?’
Airto is not white or black, Airto is somebody who grew up in Brazil he is as white as anybody and as black as anybody else. He is a musician. He had not experienced this kind of division between black and white. It was very strange for him. I said, ‘look we got to do it’. And then he said, ‘alright I will call you back,’ and then two three weeks later he called me back and said, ‘Jose and I will do it’. So I said, ‘ok I will organise it and I will finance it and we will do it’. In the meantime, Flora was finishing, because Airto was producing that album called Speed of Light. It is a very interesting album that had a lot of percussionists. He had Changuito, the Cuban God of the Conga. He had Billy Cobham who was playing with Airto and Miles Davis. He had Giovanni Hidalgo , one of the students of Changuito, he had playing with Sergio Mendez and South American stars. Freddy Santiago, he was from one of the South American islands as well. That album was interesting because there was a gathering of all the great percussionists. After that recording session at Peter Gabriels studios, we went to South Africa in 1994. It says ’95 on the album, but it was ’94, just shortly after Nelson Mandela came in and we were there in Johannesburg and we did the recordings of the Outer National Meltdown Series. The album came out 8 months later because it was a lot of work, there was tonnes of material. We had condensed it down to 3 CD’s in the 3 CD pack. It came out in ’95.
There was a very interesting change that happened in Airto during those two three weeks we spent here. We went to places like Soweto because these guys brought us home to their places. Do you remember Shaluza Max? Max took us to his granny who brought him up. We went to visit her, we went to hostels. Airto got so completely puzzled when somebody called him ‘umlungu’ whilst he was there in Soweto. That is the first time he realised what it meant – that difference between black and white; because he grew up in Brazil. Brazil doesn’t have that gap. All these cultures live together in much more harmony because they have people coming from all different parts of the world. Yes there is Portuguese occupational hatred or resistance but Brazil is a fantastic country when it comes to all these cultures and mixes. Which at that point of time was completely lacking here. Now when they come from a country like that, both he and Jose were, ‘why do these people live in these townships. Why do the white people live here?’ They didn’t know more than they heard, read or had been told in the press. To see it and experience it at that point in time was quite a shock.
How did Airto react?
There was a shop just there that sold these Zulu shields and sandals. We were together with Byron Wallen. And Byron Wallen, they always talk to him in Zulu. All the South Africans talk to him Zulu, Xhosa or their own native language. And he would say, “what mate, I don’t understand a thing because he grew up in the South of London, not in East London here but in East London in the UK so he didn’t know a word of a Zulu. And there was Airto next to him who was as black as anyone can be. Airto is a very black person when it comes to his soul and his music and all that. They went into this shop where they sold all these things and he went straight to a mirror and looked at the mirror and said, ‘shit, yes I am white!’ And that is all. It was quite a shock for him.
During those recordings that was the time when I first met Madala. Mabi I already knew because he was playing in the group with Sipho. Madala for me was the odd one out of all of these people because he played a style I never heard before. I like acoustic guitar and I like trance music. I had a trance label but that is not exactly what I like but the trance in terms of the traditional music. A lot of traditional music is trance music because of the repetitiveness. It is trance. Trance is not just techno trance. Trance has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is putting you into an altered state of mind. I actually always had been fascinated by percussion and drumming. Drum sets with lots of other percussion and repetitiveness. There is a point where everyone goes into a kind of a trance. A lot of these musicians, like the guys from Amampondo, are a perfect example. Mabi is a perfect example. After a while they just go and you can see, and after a while you get the goose bumps, the hair stands up and you have to dance. You can’t not dance, you just have to dance. For me it is the only time when I dance really. When I get this foundation that carries everything, flowing. These guys over the years they knew exactly what I liked, so when they played, they had a good time. I always treated the musicians properly in a way so they felt at home. What they gave back for me was a present. When they saw me dancing they would just be happy and add a bit more to get moving.
Outernational Meltdown was obviously the breaking point because up till then there was little or no South African involvement with the exception of Darius Brubeck introducing me in Montreux in ’86 to Sandile Shange because he was there with South African artists. You had the usual few things. I knew the jazz side better. Way before that I did a couple of concerts with in those days Dollar Brand, Abdullah Ibrahim, who was represented in Europe by a friend of mine. South African music was far away from my conscience.
My story is putting people together. Putting stars together and music in a different, you know, don’t make it so pure; make people work together and feel what they want to do, given the freedom to do what they want to do. There is a South African jazz journalist, Gwen Ansel. Gwen once when I came back in 2003 or 4, I was kind of away from Melt and she came to a gig at the Bassline and she put it very nicely. She was saying in her article afterwards that it was so nice to see Robert Trunz, he always had his own view or take on South African music. Which is correct.
My soul and my head has never been limited by often the things that we say we had to do it the same way we have done it before otherwise tradition will not carry on. I don’t believe it is the case. There are always the essentials and the core or the seed of the tradition will always be there if you have respect with what you do with the music. It should not hinder, alter or stop people from going on to do their thing. Look, I go to concerts. This Christmas I went to a concert of Phuzekhemisi just after Madala’s. I had seen Phuzekhemisi for the first time in 1997. I saw him again and he is a kind of custodian of maskanda music. Great. Very energetic even at his age. A fantastic performance. When you look at Madala he says I am not maskanda I am Madalaline. He actually takes the liberty of not being pushed in or squeezed into a box whereas Phuzekhemisi will come up and die as a maskanda legend.
Was Busi a Maskanda legend?
I am ashamed that Busi went the way that she had to go in the end. But I had very much hoped to do a jazz album with her because maskanda is not really her thing. It did become her thing because Urban Zulu put her as a heroine of maskanda, because the album has become so successful but then I had the opportunity because we spent a lot of time together. There was a time when we had a great time together when she wasn’t so bitchy about everything, because she was part of my family, very close. My son grew up with her; Aunty Busi. My wife and I looked after her for many many years and there were times when we were just sitting in the studio and there were musicians there playing, even with Moses on the piano. In the studio things happened that you will never ever hear again, because they only just happened there once. Busi did some renditions of jazz which is like shit man I just fall off the chair it was so incredibly good. And we did discuss that we would do a jazz album but then Moses went the wrong way and she went the wrong way and it never happened. It would have been nice. I am saying we are boxing people. Now you have to do maskanda for the rest of your life. Even the album she did with Hugh Masekela. Nobody listened to that. It was out in the market. There was a very devastating comment from a journalist who said the album is out and it should be in the bargain bin which I think wasn’t very complimentary. Masekela produced the album and that was it. It started off like that, Hugh Masekela started off from the beginning because she was on tour with him and Madala introduced me to her when he was recording. He wanted to have her on his team and then she came to me. I have never met Bra Hugh. I think we are living in two completely different worlds and it is good like that…
The trance story, there was a change in the music with the electronic influence. Was South African House created through these collaborations?
Do you know of Rude Boy Paul? He was the radio DJ and co- founder of YFM. I know in 1995 we came out with the first remix album called Music with No Name Volume One which had this track of Madala’s on it called Ubombo and there was a remix from an outfit from Bristol called Smith and Mighty. I put this on vinyl as well and I heard much much later when I became friends with Rude Boy Paul, he said to me, ‘do you know Rob that that track was actually changing our vision of traditional music and its integration into dance music’. So yes I am sure. Black Coffee says the same because Black Coffee had all the ‘Music with No Name’. ‘Music with No Name’ Volume One is definitely one of the reference recordings because together with Peter Gabriel’s label we were the first one to do that type of thing, to take that kind of music and remix it. If you really deeply look into the ‘Music with No Name’ and you see the people that were remixing it there were some giants amongst those people. At that point of time you do not realise, but it becomes history.
For heavens sake, we must now jump 20 years. From 1995 to 2015, the thing I want to do now and the thing I discussed with Nathi, is to take a DJ producer out to Madagascar. I would very much like to take these guys, there are a couple of them from a group called Black Motion. They have just done an amazing track of Madala’s – totally reworked it. There are no samples, nothing, everything themselves. I went to see Nathi and he said he is working with them and we are now trying to see if they are in agreement. There is no money involved. They will have to pay their flights blah blah blah, but they will have a treasure of music afterwards which we can work on together and make everybody benefit from. I don’t know who is going to come. I have some other people I would like to consider as well like Monde who is the drummer from Kwani Experience. Monde did one album with me, ‘Music with No Name’ Volume 4 which I also consider a real masterpiece in my opinion. He went through the discipline of all the different electronic styles. I think he has done a brilliant job.
We are jumping around but there are two decades of influencing. There was a guy called DJ Castro B who did some stuff as well in his own style. I was able through the label to inspire people to look at it in a different way. The first album that Black Coffee did was fantastic. The remix of Busi is there, the remix of Hugh Masekela, he became very famous with that. It is all confirming what I said before. There is no way that you should stop the progress of traditional music being passed on to another generation because I went to see this gig in the Playhouse and it was three quarters full, but there were no young people in there. It is like there is nothing but people of my age 40 – 70 and nobody was even dancing. Most of the people didn’t even fit the seats. I felt like the thinny compared to most of the people. It is like the reminiscence of the fat cat society that just goes there to see their old heroes in a very highly air conditioned environment where you freeze your arse off. We are in Durban and should have some heat. For me, for twenty years now I have been happy to see people dance to that music and to see young people dance to that music. I saw when we put out the Busi Mhlongo remixes of the Urban Zulu albums, they were selling like hot cakes, fantastic. And people played them everywhere.
What about computer generated music versus live music?
The 4/4 beat lends itself to the computer. It is not as easy to do a 6/8 on the computer then when you play it because most of the things here are 6/8. But there are by now, more and more younger engineers who can fake the 6/8, it becomes more interesting. We mustn’t say now it is electronic because what happened in this country in the early 90’s. How did the music industry change in this country? Very simple. There were a few computers, Atari computers. There were a few young guys who back in Europe started this garage and house music and all this kind of stuff. And then some of the equipment when it was replaced, they were given away. So, some of the equipment found its way over here. The younger guys were working on Atari. I saw amazing set ups. I saw people like Castro B. He produced music on a PC that in Europe they would put it into the museum. And he had a little crappy amplifier and one speaker. Amazing. In the early 90’s that was done by those guys who are now very very famous in this country. Oscar, Arthur, Chico, TKZee, Mdu, these guys. They did kwaito. Kwaito was nothing else than a South African version of house music. That is how house music started. Kwaito is nothing else but house music but with the African beat, the African taste, the African thing. They couldn’t get their stuff onto the radio stations. They couldn’t get their stuff to be played anywhere else. Their own niche market was the taxi, so they made cassettes because most of the taxi’s had cassettes. They were putting the cassette on the way to work so it came a form of entertainment that was aimed at the majority. It is great to go to work with a beat like that. They did it so cleverly. At some stage the record industry in this country was forced to listen to them. And then they took it further and that is how some of the sub labels came up and people started their own lables, Kalawa Jazz, Arthur had his hit ‘Don’t call me a kaffir.’ And there is Lianne. Lianne has been there from the beginning. She was doing all the music videos.
What was the Achisa story?
The Achisa story is the other angle. Cape Town at that point in time, there was a group that a friend of mine used to bring into London, it was called Prophets of the City. Later one of them became a member of Jozi. Do you know the band called Jozi? You know Bongz? Bongz is the son of Brenda Fassie. There is a group called Jozi in that American way. Prophets of the City were the first ones who came out of this American kind of rapping style. And Achisa were four young guys who were in a home in Langa. They lived there in the orphanage. They befriended Simphiwe Matole from Amampondo. Simphiwe is the kind of guy in Langa who has an open door, he has a piano and a trumpet and he always has people there playing music. They went to him and they asked him to help them with their rap story. There was no hip hop in those days. When Achisa came out it was very strange. And Lungiswe helped them as well. She sang on some of their tracks. Their first album was co-produced by Sheldan Isaac and the second album was produced by Airto’s daughter Diana, and son in Law, Krishna Booker. Interesting Krishna Booker, they have a kind of trip hop outfit called Eye-dentity which also had interesting people in there. Some of the very early tracks of Eye-dentity which I released had people like Herbie Hancock because Herbie Hancock is Krishna Bookers’ godfather. And there is another guy Wawa Watson who is quite famous. He got his name from the Wawa pedal. They came to England produced this album there. It was called Bill of Rights but it never went anywhere because the guys started to get into shit. One got killed. It was something that came and went. We did a couple of concerts there. They were the supporting act for Busi Mhlongo.
Interview Robert Trunz Durban 2015
I was saying to you about this little incident there on the motor way that kid lying there reminded me of how many young lives have been destroyed in this country especially in our field, music. A lot of people left quite early so to makes you quite grateful that I have made it through as far as I got in my 60 th birthday so far, which is good. I think the Moses one was the one that really shocked me. I couldn’t understand what happened. I don’t want to understand what happened.
FOREST JAM MUSIC EDUCATION THE COLLABORATIVE WAY
“Forest Jam” is created out of Switzerland. It is a non profit organization and its members are mainly young musicians, students, parents, music teachers and friends who are supporting the cause.
Forest Jam began in July 2014 when professional musicians from Switzerland, Madagascar and South Africa gathered for a week of making music together with some twenty young local musicians and students. Two master musicians from Madagascar and South Africa – Olombelo Ricky and Madala Kunene, featured strongly … The master / apprentice program has played out in studio.
Robert Trunz interviews
Not long ago, maybe two years or three years, I went to a friend of mine who lives up in the places where it is pretty cold in the winter. And she lives in an old house. It was funny because these young guys in Switzerland, like Matthias and some of the others I came across are very talented musicians. All my life I was able to spot talent. I had the gift to be able to find people who are great musicians. But it’s not being great musicians it is now in a country like Switzerland things are completely different then they are here. Some of the things are much better than they are here and some of the things are so far removed, the grounding that you get here.
I just thought that Madagascar was an amazing country, having just come from there for three months. The people are stronger. The forces of the spiritual side of the whole thing here is bigger. Here it is very polluted. People are very polluted here with all the crap they get served. It is very American here. And there is lots of people who are hungry in Madagascar. So, this guy in Madagascar we went to visit, Ricky. He is a man who … I did an album with him and Airto and then I was with him a couple of years later for some festivals where he was with Mantombi. Do you know Mantombi? Mantombi was one of the ladies that rrrrrrrrrrrrrggg, (ngqoko throat singer) you know with the bow. She played the uhadi on stage with Amampondo. Sort of a version of Madosini. She is not so famous. She is amazing, very spiritual lady. Ricky once appeared with her on stage at Womad in Redding. She went back later with Madosini to Womad and Peter Gabriel did some stuff with her, but I don’t know if it has ever been released or not. It would be interesting to find out, to do some research and see. She is an interesting character that woman.
Ricky, I always felt Ricky a real strong person. Ricky often said to me I should be more careful with the people I am dealing with Here. He is a bit like Ananda. They are similar. Ricky is regarded as love. To describe Ricky will be love. Unlimited, everlasting, new sourcing energy of love. Unbelievable. If there is something that is wrong you can go to him and he drops everything and everybody knows him in the streets. If you go from East to West from South to North anywhere, you stop in any place, out in the biggest of the sticks, everybody knows him, amazing. And they love him because he has been like Madala somehow. They are not. They have not been penetrated by the forces of …
I find a lot of the people here and all over the world have been penetrated, giving in on capitalising and on comfort zones. When I left now in October to go and see Ricky most of the people thought, ‘this guy is crazy’. Like do you have the proper insurance for your health and the cover for your hospital, which in Switzerland is bred-in. Because in Switzerland you have to be insured for everything, fine. When you come to Africa it is different. There is no insurance for anything, I mean insurance in terms of what one feels one can insure oneself with money. That is not the case. Naturally you can insure everything here as well. There are lots of companies that would like to sell you insurance. You can have insurance for your lawyer as well. That was the funny thing when I was here in South Africa, do you remember that? There was a time staying at the farm and we went to Cullinan to the shopping mall. You got to the spar and do some shopping and then in that space before the spar already when I come into the car park there is a flash big Mercedes Vito busses, very flash, modern, polished. And there were all these girls, black girls in black skirts, beautiful. In Cullinan when you see a girl like that, you are ‘hey, where does she come from?’ It is far away from the Cullinan girls. There was a sound system there and a big thing and these girls we giving out blah blah blah. And then there was this slogan, ‘Don’t talk to me, talk to my lawyer. The new insurance for South Africa for the people to get their power. Come and insure yourself. 20%, 30% that is a good deal. We are going to take 50%, but you don’t have to pay us anything. We are going to take it afterwards.’ So, when this guy knows they can win their case they go in and they get big percentages. Okay that is law. I know about lawyers because I spent way too much money with lawyers all my life. Now I don’t have any which is good. So, I don’t have to spend it on them anymore.
So, I go there (Madagascar) in October because I had just spent a week with all these musicians in the mountain. We had a week in Melchtal which is about 20 minutes from where Matthias comes from.
Matthias is a mountain boy he comes from the part of Switzerland which for me is one of the most connected parts of Switzerland. I love the people from there, some of them are amazing. All the way to Melchtal which goes up into the mountains. You know you can only go up and come back on the same road, you don’t go any further there. You have to come back. There is the place of a saint which is very highly thought of in our country. He is called Broder Klaus. It is a part of what I think I have learned or have been shown is to be closer to the ground. Matthias is very interesting. There is another boy called Fabio, Fabio I got to know through his father because now I get to Switzerland one day and a guy interviews me, half a year later he calls me. And he says do you want to come to this little place where we do a presentation. And we are going to talk about Miles. Because there is this guy who used to be editor of a cultural magazine called “Du.” (you). And Du did some great photography and great articles. This guy was the editor so one day they decided to go to Los Angeles and to go and interview Miles Davis. He did that. He got lucky because he speaks like Matthias and Miles would have liked that. No, he speaks much better but he has this very strong Swiss accent which is nice. This guy did the interview and got invited to Miles birthday which by sheer coincidence was two days later so he must have spent two or three days with him in LA and did a fantastic article. The whole magazine from A to Z was Miles. Beautiful photography, very nice article, fantastically written. This guy was doing the same as you are doing. He recorded it all. Then in Lucerne in this small little place, there was room for 40 people, but then it is already full. But these crude people come there. I go there because my journalist friend asked me to, but they said you must contribute to our thing because you also knew Miles. Okay, so I go there and at the end of the show there is a discussion thing and presentation. We stand at the bar and have a drink with this guy, Marco Meyer. There comes in this thin tall boy. Ta ta tum like that and stands there next to Marco and listens. Suddenly comes the guy, “Are you the guy who has the place in Queens with speakers.” I say, “Why do you know?” He says, “Glauco.” Okay, so Glauco is a guitarist, born in Switzerland by Italian parents. He plays guitar. But not that he plays guitar very good he plays extremely good in my opinion. He can copy anybody, from Led Zeppelin to most jazz. He is an encyclopaedia. I call him the wikipaedia. He knows all the stuff. He is amazing. I got introduced to him by Andy a friend of mine who lived in the same house as I have. We lived in his house for 8 months when we came back and Andy has been around for twenty years.
There was a 50th birthday at the farm. Andy new the family of this Glauco guy. He knew Glauco since he was a baby. He introduced me to him. So we went to see the concert blah blah blah. And then after a while he left and he went to Australia and some other places with his mates and whilst he was gone he must have some additional time to go and do some more research because shortly before he left I gave him a whole bag of Melt CD’s so he knew all the names. He went through them one by one. Those which he liked he would pick out the one or two tracks from those albums and he would know how to play everything, except for Madala he had a bit of a problem because of the tuning. He asked me what is the tuning? I say, ‘I don’t know, one day you can ask him for yourself’.
Glauco used to come to dinner at Andy’s place. Andy already had those Vivid speakers. We had Vivid speakers all over the house and downstairs there was this big listening room. The best sound you could have. So, they came to listen. He came to listen with his dad. And he couldn’t believe it so he was telling his mates, the other musicians. And sometimes because I go to bed late. I can’t sleep too early because I will miss a bit of the night. Like Ananda I like that night part until about two o clock, three o clock, I love that. Come 11 o clock, because around the corner from me is half industrial, half residential. There are very old people next door. The house we are in is 200 years old. It is very special. Renovated, beautifully made. You go through the back and then here you have the motorway. The motorway goes down to Italy and up to Hamburg. You can get over it on a bridge and then you are already in Lucerne. But this side you are in Kreyens. So you walk along there about 250 metres and you come to one of those little factory units because you know in Switzerland before everything was mechanical hyper-sition, blah blah blah. There were a lot of these small factories that did specialised things. And this must have been one of them so now it has been occupied by the father of a musician. A drummer called Camille. He had this father who used to be a keyboard player. He is a keyboard player and he likes Fender Rhodes but he doesn’t play anymore because he has to make money. So, he says to his son he will give him two rehearsal rooms. They all rehearse there but by the time 11 o clock comes or so, they go home, they come straight to me and press the bell. The shop floor bell which rings upstairs in my apartment. Now that it is 11 o clock I don’t hear it if it rings up there. I look out the window, “Oh Robert can we come listen to some music please?” “Is it not too late?” That they asked twice; and then they would come at 1 o clock 2 o clock. And so they kept on coming. This Fabio guy, I said, ‘why don’t you come next time with Glauco’. So they came and they relax because of all the things you can relax with. Mainly music. But sometimes a smoke or so. And one of them likes red wine. And another one like a beer or so. And they chill and then they start talking. Listen to the music first and then they start talking.
They start talking about the school. They are going to school and they don’t like the school. They don’t like what they teach really. So, he says. I say guys what exactly is going on? Look we have a curriculum which is quite tough and I think the best person to ask is Matthias, because he pulled out. I didn’t know Matthias at that point but I had already some guys who failed that whole thing because they were bound to fail. Their intellect was no longer just an intellect it was a feeling because they started to get introduced to other music. You go through this change. They kept not only coming but they kept talking so at some stage there was Frank Makongwa, Kwani Experience. Franky in the meantime lives in Belgium where he is married to a Polish lady called Louise, an incredible photographer. You must look on my FB pages. All the good photos are from her. Amazing she is so in with the people. Franky calls me. He says, “Papa I want to come to you to say thank you.” I say okay come. I will see you tomorrow. So, next day he comes. I thought he was coming by plane or whatever, but now he just arrives in his car. With his lady and their little boy. Now I have to find, because in the meantime I have got a real small flat. So he provides the bed and we started hanging out. Then they were staying with a friend of mine. And her name is Beatrice. Beatrice is the one who bought the house and the shop. Beatrice went on holiday with her children and the whole family and she was asking if they could look after her house. It is very beautiful. A beautiful place, close to the lake. So I say to Franky, “Hey don’t forget your bass. Bring your bass along.” When he got there after a few days I called Glauco because Glauco lives a few doors next to Bea. I said Glauco are you at home. I said wait ten minutes and a guy is going to come knock on your door with a bass, his name is Franky. He said ok, because I had already told him about Franky before. So they did some rehearsals together, they played together and they had lots of fun. But then they were supposed to be a playing a little gig in a place somewhere and Franky was supposed to turn up but somehow the kids got into trouble and then they decided to go home with them and nothing happened. When Franky was back you had Glauco deeply disappointed because he really started enjoying working with him. So I said to Franky why did you go home so quick, stupid you know? He said, ‘the kids’. But I said, ‘a couple of days more with the kids would be nice’. I said, ‘you must come back. Come on a weekend. Take the plane it is cheaper. The car is much more expensive. You can fly for 70 or 80 Euro back and forth’. So he comes and we go meet him at the airport. I go with Fabio so they meet for the first time and then they all gather at the rehearsal space. And that is when I meet Matthias for the first time, because he turns up with his violin. He is a violin player, bass, electric bass and upright bass. And now he is in love with his kabosy, a 4 stringed hand made guitar from Madagascar. For two nights, all the way through the night they make music together.
Kabosy is a small Malagasy box guitar, like mandolin
The first night I missed because I had to go to hospital because something was wrong with my system and I was bleeding and I don’t know what, so I spent the whole night there. The next night I spent with them. And then I see how much fun and how much love they came up with. So I said guys lets go and find a place somewhere in the Alps where we can spend a few days or a whole weekend or whatever and just simply make music so we don’t disturb any neighbours and we can do whatever we want to. I said I am sure we can find a little hut in the mountains because they are there and they belong to the village, the corporation. Matthias says in his accent from the central part of Switzerland. He says my father is running a corporation in the mountains and I am sure he is going to find us a place. That was at 6 o clock in the morning he says I am going to ask them because I am going to lunch with my parents. At three o clock he rings back. The next weekend we go and look at this place but then it started to become complicated because we needed extra facilities.
More of the younger musicians started to get interested to come and join us. We started looking for a bigger place and then Gontse and the guys from Kwani Experience got to meet a guy in Sweden called Mikiel Westerhuizen. Mikiel runs some samba schools. He was helping in the co-production of that song by Michael Jackson which he did in Brazil, who cares about us?’ And then Bafana lives in Oslo, so he wants to come as well. So now there are three teachers. And then a friend of mine, a Swiss professor of piano and so on who was taught in Paris by some famous classical guy. Pierre Boulais. His name is Rolf Schimmerman. 25 years ago I did an album with Ralph or two. We stayed friends for all this time. He said I would like to come and do a specific project, choose some people and then go into a proper studio for a day, which was great for the musicians because most of them never had any proper studio experience. And then Bea who has been here in Durban to visit the Vivid Audio people. She wanted to come to the country for the first time, not just to meet other people, because she is also kind of sangoma type. She is the one who saw Ananda long time ago and asked me who is this? She says to me after she came back from SA having met Madala’s family, some of the sangomas’, she says when you do this thing in July the last day we must celebrate your 60th birthday which we haven’t celebrated here properly. That was in April. So I said okay. And for your birthday you can choose a musician and I will fly him in and I will pay his costs. She said do you have a favourite artist and I said, ‘yes Madala’. So, we arrange for Madala to come here. Madala had a concert in Joburg with the Swiss embassy sponsoring at that time. So I arranged for him to go to the embassy to get a visa because Libra had worked for the Swiss embassy, so she got the right people and we arranged for him to go and see them. And he got the visa. And then my troubles started and I had to go and operate. They discovered that I had a stone in my bladder and I had a cancer in my bladder so they had to operate on me. That is a small thing. So I thought okay. Fine. Now I had to prepare for this whole thing Forest Jam. By that time we already had 30 people. It was growing fast. After the operation two weeks later they put some stuff into you. They put a tube in your system that goes up into the bladder and then they operate through that tube. They put cameras and things through that tube and they leave that tube in, in case something happens. After two weeks you go in and take that tube out. And no problem the tube comes out. And the doctor says to me in case you have any bleeding because we had trouble at the beginning please call us immediately and come over. And then after three hours I was at home and it started bleeding like a pig. Now I loose blood and then my friend Andy he got me to the hospital. But by then I could not stand anymore they had to put me in a chair because I was collapsing. And then in the emergency part I lost consciousness and then they put me up into an operating thing. They couldn’t find anything, they couldn’t look because everything was bleeding. Whilst this thing was happening I got more and more to the point where I lost all the energy, I could not even move my fingers anymore so I knew I was going to go soon. And then that is when I saw Ananda in one of my passing away’s. I kind of said goodbye at that point. And I thought it would be really nice if I could do this Forest Jam thing instead of dying. What’s the bloody point, but okay I was ready to go. I thought to myself I should do more music again. And so I did.
Everybody was chaotic at that point of time but with a lot of help from Fabio and Matthias and Camille we got this thing going off the ground and I started to call up other friends and family. Some people came to cook and my brother was sponsoring because he is like a professional chef. Matthias’ parents were there every morning during the breakfast. And it pissed down the whole week. It was pissing down. This was like July, our summer. It always pisses down but it was okay because everyone was there and came into this chapel. It is an old old wooden chapel, beautiful. Maybe you can follow this train of thought of mine. When I walked into this building and they switched the light on, I saw this old stuff and I saw these wooden trusses for the roof. Do you remember the studio at the farm had the same in the ceiling, these big wooden beams which were holding the roof up. When I saw this in the chapel it reminded me of my old studio. And it sounded really great in there. That is where we worked for a week and we had this guy that Bea knows from a company that does big events, big sounds, huge screens. The guy that she introduced to me used to grow up in the same street as me in the village. He was so nice. I said look I will go on my knees, please can you help me sponsor this thing. He said, ‘hey you don’t have to go on your knees. Yeah sure. And he put in a sound system and a recording system and microphones and everything’. In terms of renting this thing it would be half a million rand. And he gave it to us for next to nothing, R10 or R20 000, something like that. But everybody sponsored. Parents gave money, friends gave money and it became a completely non-profit kind of thing.
It is education and it is allowing these young people to access different cultures and music and be with different people and live together. Now we have done it for one week and we would like to do it for one month in Madagascar with Ricky. That is the reason why I have been there for three months. We met a lot of the traditional musicians there. I have Swiss students coming and I would have loved to have some German students as well, or French. It has gone a bit fast now. We are wanting to do it in April so I am scrambling a bit at the moment to get everyone there and find the finances, but I think it is okay.
My story really starts here because what is at the back, is at the back, but I think it is a generation passing on what we have experienced in our lives. Pass it on, give it over to the younger generations and let them take what they find good about it. If they take what they find good about it they will be thriving on that.
Matthias tell Struan where you come from? It is a valley with a lake in the middle and there are lots of side valleys where the rivers come down in to the lake. One valley is called Melchtal. And that is the valley where I come from. And there is a place called Fleurli where there was a man called Broeder Klaus. He lived in the 16th C. He was a farmer at the beginning. Also a judge and then when he turned 40 years he had a vision and God told him to go away from his family,. He had ten kids. He was wealthy with a big farm. God told him to go away from his family and to stay in the valley near the river. It is a place called Flieurramf and if you are in Fleurli you go down. It is not far away. It is quite narrow there, not a lot of light. That is the place where he stayed until the end of his life. He said that he didn’t eat something he didn’t drink something he just lived by the air. He was like a person who gives advice to everybody. People from the whole of Europe came to him to ask him about his advice for every kind of questions. Now he is a holy man and the place is like a pilgrim.
There are a lot of family who are called by his name. Actually I have also some blood from him, but there were a lot of kids and families after him. The place where we had the project Forest Jam is only a bit more up the mountain but the same valley.
Why did you do Forest Jam? I went to the jazz school in Lucerne. That is the next biggest town. I was there for a year and a half. I started to think about the way they are teaching music. They teach you how to play the scales and the notes and which songs. I didn’t like that way. They don’t try to show you how to find your own way to play. There are some good teachers and bad teachers but for me I decided to leave and just play with my friends and I think it was a good decision because I am now here. Maybe if I didn’t leave the school I wouldn’t be here now.
Forest Jam was the opposite to what the jazz school was for me. Forest Jam would be for me an example of a good way to teach young musicians. Get together with experienced musicians at a beautiful place with equipment. Bring them together and you don’t have to make up a lot of rules and programmes or whatever. Just put them together and see what is growing. That is what we did and I think everybody was very happy, friends told me that it was the best week of music for them. They learnt in one week so much, more than they learnt in one year at jazz school.
What about Madagascar? I can’t compare it with anything else. I never was in such a country. They are improvising the whole day. They don’t have much and with what they have they do a lot. Everything you want to do takes a lot of time. You can’t just say today I am going to do this and that. You can make a plan but in the end it won’t be that easy to do it. You have to take time and see where you get. But, there are a lot of good sides, the people are very nice, very welcoming and I learnt a lot there not only in music. The music is quite different. They had rhythms I never could understand. They tapped with the foot and I listened to it and I was confused all the time. After a while I started to get into it but it takes a life. Their music is an expression of their way of thinking. It is very positive music. If you listen to it, you can feel the confidence there. There is a lot of hope there. They are one nation. Ricky’s songs are famous over the whole country and they can sing along to every tune from him.
Robert says, The last concert we went to was in a restaurant. He played from 9 o clock until 1 o clock. I have never seen anybody with so much energy. I don’t know where he takes his energy from. He has some source but it is magic. He is a healer. We always come back to the healing thing. We come back to Ananda. In Madagascar there are a lot of healers. There is so much herbs and there is so much natural medicine. It is unbelievable. I was having a bad stomach upset and I couldn’t travel. There is a book like a comic book. You find it on facebook. It is totally funny. And then they say to you exactly what combination of herbs you put together and make tea and drink that stuff and after two or three days it is gone. It is not like when you take a medical thing like a chemical thing. Your arse is closed up like Fort Knox afterwards. Nothing comes out of it anymore. And then you go the other way round and find the combination to open it up again. With the natural stuff it fades away. And that is it and you start feeling good again. There is a lot of natural medicine.
Matthias says, There are different traditional instruments in Madagascar. There is one instrument called Valiha. That is a big bamboo tube with wires around, mettle strings. It is tuned diatonic so they normally play only one key. There is one guy who added a lot of wires and it is called Valiha chromatic so it can play every key every tune. He is very talented and he plays also Mozart and jazz blues stuff on it and we met that guy. I played with him. His name is Zamba. There is also a variation of the valiha which is not made of bamboo tube, it is just a wooden box. And the strings are on both sides. It is called marovany. The guy who is playing it is called Oens and he has a known group. They also sing in acapello and he is also part of the project. And he wants to try to make a project with me on the bass and the acapello group.
Marovany is a box zither; valiha is a tubular zither. Lukango is the Madagascar word for violin. Their violin is different it is much bigger and is made of one piece of wood and has 3 strings made of fishing line. He is playing it with a bow like violin but it is not very loud. There is also accordion. They also have special percussion. One is like a broom. They are playing it between the hands. It is like straw, thin long straw like a reed. Very thin, very light. They put it in a bundle and close it off with a cloth. It is like a shaker. They make big ones. Sometimes they are 1 metre long. It is used like a shaker. They have these self-made shakers out of tin cans, folded over tin cans. They always drink this concentrated milk, condensed milk. And they mix it with coffee or tea. That is the only one that survives the heat there. They can’t have milk and there is sugar in it as well. They fold the can and put some rice in it, fold it together and put it on a stick. It is a rattle.
Robert says, They are very ingenius in their music making and their instrument making. Like this little kabosy is beautiful. They make bigger ones as well, bass ones.
Our project with our friends from Switzerland and to bring Madala from here which is going to be a bit of a problem because we will have to find sponsors. That is the reason why I said if you could help me with Samro’s. Maybe make some contacts. Are these people from Samro here. Who was there at Neil’s place, there was a table of Samro people or concert SA. I must start working again as soon as the Christmas thing is over. Will you help me a bit. I think it is important if we can get this together and have students not just from Switzerland but from Germany and France. Our aim in this month in April is to work with local young people as well. Not only to be work with local masters of traditional instruments. That is one project, but also the other project is to work with the younger generation. It is supposed to be a few days or a week in the capital. And do some concerts there. Try even with a DJ with the younger guys and the traditional musicians as well. And then travel the whole thing. Go up to North.
Matthias says, The roads are very bad. A lot of holes and sometimes big trucks are stuck on the road. It takes a lot of time. But, it is exciting. We see a lot of things. And we have good food on the road. Food is amazing. It is a great country for somebody to settle with yourself. I had a lot of frustration and other things that didn’t gel and I just wanted to go and I was really happy that I did.
Robert invited me to interview some of his friends and colleagues in the industry : they had the following to say …
Interview Neil Comfort
The Rainbow has a lot to do with my story with Busi. My older brother Steve first got to meet Busi through the Rainbow and see her perform here. I became a friend of hers having experienced her at the Rainbow. That was in the late 80’s when she was first converting from Vicky Mhlongo to Busi Mhlongo in terms of her stage name or persona in the South African music scene. He met her they became close friends, I think they may have been lovers for a while. He was and still is a software engineer, so was making decent money and started putting money into her life to help her. 1991, in the family we knew about Busi Mhlongo but the first time I met her physically was Mid November ’91 I had a farewell party at my folks house in Westville North. I was leaving to go to the Antarctic on the SA National Antarctic expedition. Steve came with her and Mshaks and Doc and Sandile the drummer. There were about 4 or 5 of them From Busi’s band that came to my farewell and that was the first time I ever met Busi.
And then Steve had been in the Antarctic twice in the 80’s, in ’84 and ’87 and his radio operator on both of this trips was a guy called John Walker who became part of our family as well. He would also have been at that farewell. He used to live at our house. And in 1992 while I was in the Antarctic, John was then doing his masters in psychology. We had studied together at UKZN. I was at UKZN ’87 to ’89. He started in ’88, so by ’92 he was doing his doctorate and also helped me with Busi’s band. He died on Christmas Eve of ’92. His car aquaplaned off the road into Connaught bridge, there by Umgeni River. To her death bed Busi would talk about John. He was one of her important people in her life. She kept his old British army hat that he always had, after her died. She kept it in her house. We down at Antarctic only got to hear after New Year that John had died. It took a bit of time for the message to get down there. And then a couple of weeks later Steve sent me a telex and said what are you doing when you get back to South Africa. Would you be interested in helping with Busi’s band and continuing what John and him had been doing. But I had already planned to go overseas a month and a half after I got back to go to Scotland with my mother to meet her family over there and then I was meeting up with a friend in America for a few months. It was around October of ’93 once I was back from all my travels I then started going around to Busi’s place at Grace Avenue in Westville which is part of that Westville shopping complex. The house that used to be there was 12 Grace Avenue. I would go around there on a daily basis. Some nights we would sit until 3, 4 in the morning talking about her life, smoking spliff, just getting to know her. And also for me it was very much a period of conscientisation to the life of a black person in South Africa, and particularly the life of a musician in South Africa.
I had had an interest in music, in helping bands. I grew up on the Bluff, there were a couple of bands on the Bluff, ‘Dax Martin’, ‘What she said…’ I used to help them out with transport and all that once in a while. Dax is now a swimwear designer. Growing up on the Bluff, black people were servants. That was about as much interaction as you had with a black person. I wouldn’t say we were an overly liberal family, we were certainly not supporters of apartheid but we were certainly not activists against apartheid. Steve was a lot more conscious and got a lot more involved than I did. There is a seven year gap between him and I. What Steve did I followed. He is my brother. It was at Grace Avenue where you would have Bheki Mseleku and Sandile Shange, Madala, Doc and Mshaks. Sue Barry was living there with Busi.
I got to understand and learnt the hardships and got involved in helping Twasa. They had a tour in early, March or April ’94 back to Holland and the Benelux countries. We did all the rehearsals at Grace Avenue. I was fortunate my father was doing alright in business at the time so I had a bakkie and I had transport, resources, I had a petrol card and I could do these things. We did a show at Behind the Moon in Point Road, Barney Pavitt’s old place. I remember we got paid R1500 for an eleven piece band. But it was a rehearsal gig, it was prepping the band for their rehearsal to Holland. Because she was big over there. She had spent many years working in Holland and developed a name there. Her previous tour in 1992, John had helped them with. They had recorded that Babhemu album which was Busi Mhlongo and Twasa. Twasa was the name of her backing band. Crazy motherfuckers all of them. But, so much energy. Wim Westerveld was the promoter who put all her tours to Holland together. Munich records was the label. We are still in touch. They did the tour and in August of ’94 she got her first big festival gig as Busi Mhlongo at Rustlers Valley. We did that and did some shows in Joburg. On the ’94 tour it wasn’t just Holland. She also got a couple of gigs in England. I think she played Ronnie Scotts as well on that tour. Will Mowatt saw her at the Chard Women’s festival and introduced her to himself and fell in love with her right there and then and said he wanted to work with her.
It was around ’95 that Robert started getting involved here. The whole Outernational Meltdown stuff and all that was done. He came in via Sipho Gumede who was one of his first Durban contacts. Sipho then put him in touch with people like Busi. I am pretty sure that was ’95 that we had this big incident. There was this producer from Cape Town, Brett Piper, who had been involved in the Grahamstown festival and he had been commissioned to produce a show with Sipho Gumede and Busi Mhlongo. Understand that I was naïve and still learning the game. Busi was my university of music. Sometimes a biased university, sometimes rose-tinted. Even I didn’t understand her greatness at that stage. I was still learning. Sipho got the impression that Busi was going to back him at the Grahamstown show. I remember we had to call Brett Piper up from Cape Town and say look, Busi is no backing singer for Sipho Giumede. This is an equal billing, half the show will be Busi’s material and half will be Sipho’s material, with one band. So we had to sort that issue out. They did it and it did very well, the show, down there. It would be great to check the archive of that. Then she would have done Rustlers Valley again in ’95. Each time we did a show we just pushed the envelope more and more. As you do, as the popularity of the artist grows. We got ripped off a couple of times, particularly in Durban.
’95 Barbara Masekela was the ambassador to France and she put together La Villette, which was a two or three week South African celebration and obviously Hugh was quite involved. And that was around the same time that I got to meet Hugh. He took her over there for a month. And her picture ended up on the front cover of the SAA magazine at the time. She was very photogenic.
Hugh’s home-coming tour was ’94. I remember him calling to say please bring Busi to the University of Transkei in Umtata and I drove Busi from Durban, just her and I down to Umtata. He was doing the gig in the sports hall at the university there. Hours and hours of smoking spliff in the change room. We stayed in the old Bantustan ministerial houses that overlooked the university campus. I left her there and she carried on with the tour down to Cape Town. Again he tried to bring Busi in under him like Sipho had done with the Grahamstown thing. I got a bit hurt because I got cut out.
I kept myself busy because also by then I had become friends with Hannelie Coetzee and Chris Parkin from Soundcrew Banana Bandwagon so used to go down to ‘Jam n Sons’ a lot and started working with Soundcrew as an equipment helper and all that. We had Urban Creep, we had Squeal on the books. We had the Durban Comedy Road show, we had Scooters Union, Sipho we would do some booking, Busi we would also help. Chris would help with equipment for rehearsals in Grace Avenue and all that. He was also a great fan of Busi’s. In ’95 I spent more time on the road with Squeal then I did with Busi because she was working a lot more with Sipho. It was late ’95 that the whole thing with Melt came through and they wanted to sign her and I facilitated the signing and all that. I was the student, so you could view me more as Busi’s personal assistant. I was never her manager. How do you manage a person who taught you? That could have been detrimental for both of us in that I would always defer to her. It was always Busi’s way and not somebody taking a harder line on her and saying you must do this or that. I didn’t know. I was too inexperienced. Going back to those earlier days, Bheki Mseleku was really hard on me. He said, ‘What are you doing here whitey. What the fuck do you know about us? Get the fuck out of here. You don’t know nothing about our lives.”
Christmas Eve ’94 Mshaks and I, in my father’s work bakkie went to Lamontville to Bheki’s house to pass our greetings and all that. And as we were leaving Mshaks was taking his time getting up the drive-way from Bheki’s house so I had walked ahead out onto the road, naively. I saw these two lighties and this girl come up the road. I had parked the bakkie across the road. I wandered over to stand by the bakkie waiting for Mshaks to come up. One guy came up to me and put a knife to my throat and said give me the keys. Mshaks came up the driveway and the other guy pulled a gun on him and said get away. Very shaken up, Mshaks’s place wasn’t too far from there. We went up there and there was a local gangster friend of Mshaks. A guy called Ndlovu. Mandla Zikhalala was also very close to him. And still is. He went to him and said the vehicle has been stolen please can you help us. We all jumped into Ndlovu’s car, drove around asking questions and eventually got a lead that these youngsters had gone to the Jam which is now Suncoast Casino. Those days it was known as the Jam and is where the black youth would go for Christmas parties and New Year and all that. Things were still only normalising in terms of space in Durban. We tracked them there. By the time we got there, they had headed back to Lamontville. The guys said look we can’t have you driving around with us because this was now late at night. We will drop you at the police station and we will go on because things were hotting up in terms of tracking this car. At About 3 o clock in the morning they came and fetched me from the police station. They had found the car. These lighties had crashed the car. Somebody else had hotwired it and it was parked 200m down the road from the police station behind the garage ready for shipment out the next day. So we got it and I drove it home in the early hours of the morning and had to tell my father why his bakkie was a little bit dinged up. And I heard via the grapevine that within two months both of those youngsters were dead. Live by the sword, die by the sword or I had the belief that in those days musicians in the township were still respected. And what they had done to Mshaks and myself they had got retribution for. I don’t know. We got the bakkie back.
Bit of a haze ’95-6. I was on the road with Squeal. ’96, Chris Parkin and Hannelie split up, their relationship was always very tempestuous and she took Banana Bandwagon with her which was the booking side of the business and Chris carried on with Soundcrew. ’95 was also the first time I ever worked at the Rainbow. Chris was doing the sound for a Mankunku gig and I helped carry the sound and do the set up and all that it was the first time I ever experienced a gig at the Rainbow.
Ben’s speciality was bringing a big name in and putting together a band locally and doing a show with them. In ’96 Castle Milk Stout got involved with music, we have still got the banner on the wall. ukuShaya aphagati, ‘it kicks inside.’ There was a black guy who was the brand manager who had a love for jazz so he aligned the brand with jazz. From that started the Rainbat project.
In ’96 Chris was soundcrew; Ben at the Rainbow and the Bat Centre, started the Rainbat project. It was a three way partnership, they bring in artists once a month as the Rainbow has always done. Friday and or Saturday at the Bat Centre and then Sunday at the Rainbow. We managed to get that on the Castle Milk Stout program so we had a bit of funding there. Then December ’96 I was on tour with Squeal again. We did the big tour to Cape Town. That was their heyday, the peak of Squeal. Banana Bandwagon used to work with Funky’s, the place at the Bat Centre.
We used to work with Richard, he opened up a similar joint to the Rainbow. He had been manager at the Rainbow for a couple of years, 94 – ’95. He opened Ethekwini Junction in Greyville. If you are driving down Umgeni Road and go passed Game, there is road up that will take you past Independent Newspapers. On the corner there was a building there and he opened Ethekwini Junction and modelled it on the Rainbow, also doing music and servicing the lower income folk. We used to do work for Ethekwini Junction, by then Jam ‘n Sons had closed which was modelled after Jamiesons in Joburg. Hannelie had been a partner there but they couldn’t keep it going.
On the Squeal tour the Springbok Nude Girls said the next time they come to Durban, they can’t play Funky’s because the last time they had played Funky’s in ’96 we had had to shut the door and turn people away. With 350 people we couldn’t jam more people in there. We did some fantastic shows with Funky’s. Landscape Prayers was another group on our books. We did their album launch. 23 rd of February, it was a Tuesday night, the Nude Girls came to Durban on their next show and I had said let’s move up from Funky’s to the Bat Hall and they said ok. Give me R500 to coordinate locally for them. Kevin Winder was their manager at that time. He now owns the Mercury in Cape Town. He has for many years. He started the Mercury. I remember personally handing out 4000 flyers in the two weeks leading up to it. All over Durban, I walked the streets, at all the hotspots where things were happening. We had over 800 people in the Bat Hall on a Tuesday night in February. R30 a ticket. And within two days, Hannelie and I were approached by the Bat Centre to put in a proposal to manage the music program at the Bat Centre as they couldn’t believe what had happened with the Nude Girls. They had never seen those sort of numbers come through the door. So we did and they accepted our proposal. We were supposed to start on the 1 st of April.
Hannelie was still going to run our office in Halford Road and was going to be the on-sight representative of Banana Bandwagon down at the Bat Centre. By gong early instead of waiting until the start of the contract I met Nicola, my wife and we had a brief fling because she was at the end of a year in Africa volunteering at the Bat Centre. She volunteered there for a year working day time on the arts admin and she was a trained actress so she was involved with the actors co-op, the theatre program. We never met until then because she was always there during the day and when I was working at the Bat, it was always at night. We became friends, got involved and it was her last three weeks in Africa because her visa was up, but she was quite dynamic and Paul Mikulai had taken a real shining to her; and Phillipa Huntely was by then centre director. She returned to England. We produced our first show which was Scooters Union, Squeal and Turquoise end of March. And the next week we had Sipho Gumede in the hall. We got stuck right in.
By then Busi was due to deliver material to Melt, so running the music program was; the hall, the music on the deck plus the rehearsal room. Phuzekhemisi was looking for rehearsal space. I gave him space at the Bat Centre. We had Busi rehearsing in one room and Phuzekhemisi rehearsing in the room next door. She was looking to find material for the new album. And we got friendly with Spector Mgwazi and Themba Mkhize. Themba was bass player for Phuze and Spector was the second acoustic guitar. They started interacting and developing material together and that is where the Urban Zulu material was developed in the rehearsal rooms of the Bat Centre. Will Mowatt came out later in the year and stayed with us in Halford Road.
Nicola moved into the house in Halford Road. Mowatt stayed with us for a few months. Naively we facilitated and accommodated but we never got paid. I am not a business man, just working for free all the time making things happen. Mowatt was good. He is still a very close friend. We developed the material and then we went off to Downtown Studios to record it. I was Will’s fixer. I even get a credit on the album, but I never got paid one cent, besides having my costs covered if we were on the road to Joburg. We went up there and recorded it. With Spector and them bringing in maskanda, people like Mfazonyama. He just pulled in because he is mates with all these guys from Phuzekhemisi’s band and the next thing he is in studio dropping down some riffs on the album. And beautiful stuff came out of that. The band recording was done. From late ‘97 Busi went to live in London with Mowatt and that is when they went and laid down the voice tracks. Most of the vocals on that album are Busi’s besides the male vocals from Phuzekhemisi’s band. All the female backing vocals are all Busi. And so they developed that album. It was released in ’98 in Europe. Without a launch tour and then early ’99 they did a launch tour in South Africa and Trunz gave the work to Brad Holmes from the Bassline. I was cut out and had to deal with the Durban launch which was at the Bat Centre. I remember Mfazonyama did not pitch up to the rehearsals or something like that, or the soundcheck, so I was instructed to tell him that he couldn’t play that night, so he was really distraught. He had his manager with him and he wasn’t happy. Eventually we let him perform at the launch concert. It was only the next morning that he had to catch the flight for the Cape Town launch that the police stopped him and said he couldn’t bring his gun on the plane. I realised that while I was arguing with him about not playing at the launch concert he had a gun on him. Off they went. That was one of the last shows I produced at the Bat Centre.
We gave our heart and soul to our work. We were surviving on fuck all. Beans on Toast, Nicola and I. The Bat Centre motivated for her to get a working visa to come back and offered her an administrative post. She came back to South Africa in August ’97. ’98
We stayed in Ryde avenue down by the Winston for six months. By March / April, Hannelie said she had enough and could not handle this hand to mouth situation we were in, producing all these shows, making fuck all money. That is when we took over her rental. By February ’99 I had burnt out. Plus by then Nicola and I were due to get married in June of ’99 and for her to get permanent residency I had to prove that I could support her and she had to stop working. My brother was working for one of these money lending businesses. He had a share in some of these Mashonisa kind of shops that bought out the revolution. That was the only place that I could get a quick job to produce a salary slip at the end of the month because working in the music industry you don’t get a salary slip. No credit record, anything. It took about 8 months for her permanent residency to come through.
That came through in September of ’99. Next month I resigned from the job and started working at Bargo which was a club by Greyville racecourse. It used to be known as the horse with no name or in the industry the whore with no shame. The guys from Tilt took over the lease and opened Bargo and brought me in as an event co-ordinator. That is where we did Rodriguez two nights. We did some good shows. Springbok Nude Girls. I produced all the Springbok Nude Girls’ shows at the Bat Centre between ’97 until when I left in March ’99. We did six or seven shows; every time packed. One weekend we were doing Nude Girls, next weekend we were doing Bayete, the next weekend there would be fok all. But it was fantastic. You would have music on the deck. Funky’s would be happening. It was a really vibrant time at the Bat Centre. I just burnt out.
I got involved in Bargo and we were only there for about 13 months. We continued doing the Rainbat project. ’99 it fell apart, Chris Parken left Durban and went to Cape Town, burnt out from the industry. In January 2001, Pam Pretorius approached me and said could I help her put together events, a surprise 50th birthday party on the 10 th June 2001. I co-ordinated the sound. And we started getting the word out to the musicians like Darius Brubeck that it was Bens’ 50 th birthday and would they play. Darius said yes and Sandile Shange. As the word got out everyone said, ‘if it is for Ben we are playing.’ We learnt the Mankunku was going to be in town that same weekend on a South African Ports operation ticket with Feya and his top quintet. We got the word to Chris Siren and Mankunku said he is definitely going to be playing for Ben. We had this fantastic show. Pam handled all the invites, inviting the customers here. We all had to be here at 11 o clock on the morning of the show. Gearhouse helped. Nicola got a job as soon as she got her residency with Gearhouse because I had become close with them. They used to help me out at the Bat Centre. That is why I always had fat sound in the Bat hall because Gearhouse were supporters of us and really helped. And even through to the Bargo days. Gearhouse helped me.
10 th June 2001 we had this humdinger of a party. We all had to hide at that side of the room and she said they were going to town for a lunch and she brought him in and we all jumped out, ‘surprise’. At the end of the afternoon there were about 500 people here just having a raucous party and at the end of that party, Pam and Nicola got to know each other. And one of the conversations was, ‘why don’t you and Neil take over the Rainbow;’ even though while I was at Moneywise at Hill Street in ’99 in the middle of the process of getting her work permit through, I heard that Ben was advertising for a manager here. I applied and he rejected my application because I had no food and beverage experience. It was quite ironic within a year and a half I was helping Pam with this party and then there was the suggestion, ‘why don’t you and Neil take over’. So, I wasn’t good enough then but as soon as my blue eyed wife with all her energy was on the scene we got invited to take it over. A day or two later we said we were keen but we had fok all. She had her job at Gearhouse but other than that, we had nothing. I was back in the industry and living from hand to mouth. But fortunately she had a bit of money in England she could bring over. I only later learnt that she didn’t bring all that money over. She brought a little bit and we took a second bond on our house, an extra 100K, so we managed to rustle together R200 000. And his asking price was R320 000. We applied for finance but like any good business man his books showed that the place was running at a loss. We couldn’t get finance so he then agreed to finance us the other 40% that we had to pay off over three years at prime plus interest so we officially took over on the 1 st of September 2001.
The official hand over concert was on the 2 nd of September. And I asked Busi. That was the time she had then gone to Chisa with Masekela’s label because Melt had not taken up the option on her second album. Robert, well meaning, but he blew his money too fast. He didn’t have a sustainable model with what he was doing with Melt in South Africa. There were just too many suffering musicians. Too many fantastically talented musicians that he listened to and gave to and eventually the pot ran dry. So she went off with Chisa and we weren’t that close in that I wasn’t involved in her business but I was always there for her and she was always there for me. She said she would do the hand over concert and that she wanted R5000 for her musicians and, ‘me you get for free’. By that time she was commanding festival fees of R60 000. She did this show and we had 450 people in here at R30 ticket. We did about R12000 turn over on the bar and then 9 days later 9/11 happened. It was only in hindsight that I realised that we had given Ben all we had. We had no safety net beneath us for any mishap. By then my dad had passed away in ’97, there was no money. My family didn’t have money. It was her and I and the Rainbow staff and that was it. In hindsight that handover concert and the cash that we generated plus, before we officially took over Ben said go and speak to SAB and tell them they must put some money to get the music program at the Rainbow up and running again. He had been so hands off and his managers had fucked up here that the music program was haphazard, maybe once a quarter there was a show. We set up a meeting with a guy called Grant Preston down in Hillary. Grant listened to our long story and our aspirations and he signed off on R36 000 for a year, R3000 a month to reintroduce the music program at the Rainbow. The place was sliding. Any business like this without the hands on energy of a Ben is going to. It is that personality that drives it as much as you are just selling alcohol. Those two things, the Busi show and Grant; we got the music program up and running again. The first show we did after Busi was Philip Thabane and Malombo. October. November we did African Jazz Pioneers and burnt our fingers badly. It was a disastrous show we lost so much money on that. Or did they do the birthday concert? We timed it wrong with the customers and they had all gone home for Christmas. But we got through it.
I would say the most influential people in my music career were Squeal, Dave Birch, Busi and Sipho Gumede. One of the reasons why Nicola left the Bat pretty soon after I left … We used to put these fantastic cultural evenings at the Bat and get the corporates. And one night Sipho came round with a lady friend or two and they were getting stuck into the food and the drinks and all that and Nicola naively said no you shouldn’t be doing that, ‘this is for the guests’. He was a trusty, he went to the board and lodged a complaint of racism against her. It was hectic. She would have to talk about it but it really scarred her. In 2002 he came to play the Rainbow again. The trust was built up again between Sipho and Nicola and they became respected colleagues. Sipho was our banker gig, he would play here 3 or 4 times year. Sipho Gumede would guarantee 3 or 400 people every time. He would bring Busi in, Bayete. By then Busi was strong enough financially with her shows that she didn’t really need me anymore. She could handle things herself. The money was there.
She would always visit with us but I was fulltime here. Our year on year turn over growth from 2003 to 2004 was 48%. That was all on the back of being on sight all the time, having regular music again. I am one of those people who can attest to the value of music in terms of the strength of this business. We carried on producing shows. There is lots to tell.
For many years Busi suffered from piles. Eventually in ’99 Nicola and I got her a surgeon to do a pro bona for her to take her piles out. If anybody pissed her off she would say tell them, ‘come and kiss my piles’. When Busi started coming to stay at our house towards the end we would have long sessions some of the nights. I had a recorder like this and probably have about ten hours of recordings with her. I would just put it on the table and we would tell stories and laugh. You might want to listen to that. It is sitting there in the safe for when Busi’s story eventually gets told in terms of a documentary that will be given to anybody who does that and we can maybe cover that last four five years when she was re-diagnosed with cancer. She had cancer in New York when she was working there in the mid 70’s but cancer of the cervix. She had her cervix removed and that is why she only had one child in her life. She couldn’t have children after that. In 2005 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were with her through that and helped her through her vasectomy. And people like Sue Barry. If you want to talk about Busi you got to talk to Sue Barry. She did even more for Busi than I did. They had a tempestuous relationship. Busi didn’t have much respect for her musically and used to give her hell in the rehearsals. ‘Sue you fucked up that bridge again.’ But Sue, also put a lot of her life into Busi. Without her they wouldn’t have had that house in Grace Avenue. We should have a quieter conversation about those years. Those were quite heavy years. Towards the end she couldn’t say a good thing about Robert. He fucked up. There was never a proper music video for that album. He spent 1.5 million producing it and nothing on promoting it. I was on that tour when we did the Fin de Siecle festival in Nantes. I went as roadie with her. That was the only time any footage she took of her I saw flighted. It is a story of constant struggle. Robert buying Themba his bass guitar because his guitar was just too fucking out of tune to play anymore.
Interview Brenda Sisane
I meet Robert after I meet the music. I was one of those who were lucky enough that I started off at Radio Bop a long time ago. I had a radio show during the day, and a lady called Diane Regisford walked in one day to do interviews to bring the music to Bop. She was launching the music of Barungwa at the time. Barungwa was Max Mthambo, Andrew Missingham and that whole outfit. It was the early days. There is this girl from London and she speaks with a British accent and she is black. And there is this music that has so much of South Africa in it. It was a mind blowing experience for me and a small little town of Bophuthatswana at the time. It was a whole world. I fell in love with the idea of this music. Half of the time it was where is this music coming from, who is putting it together? It was B & W records at the time. And then I get to know the artists as well. Through this introduction I got interested in this great singer called Max Mthambo, this young man called Moses Molelekwa and obviously one then wants to know more. And he is doing works with the likes of Busi Mhlongo and all that. So for me it was very exciting but it was still at the back of my mind because I was dealing with the music.
And then I would hear there are music festivals in Joburg. Because I am from Joburg, but I had joined radio Bop to work in the small little town of Bophuthatswana with the radio station and the TV station. And, in those music festivals were the likes of Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. Again it is unveiling a new music to me on a live stage that I know not much about but somehow it is linked to this record company and this man called Robert Trunz. I went back stage and every time it was about interviewing the musicians or playing their music and not really the business of making music. I think you grow and I grew differently in terms of this music. Eventually things changed and I moved back home to Johannesburg and I joined the SABC and I worked for Metro FM and through people like Shado Twala I get to engage more with the albums that are coming out. I get to spend time with Busi Mhlongo and she starts telling me her stories, the good stories and the sad stories because musicians have their ups and downs.
I am not sure if it is a nice line to say that musicians have ups and downs in their life because it is a wonderful exciting career. It should go well because they make so many people happy. I suppose it is characteristic with South Africa’s history and the journey to freedom that there would be those reflections of the highs and the lows. In an interesting way, culturally it was a very exciting place to be around. There was heavy messages in the music, there was huge excitement and exuberance in presenting the work, and the opportunity to perform. For me to be at that age, in my 20’s and early 30’s and surrounded by this work, because it was a number of years that Robert Trunz was busy with B & W then to Melt2000. I remember that transition. Things happen and you get introduced and I find myself at a farm in Cullinan and there is this larger than life character called Robert Trunz. He is a tall man. He is in love with his child. It is in the middle of nowhere, far from the city centre in many ways. I go and visit and it becomes something I do very regularly. I even know the way. You take the motorway, you drive through gravel and you are going to get there eventually. And sometimes I am going to sleep over because there is a band performing and it is going to be unplugged, it is on site. He is forever recording or capturing or documenting. That is just his life. Also when he comes to my house. There was a very interesting moment one day he was standing in a particular corner. I had just moved to this house and he said to me the best acoustics in this house are in this corner here. This is where I am hearing the music best. That was the interesting character that Robert Trunz is. His work is such a fibre of his life. It is so interwoven in his life. All the time he is thinking of the lighting technique and what someone is doing and how he can enhance it. “Oh Airto and Mab”, and he has got one on one good relationships with the musicians and he knows their stories. Robert Trunz goes into the townships, he understands that he is not phased by it. It is normal for him. Even for you interacting with Robert is normal. There are no graces. And yet he is doing such interesting work. He has devoted his life savings as well to this. The audio technology that he works in as well and how knowledgeable he is as well. I had this opportunity in just sharing this library of knowledge directly from him. How he spoke to me about the music. How he didn’t make it too technical to ask questions. So I didn’t ask questions. I was forever just absorbing it and just enjoying his archive. He would say I don’t think you listened to this. This one I did with the people of the desert, and all the displaced people. And the drum collection he has at his house. He tells me where the drum comes from and he plays the sound and it is a huge gong that reverberates in the room. All of it is done without any purpose of getting you to think he is such a wonderful man. In a way he made me look at this world of music through a different eye, a very relaxed and comfortable eye of discovering. Because you feel the pressure when you work on radio. I worked on both radio and television and you feel the pressure of being. People expect you to know. And when you are with people who create the work you actually hope that they find you worthy of sharing their time.
With Robert it was easy. In fact it deconstructed the whole way I perceived artists. I think he is an artist. He is more of an artist than he is a business man and when he tells me his story I realise that the businessman suffered, the artist thrived in terms of the success he made out of his work. And towards the tail end when Robert left and I met his friend the Frenchman who died under very extraordinary circumstances; Ananda, what a character. Tall, very good looking, very full of life. I believe it was an important era that Robert represents. The exposure to Flora Purim and South America was very important and I think he also went East as well; Deepak Ram. I discovered those tunes. He introduced me as well to Dizu Plaaitjies and that whole crew from the Eastern Cape. And he opened his library to me and I felt compelled to invite him one day and dedicate the whole show to Melt2000 and say let us just enjoy. I said you need to sit with us and start playing from song to song and let’s explore. It was brilliant and I would like to do a show like that again with him.
We are owning the music which is a good thing but we are never looking back to the stories of where our music comes from. It also reminds me of the other stories at large, if you talk about the Blue Notes, the Brotherhood of Breath and Melt2000. Where are all these characters behind the music, about the music? Where are they? Wonderful to reminisce about the artists themselves because also the artists share a whole lot of themselves for the music to get out.
And the people who give the artists the legs to stand on that is a different story altogether. They also sacrifice a lot I think. It takes an amount of dedication to do that. I consider Robert as someone who shared a very serious light in terms of the way I recklessly pursue what I want and the interests that I serve in the most honest manner. This is my journey with music. He made me see that in a wonderful way. Also as a producer, as a sound specialist, as a foreigner, as a whole lot of other things and yet as someone who is so grounded. There were different ways to look through his eyes that I started to look at my work and the work of promoting music. Or just being in the creative space. And I think I look at the bit he has to share and I think about Moses Molelekwa a lot and I think about what we are here to do when I think about death and life and the end of an era, you realise that there is a continuum. Life continues. Sacrifices get made. Lives are lost. Successes are achieved. Archives are created. Mementoes remain. There is a whole cycle, an eco-system of some sort. I understand why Robert had to come here. I see what he is going to leave behind. He may be working and doing some exciting things like Forest Jam. But he leaves so much behind. I just admire him and I love him as a person as well. And I also see somebody who doesn’t talk much but he says a lot.
He listed you as one of his inspirations …
In sharing that time, I also met Robert when I was going through a whole lot of personal quests. I had lost a few things in my life that I thought were important, amongst them trying to find a new way of doing work, trying to find new partners, trying to recreate myself as a professional. I met Robert when he was almost in a bit of a despair because he had been doing this for a long time and I think he will appreciate me telling the truth. He had invested and spent most of his money and it was a difficult time. The musicians were moving along, they wanted other things. He had launched some of them and shown them the careers they could have. And suddenly he was feeling that when he needs to be lifted himself there was nobody around and our friendship was very strong at the time. I think he was separating from his wife at the time. It was hard and for a creative spirit you know how hard that becomes because it is the hard of the inside. It is the hard that you experience. It is the hard of your spirit, the place that makes you do what you do. We met at that time.
I think he put my name down for people who want to know about him, because I heard him when he needed someone to listen. Because I think I actually don’t deserve his attention, I didn’t work as long and hard as a lot of other people who were part of his movement in music that he created from the beginning. But I appreciate that he thinks like that about me and that I could be that because he also contributed similarly in a very important space in my life at that time.
Were you always into indigenous music?
That was what I was seeking to understand. At the time I even went to a radio station that I worked for and I asked them can I get a show that is not what I do right now. I was doing a predominately popular show, midday, prime time on a Sunday and all that. I just want to play the music I love to hear. Yes the music is fine but it is not you know, I want to listen to different music. The kind of friends I have, the kind of people I hang out with, the kind of music I listen to, the kind of shows I attended. The fact that I come from a family where jazz played a part. My father and my step father were both jazz lovers. I used to laugh at my mom and say did you ask them if they loved jazz first? Because, they used to collect music. Indigenous music is something. I grew up in a street, when I was young I remember going to watch drumming with the sangoma initiations. And watching the church people and how they sing and they move and they make those sounds. I grew up in that space. I grew up in Meadowlands. My grandfather played the saxophone in Sophiatown. My mother married two men that loved jazz. Inevitably those influences were at the back of my head.
Even when I went into broadcasting it was not because I went to school and decided this is what I wanted to do. I walked to the radio station and made friends with the presenters and we started sharing music. I would be interested and would go to the albums and say let’s listen to the music. And I would select the music to be played. Yes it has always been part of me!|
Are you preserving a memory that has past?
No. I think those communities exist. Soweto is a township that has not changed. The houses still look the same although some have been refurbished. You know for the kids they add a window and a room and all of that. The being squashed and being cramped kind of life still remains the same. So people find solace in the things that stay the same; in the music, in the shebeens. It is in the townships that people like to go out have a drink and get down and party and dance and dress up for it and all of that. So it exists. I think in music we are exposed to more with media, phones and downloads so that the texture of the music has changed. What I find is people are starting to collect their granny’s photographs and aligning it to the LP’s in the house and realising it is a treasure. They are holding onto it. I think there is going to be a spin around. In the next ten years people are going to be going back because they have got this music, it sits there, it makes them curious. Vinyl is making a comeback and it is fashionable again. I don’t think it needs to remain the same.
Somebody looked at me funny the other day. Maybe it comes from the fact that I was very sick one day and people were worried that I was not going to make it. And in that process I realised that death exists. Sometimes we live. So I made a statement, “I just want to understand what happens ten thousand years down the line and somebody is here, what are they going to say about who we were when we were here? How are they going to find it? Where is that information going to be? In what shape is it going to be? Is it going to be a true reflection of who we were?
I am excited to realise that Johnny Dyani was 19, but he was the kind of musician he was at that age. A 19 year old wunderkind today is no different from 60 years ago. It is a creative soul that can make things and can create amazing sounds. It then makes me think, you go back further to the classical masters and you realise that it is just the time that we are at but the human spirit is there and they have stories to tell and they leave stories behind. It is interesting to know what stories there are to tell because half the time we say the same thing, the lessons of life…
Robert says the music marked a time period. For me it was free-ing the music up…
I loved what he did with indigenous music because he free-ed it as you say but it also made the relationship obvious. In jazz you can actually enjoy this music, innovate about it and present it. You can play indigenous music in a jazz setting. We need to embrace that even more. Why do we like the sound of other countries like Brazil? Because, it is all about their own indigenous music fused with jazz. I think we don’t do much of it. That is the one thing that I would like to explore some more.
I think when I talk about International Jazz day and what they are doing celebrating people and solidarity through jazz I think it is a perfect platform to say in fact, when you engage South Africa, here is what their offering is to jazz. Yes maybe I romanticize that ideal a lot because I believe it, I think it should be seen that way and practitioners should engage that. That will be the conference that we host and the debate on the 30th April this year.
Interview with World music presenter and DJ Nicky Blumenfeld
How did you get into music?
I got into music by default when I came to live in Johannesburg in 1990, I had been out of the country for some time. I came from Swaziland. I had been there for ten and a half years. I was teaching art and English. And I had studied fine art, I was exhibiting and I came back here thinking I would get a part time teaching job and maybe go back to school and Wits couldn’t offer me what I wanted. I had also been very keen on the murals. Qin effect when I came back I was very lucky and I started the murals with kids in Hillbrow and so forth and then I met Julia Meintjies from Arts Alive and she wanted to start murals so me and Drew Lindsay started the murals in South Africa. We hadn’t been allowed up to that point but at that point the ANC had been unbanned and everybody was looking to look cool, so we got the permission to do the public art. And that is what I was doing and I was teaching and then I was taken to a fantastic party of Michael Kia and he had a house in Bertams and he eventually moved to the bigger house that became the Troiville Tea garden. I went to this mans parties and he used to have the best parties ever and I realized this man actually builds homes to have parties in but he had the worst music ever, so my friends started saying bring your music in and I started making mixtapes and surreptitiously sticking them in the machine and that was when I started DJing and strangely enough it was people like Steve Newman and Tananas who was staying at his house that kind of got me in there. And that was how I started DJing and then I became the first DJ in Yeoville. At that time there was only live music in Yeoville but the guy from Tandoor had moved from Hillbrow and had started to ask me to play after the band on Friday and Saturday nights. Then it was house parties and then I got a permanent gig every Friday night at Polly Polly in Yeoville. Tiny little club, we started there and like ten people would come in. The ten people would strangely enough be Herbie Tsaoli, Andile Yenana, Steve Dyer, they would come after the gigs on a Friday and it grew until there were like 1500 people a night. And I started doing festivals and gigs, still teaching, still painting murals and then I got offered a job in Kaya, when Kaya started in 1997. And I got that job and was recommended by Peter Makorobe who started the Monday Blues years before. He was a producer for the likes of Lawrence Dube, Bob Mabena, you name it, Peter was behind them and involved from Radio Bop days. He was behind the start up of Kaya and he recommended me for the job. That was how I got the job at Kaya. The rest is really history. Eventually the art and the teaching phased out and it was full time music and that is really what I have been doing since then. Obviously there is a whole lot within that time period.
I always so I was the worst radio presenter. In the history of radio I still say I am not a radio presenter and I am not a journalist, I am an artist that has been blessed with space to do that.
From day one I was told that I couldn’t do what I was doing on radio and from day one I fought for the right to do what I do which is basically to play the music that I choose in the order that I choose. I have been on air 17 years now and I literally fought for that right for a good 14 years. I was literally threatened with being fired, my other show was axed, they tried to push me off the edge of the week, push me as late as possible. I always believed this was the way I had to do it. I was the worst presenter but the music carried me.
The first musician I ever interviewed, thank God, was Pops Mohamed. I say thank God because Pops Mohamed talks. You don’t have to do too much interviewing. Being this really scared person on air, I always say climbing a six story wall mural on scaffolding that was rickety is never as scary as being on air. Pops just carried me through the interview and then a short while after that and I only used to do pre-recorded interviews in those days so I could edit my own voice out. A short while after that Pops called me and said Robert Trunz is in town. I had probably been on air three to six month at that point and would I like to interview him. At that time he was still B & W. I interviewed Robert and he was certainly the first non artist that I ever interviewed or the first producer or first record label owner that I first interviewed him and the time I met him was through Pops.
Because of the kind of music Robert was releasing and he became MELT2000 and became more daring in South African terms. He was in effect releasing the artists that nobody wanted to record because they couldn’t find a category for them or because they found their music to deep. Or whatever it is, and that was eventually when he became MELT2000. He was releasing the artists that I was interested in promoting my show. If I put it this way, the very first song that I played on the very first world show that I ever did when Kaya began was Busi Mhlongo’s Uminchisi’ and that for me will always be the first song I ever played on air. If you think about it, just to do that was quite revolutionary and what is interesting in those days and Peter Mokorube brought it to light. I just played music I liked and what I didn’t know for a long time is because I had no background in radio or broadcasting, I had always loved radio, and people like Chris Pryor in the late 70’s changed my life. I think he had a show at 11 o clock on Monday night and I first heard Pink Floyd on his show and things like that. In terms of radio what Peter told me later was that there was still that thing, if you were a Zulu person you wouldn’t play Xhosa music and if you were a Xhosa person you wouldn’t play Zulu music and so forth. I just played music that I liked and I kind of inadvertently broke down those barriers. And now you will find Lawrence Dube who is Pedi playing Busi Mhlongo who is Zulu, but up until that time you wouldn’t find that on radio. I didn’t realize that I was breaking down those kind of boundaries inadvertently. I was already playing artists that Robert was recording or in the process of recording or promoting. To be in a position like that, I still feel honoured every week although there have been times when I was hanging on by a thread, or times I had wanted to leave because the environment was getting unbearable in terms of management. I would always think, I haven’t played that song and until they kick me out or I get a better option, I am going to keep playing this music. To this day Busi comes up all the time and people talk about how much they miss her or would love to just feature her at this festival or that festival. It just shows you. My very first programme manager told me /you can’t play this music. I am playing this music in the clubs and I can see people’s faces, so I am going to keep doing it. He said well it’s an R&B station. And I said if people have only tasted apples how are they going to know what oranges taste like and maybe they are going to like only oranges, or a mixture of apples and oranges, or maybe they are going to add some strawberries. The point is we can’t say people only like apples if they have never tasted another fruit. For me, Busi or Pops is a reflection of that. Someone like Taiwa was to the history of our country, not just cultural history. Maybe sometime I will be revisiting an album like one of the obscure albums like Outernational Meltdown series at two in the morning and I would think Oh my God and I would have to phone Robert, or email him or sms him in the middle of the night just to say, ‘Oh my God.’ Those are those moments when I listen to an album like that and I think he for one has had a lot of shit, from so many angles because of his passion and commitment. But, how many producers in the entire world will go in and say here is the key to the studio, go in and do. For me, he is a magician as he somehow has the ability to find these incredible people and put them in a space that nobody else would have the guts to do. It is driven by spirit or some divine intervention. I really asked Robert if this was a conscious cultivated thing or of this was intuitive. For me, it feels intuitive. It feels like Airto Moreira maybe knew him and somehow the energy of that moment putting him in a studio with Vusi Khumalo and Taiwa and Amampondo thrown into the mix. I remember watching Amampondo in the early 80’s in Cape Town. For me people like Tananas and Amampondo, which Robert was largely responsible for their international success ongoing, they were the first world music before world music was even a definition. They were South African world music internationally. Even to this day, who would sign Amampondo? Even after 25 years in the industry I still don’t know anyone who would sign Amampondo. Nowadays things are different because people are releasing independently. And Mabi Thobejane, who would ever give Mabi a chance to do a solo album, let alone a couple of them? Robert is a magician because I have these moments when I am listening to an album whether it is an improvisational album like one of those from the Outernational Meltdown or whether it is a Taiwa or a Busi, I get the feeling that this guy would choose the musicians, choose the space, give them the key because it is that point when I listen I think that is when the producer left the room because the spirit is so much bigger than anything the producer could have imagined in the first place, but he may as well shut up and sit in the corner because now the spirit has taken over. His role is done and you can hear that in those albums. There is a point where this guy was a channel actually. We hear musicians talk about it often, the space they go into to perform, and Robert is one of the few producers whose work says to me, he becomes a channel for some other divine energy flowing through him. And the producer leaves the room because it is bigger than anything he could dictate with his conscious mind.
How much have you seen the music change? Did the remix projects trigger the world music genre?
I am one of those few people, there are a handful I could credit, but I have had dealings with every record label in this country, and internationally with artists of such diverse genres and it is a very interesting position to be in because other people have worked for a specific company or pushed a certain genre or whatever but I have experienced it all. It was an interesting time with the transition into democracy playing music at that time. I was one of the people as a DJ who promoted music from other African countries first. Maybe me and one or two other people in the entire country but at gigs, probably me first. I was probably the first person to play the likes of Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour at gigs, let alone some of South African music that wasn’t getting the appreciation that it deserved. And that was another thing I was very conscious of when I started on air. I always say America has really succeeded with cultural colonization and particularly in the struggle years with the cultural boycott. Every other country pulled out of South Africa except America so that was really all that we were exposed to, American creative culture, and maybe Afrikaans culture. We didn’t have a broad exposure. For me it was really interesting because there I was playing at clubs in Yeoville which was fast becoming multi cultural, multi racial environment. Playing Pan African or global music at that time, before independence in 1994. I think there was a group of us who were really key at that time, without realizing it in transforming culture in this country and the way it was perceived. We weren’t doing it consciously we were just doing it because that is what felt right, that is what was exciting. One thing I was very conscious of was to promote South African greats on the same level I would promote the other greats, Salif Keita or Pat Metheny. I made very conscious decisions to say things on air like That was the fantastic Salif Keita followed by the Amazing Pops Mohamed, kind of thing, so you elevated them to the level that they deserved to be elevated to and kind of gave them that credibility.
I was very fortunate because through jobs I was given and research projects that I researched the not so distant past in terms of the history of South African music and the challenges artists faced and the lack of opportunities to the big bang of the 90’s where suddenly South African music was the hippest thing and every major label wanted to be signing artists and facilitating them. There was the birth of kwaito and a whole new asserting of identity, within the different ethnicities and this new African music which was again very timeous in an international sense because then World Music had been labeled as a genre because up until that point these kind of artists would never have been recorded or if they were it was like really badly recorded traditional music or indigenous music, that would never get airplay because of the quality and might be great for archival purposes or whatever. Until there was a category name called World Music there was nowhere for this to fit and the industry being what it was very strongly wanted categories, I think less so today because of the age of technology. It was a very interesting to live through that time to see this boom bang, majors taking off, South African music being the hippest hottest thing. And then sadly to also see its decline and the majors collapsing which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the establishment of the artist as an independent producer releasing their own music independently and of course in the age of technology where we just have access to so much music. People are doing collaborations via email and stuff like that. And as somebody who has had contact with the musicians, the distributers, the companies, kind of all realms of that, it has been an interesting time. In the world there has definitely been a decline in CD sales, even being in France quite a lot last year. The only decent FNAC that still exists is the one main one, Virgin. The other FNAC’s are mainly gaming stores. We see that here as well. Recently I have been a bit more inspired again because there has been a spate of individual artists who have now experienced releasing independently and the challenges that come with getting your music in the stores if there are stores and how do people know about those stores because they are few and far between and buying online and so forth, who with their recent releases are showing again actually that CD’s have not died and there still is a need for it. To take your music seriously enough to put it onto disk with the right packaging and the right information and I have listeners who are still trying to buy those things, even though there is a challenge because retail is limited. There are new ways of looking at how people can access music that is not just through credit card and being able to order online. I also think in terms of what we call world music and jazz people still want to own the hard copy. I think digital downloads are fantastic for this months hit or this seasons album but in terms of quality music that is going to last … I have had house robberies and have re-ordered albums which were stolen from me because I had to have that album in my collection. One of my favourite albums was Zakhir Hussain’s making music from 1981 or 85 or something. That is the kind of album I will still re-order or Lee Ritinour Twist of Mali, I re-ordered that when it was stolen from me. I want the hard copy, and from my listenership I know they do too. They want to look inside and see who played base and even forget about it five years and then come back to that album and have a look, who produced it, which label it was released on and the artwork that accompanies it. Maybe the format will change, maybe CD’s will become memory sticks, I don’t know, but people are still going to want to own that hard copy. They are going to keep those memory sticks in a special box that has been made for memory sticks, they are not going to record over them because they have got all the artwork in.
In those days when I started on air in the late 90’s, I had two shows then and I could virtually send my groove listeners or world music to a certain store and tell them to speak to a certain person and there would be a whole side allocated to world music and if he didn’t have it he would order it. Now there is none of that but whether I criticize it or not, I can’t say because I love the fact that everybody can be a star now and I love the fact that it is not so exclusive anymore.
Also if you think of Busi with Bryce Wassy producing that album, and he did an Amampondo one as well. Also, to look at those kinds of exchanges.
Looking at the change in music, there will always be a need for dance music or groove music or whatever you want to call it. I think that the market for that is largely your under thirties, your younger market. They also have your biggest disposable income, they don’t have children and school fees and bonds to pay off so you find they are the ones who are probably your biggest consumers when it comes to music. I think South Africa is at the forefront of global dance. I am really blown away by what is happening here in terms of dance music. Yes, I do think that Robert was one of the first touching into those elements. I don’t find all his albums digestable, the one he did in the early days with the British South Africa. Some of them were a bit like ‘Oh this is a Madala remix, where is Madala in this.’ Like some guy had a loop he was working with and was oh someone asked me to do this remix, great I can do this loop, with no feeling for Madala’s music. I am a great one for remixes, but if I read Madala Kunene remixed i want to hear Madala in there and know how the producer fed off what was the Madala in that. I don’t love all of that experimental stiff. Some of it I prefer more than others. But yes at the same time he was one of the first initiating those and even some of your albums like the first Busi Mhlongo remix, Melt volume One and Castro B had a remixy dance flavour. I remember those days going to a concert and because of those Madala Kunene remixes, young people were going to see Madala acoustic because they had got introduced to him because of those drum and base remixes. It has definitely grown the awareness through that collaboration.
I see on Facebook, Robert posted a photo of Black Coffee who was originally with Shana … and that he is now one of the pioneers in the house scene
That’s right! I love Black Coffee because I remember the days when he wasn’t even hip. And he just kept doing it you know. He has been a great ambassador for South African house. And now you are reminding me that that Shana album and those tracks and I find that that is a lovely circle that is coming full. I am pleased to hear that. Shana was a beautiful album and it was a bit ahead of its time maybe. There is one Shana track that I still play and it is still a hit and people still want it. I am soon going to be asking Robert for the rights to release it on a mix, you know what I mean. But if I think about it that whole album was pretty special. It was really an electro Zulu kind of electro indigenous and one of the first, way ahead of its time. It hardly got any airplay at that time.
Is this the kind of music that destroyed genres?
Genres are less important now for various reasons. One reason is that there is so much music out there that it is just difficult to categories and I think also because of the global age and even without that more and more serious musicians are being exposed to sounds by countries with other styles and are integrating it into their music. It makes sense with the age of information and all that that there would be. You will find a Zulu musician adding Latin elements, Mafikizola now doing the kwassa thing and you are even going to find that from musicians who tour often at festivals all over the world and they start getting exposed to different kinds of music and are inspired by those elements. For me, that has always been the wonderful thing about jazz or world music is that you are not dealing with huge ego’s so you will often find that people will watch a band from Mauritania and be ‘Wow.’ And then start bringing in elements or start collaborating with other musicians playing those instruments and in World and Jazz people tend to be more open to influences, assimilations or collaborations. I also have a problem with jazz or world and how do we distinguish between what is jazz and what is world. Is Richard Bona jazz or world, is Hugh Masakela jazz or world? And from then on all of them. Are they jazz or world? I know that freaks the American jazz fundi’s out when I say that. I have got one long letter from a guy recently. When I made a statement on air and said I don’t know about the Americans saying funk started in America. Listen to Manu Dibangu. This guy wrote me an essay back saying ‘funk is American.’ ‘No no, Manu Dibangu was doing funk long before.’
A spiritual question. I think Moses was one of the first to make world music and jazz absolutely one.
Yes, he like Busi, people are still morning. And that is not just people who knew them personally, that is people who had a really personal relationship with their music. People like Busi and Moses are geniuses that come once in a hundred years kind of thing, you know. You almost make me quite sentimental now and missing the good old days …
Will I think the point of remembering them is to recreate that in the present like with Feya remembering jazz from the 60’s when that music was silenced.
Ya, it was only just beginning and then at its boom, it suddenly all collapsed. I was speaking to Mapumba yesterday. He is a Congolese musician who I had dealings with about ten years ago when he released his first album and he has been very busy and also at a loss, the way he said it to me, was in quite a dark space. I think a lot of artists in the last five or so years, have really been challenged in this country. More so than in Europe or Japan, or I could still be in Paris and then stressed about which gig I am going to go to tonight. Should I go see Manu Dibangu at that venue or go see Richard Bona at that venue and Bilaki Sissoko at that venue and then you go to each of those venues and they are all packed. Here we don’t even full venues anymore with quality music. The artists have really really struggled and still are. I mean great artists. It has been taken over by the electronic age and house music and bad house music. But, in the last year or so there has been for me a resurgence. And artists are looking at other alternatives. Dave Reynaulds was saying to me recently, because he has just released a new one, he was saying, ‘Why don’t these guys het it right. There are all these little spaza’s in the townships and if you know that that music is selling in that township get a little spaza going that is selling CD’s for that community in that area. People like that kind of music. People are starting these house concerts. There are a few places that do them. Glyn does them once every two months in Observatory where they have these soirée kind of evenings. A limited audience, maybe one hundred people can see Pops Mohamed in a beautiful setting in someone’s garden and have some soup. So, artists are starting to create things again in the gaps to be able to on one hand be seen and be heard and on the other hand get their music sold. For me that is becoming interesting now, what kind of out of the box ideas we can get. Lindiwe Maxolo, I had her on air and she is the next hot thing in terms of jazz vocalists. When she was on air she was like if you need my album let me know and I will arrange to get it to you. It is like next time she is in Sandton she will get it to me.
Did you see anything in 2003 / 4 that might have killed the industry off?
House music, Dj’s, the DJ explosion. And I love DJing, but it went over board and there was the annihilation of live music. But, I do see it coming back and I even see it coming back within the DJ community. More and more DJ’s are working with live musicians. Whether it is live or whether it is recorded. That has come full circles as well. I have been doing live gigs. I was the first person in this country ever to work with live musicians. And one of the first live musicians I worked with was Mabi. That was when everyone was starting to get a drummer or percussionist to work with them. I have worked with Jimmy Mgwandi on upright base. I have also done a fair amount of production and remix stuff. On that level I have also worked with live musicians adding their bits and recordings. I have worked with “Concord, I have worked with Dave Reynaulds and a variety of people. I am very excited right now about what is happening in the new jazz field in South Africa as well. A lot of youngsters have had enough of house. We are finding a lot of youngsters are making really good Nu Jazz and breakbeats and stuff like that. I am finding it very exciting.
And going back to Melt people still cry of they can’t find the album. Again that shows that it is timeless music. And people still want to buy the hard copy of certain albums.
Your work in affecting syllabus in African music.
I did a series over a period of time of workshops for community radio people. At first for quite a few years I got money from the French. And then I got money from Mmino and then it fizzled out and I haven’t got money again and haven’t found a place to get the money. I would bring in people from community radios, maybe 20 people from around the country and bring them into Joburg for an intensive two weeks, put them into accommodation and the focus of that was African music and programing from an African perspective and basically developed curriculum that could do that over a period of time as it evolved I developed this curriculum. When the Mmino funding ran out that was when it ended. And at that point, I was looking at getting it accredited as a course but one thing lead to another and I kind of stopped. Basically that it what we were doing, bringing young people here from different community radio who basically had no concept of what African music was, as far as they were concerned it was bad kwassa as you see on TV. I have them a variety, for instance of there was someone from a gospel station I would play them highlife gospel. And if someone was into hip hop play them Senegalese hip hop so you kind of change their perception of what African music is and the understanding of musical history particularly in this country. And at the same time looking at content for broadcasting, to how to package a show, how to interview artists, how to fill out PRS forms or what SAMRO is about, get SAMRO to come and talk to them about different rights and that kind of thing. I would always say to the students, I am going to be nice to you because one day you are going to be my boss. Funnily enough a lot of them have gone on to major positions and went on to start African music shows in their regions. Some of them are now in positions of power. And can have an effect on that level. That was an intensive course. It would be jam packed for two weeks and then send them back to their regions again because they were coming from Qwaqwa, the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and all over. Places that really don’t have expansion. In terms of interviews, some one could cancel me this afternoon and in the morning I have got a replacement. I have got a six week waiting list. Whereas how often does Marcus Wyatt, Ringo or Black Coffee go to Qwaqwa or the Mahotella Queens to Mpumalanga. I wish I could get out of Joburg, but those are one of the things that make it so difficult. If I go and live in Cape Town, how many times can I go and interview Jimmy Dludlu? And even the internationals, they are always passing through even of they are not performing here, they pass through there.
I saw you at Womex in 2000?
I haven’t been there since. In Paris last year I realized there is more Virgin in Paris, there is no more FNACS other than the big one, but in Europe it is a lot richer. I do think there is a change in the way people digest and access music, but still there is a huge appreciation for mastery. Every venue is packed if you have live music at night. Actually I did my show from Radio Nova last year a couple of times which was great. That just opened up a whole door and it showed me that all I have to do to do my show from another country is find a radio station. It takes one codec which is a downloadable function of the internet to allow me to broadcast live to Johannesburg from the Radio Nova studios. Music will always be music. Even in the States I know there is a lot happening. The problem we have here and I also see it in festivals is so predictable who we get. Even in terms of promoting festivals I get so frustrated because yes I understand that you have to get the crowd pullers and all that. I always introduce one or two new things to give them the chance to become the next. It is the same old people, same old festivals every time. Not much of change happening.
What are your future plans?
Right now I am considering to go to Thailand and teach English to primary school. But no! My plans are I have just opened my website. I haven’t even announced it yet. It is live, it went live a week ago or just over a week ago. I haven’t announced it as live because there is some content to upload but hopefully I can announce it this Sunday. But, the music industry in this country is very hard. Maybe it is all over the world, but I find particularly in this country there is a culture of people wanting to pull people down. I take Lucky Dube for example. We could not fill a small venue with Lucky Dube in this country. Of course they made a noise when he died. He was huge internationally. Huge! There is that element of, he thinks he is clever. In many ways we have compromised quality for that attitude of pulling people down. I have seen great musicians, their spirits being broken or almost spiritually killed by this industry. There is not a lot of support. And some great musicians who have fucked out and died for lack of support in the infrastructure and the cut-throatness. At the end of the day when I speak to musicians who have been in that dark place like Mapundwa, there will be a point where they go back to the music. They disappear so they can go back and work on the music. So the music always survives.
For me, the future is looking more at online radio, or online ways of accessing or digesting music. Here you say you left the music industry but you are talking about it now, so have you really left it? It will always live within. I am exploring other ways of making music accessible. I am exploring ways which will benefit myself, the artists and the consumer so that everyone can win. A lot of the problems I am having is my listeners can’t find the music I am playing. Artists battle to get their music into retail. With the website I am starting to look at ways that we can bridge those gaps. On one hand I am working on a whole series of Nicky B remixes. The first five of which will be using music that is literally from my friends around this country and the world that are a phonecall or an email away. Very often combining songs that were not often heard and mixing them in with young producers or artists or presenting music in a way that is accessible. My by line is “music that deserves to be heard.” I am promoting and making it available. And we can all win. The mixes that I am making are either young people or people who were never heard in the first place when it was released in 2005. Listen to how hip it is and what quality it is.
Interview Brendan Jury
1992 was very interesting. We were taken under the wing of Hannelie Coetzee. She had worked with Shifty and the Voelvry movement in Johannesburg and she had come down to, underneath the owner, to manage and run the music side of Jam and Sons which it had come to be called. Although I didn’t meet Robert then, we opened up a couple of times and started a connection to Busi Mhlongo. At that time her band was called Kajima and Urban Creep opened up for her band in at least two or three occasions at Jam and Sons. I suddenly realised that her and that scene with Madala Kunene was the most interesting thing that was happening around us. Urban Creep, I was playing with Chris Letcher and Ross Campbell and a French guy called Didier Noblia .
It was at the end of Urban Creep when I came across Robert and was introduced formally to him. What was interesting then was I had paired up with Warwick Sony and we were working together. We had done some things like Uba and the Truth Commission for William Kentridge. We had made some music together. We had a project called Transky. We were working together. We had done some movies, we had done some commercials. Through that live work and Warwick I really met Robert and what I was really struck by Robert was two things. One was cultural emersion. He wasn’t a tourist. He really emmersed himself deeply in South African culture and its very real need for someone like him to provide some sort of foundation for some of this incredible music that was going on. It was a very deep thing. What hasn’t been written about that time was a massive dropping of the ball by all recording companies excepting Shifty music. I don’t think it was luck or anything else that a young group of musicians like Chris Letcher and myself, Urban Creep, our lives were Shifty Records then going onto work with Robert. The mainstream recording companies, it is safe to say, even though they had a different time, apartheid was real and a very totalitarian, but from a purely professional point of view I did think there were massive gaps in their vision; maybe in the whole world of recording companies in the 1990’s. And that has become evident now in how their technology and industry has changed.
I always get criticised for being some kind of a McCartney to the Lennon, and if the cap fits that is fine. I have always been a person who has somehow had business ideas and kept studios going, and been a survivalist.
The happiest I ever was with lyrics was the lyrics I wrote for a song called Slow Thighs which was a song based on a very early romantic poet and he ,made beautiful paintings and drawings, one was Paradise Lost and he wrote a poem, ‘Oh Rose thou art sick, the dark something that flies through night.’ He railed against the dark Satanic mills of the early industrial revolution and he made some of the most incredible drawings. The sick Rose was one of his big set works at University as a poem, William Blake, early industrial revolution, huge impact on England. He did a painting called Satan in heaven and it was this picture of Satan, this kind of sensual beautiful Luciferian angelic very attractive angel character lying in the angels arms in heaven. I think what he was trying to say was how England was God’s own country, to the aristocracy and in those fields in ancient time, it was almost like the new Jerusalem, but he was saying this is where Satan has come. There were children of 7 years old dying down the mines and chimneys and this where there has been extraordinary exploitation of the working class. Literally people are dying. The early industrial revolution had all these terrible things happening, so he wrote this poem and at the same time, he drew this picture Satan in Heaven. At the same time, I was in Knysna on the heads looking down and you know the Zionists do there ceremonies, bathing and they do it in the Knysna lagoon at extremely low tide, you have to walk very far into the middle of the lagoon and I was looking down from the heads and I just saw this preacher man and this beautiful big staff and these people in incredible white robes and it looked like they were walking on water because the lagoon was rugged incredibly low tide. And it was actually only maybe three inches deep. There he was walking on water with this big staff and his whole flock was following him because he was going to do this baptism in the middle of the lagoon. And that made me think about colonialism. Amazing how the colonials came also thinking with that religious conviction. They walked over the water from Europe from England, Spain and Portugal and they came with their staff as well. They knew they were going to take, they were disingenuous as well. They knew they weren’t going to save people. They were going to take everything they could. So, I wrote this song called Slow Thighs that goes ‘slow thighs walking on water,’ because also the beast in revelations, there is some character and she has sloe eyes. I remember always thinking what does that mean? My parents were very religious, so I used to get all this religious stuff. There was this women with sloe eyes, ‘sloe’ I think means slanty. All these things jumbled in my head and I wrote this song about colonialism about these slow thighs which for me was a bit more visceral and hinted at eroticism, the kind of rape, physically, emotionally, sexually. There was such a sexuality to the whole colonialism as well. The fetishisation and the creation of mixed race people and culture, it was a real kind of … I wrote this song, ‘slow thighs walking on water, seeing with brown eyes the fishermans daughter, crying with dry eyes, she was a lamb for the slaughter.” And the next verse was how the brown man became not a lamb for the slaughter and became this Jesus with a gun. Very specific lyrics and the chorus was ‘Thy will be done as it is in heaven, wars will be won as it is in heaven .. And Satan gently sleeps with angels at his feet in heaven.’ That got to Number One on 5FM. That was a number one song in the whole country. It is called ‘Slow Thighs.’ It was from the second album on Urban Creep and was our biggest song in terms of broadcasters. That was massive. No journalists once asked me what the lyrics meant. Not once! It was number one for a long time on Highveld, East Coast and only a couple of times some reborn Christians came at me. I said actually I don’t believe in God or anything, that is far more critical than being anti-Christianity. I am talking how religion has been used in a very fetishistic, perverted way to grease the wheels of this massive colonialisation. That is everything we deal with every day. It is very interesting.
I did an album last year with Black Coffee for instance which is our biggest house DJ and house is the biggest scene in South Africa. He is amazing, a really great artist with huge impact all over the world. That album we did, I mixed it for him, I was the arranger and live music director. It won the SAMA award, best dance album. I am sitting there working with people each and every day that have massive impact in South Africa and at those times, there is nothing. It is so confusing because I was brought up in the 80’s to be a spirit of activism, to say no I don’t care if that is not the law, I am going to break the law if it doesn’t work. How can you say this, what are you talking about… You realise it is the case.
We had another number one which I am also proud of called ‘Seven depths of skin,’ which had the guitar solo banned by East Coast Radio. The guitar solo was banned because Chris did this hectic very Hendrix like but wild, one of the darkest guitar solos. It got to number one on 5Fm and all these radio stations including East Coast Radio. We are talking middle 90’s, as conservative as you can get, a place still holding onto apartheid California dream. Remember when we had the palm trees all along the beach and you could drive your car all the way up … this whole nonsense. You got to listen to that song. It is G minor and goes to the C 9 th crushed chord. It is C, D, E flat in the right hand. I know because I am performing this song tomorrow night so I had to work it out on piano. When it goes to the chorus, it goes G minor and then G minor over F sharp. You don’t get more radical. And then there are a lot of passing notes. You get that in the Beatles where we are going somewhere and then we are arriving down at the F. It goes straight to C minor, which is a triton difference. It is the octave divided in half. C to F sharp in the base. That is what the guitars are all crashing into as well. From the F sharp it goes down to C. That was called Diabolus in Musica. It is probably mythology it was banned by the Catholic Church, that interval of dividing the octave in half. What was holy was the 5 th or the 4 th . And then things started developing and you got to a Major 3 rd . Minor 3 rd , Gregorian chants and all that was very rare. I don’t know how rare, I studied musicology I have a degree in it, but I don’t think it existed, it was all 4 th ‘s and 5 th ‘s. But then you get this pop song where it hits this chorus and it is a minor chord. And the lyrics are about how I have got nothing. I can give you debts, I can give you bottled water, but there is nothing. It is a very existential crisis kind of song and it has nothing of what is kind of a formula for writing song. It even has 5 / 4 rhythm. 5 beats in a bar, but not everyone is. The only pop song that had 5 beats in a bar was the thing called Take Five by Brubeck. This has got 3 4/4 bars and then a 5/4 bar. It is like going to a place which is number one. People sing along to that. That was part of popular culture. Popular musicians today wouldn’t give a toss about that. I don’t think they even think for a second.
I did a movie called number number with this amazing guy called Donovan Marsh. He wrote it, he directed it and he edited it. Can you imagine writing, directing, editing, he put some of his own money into it. He is not super wealthy. He lives up the road. The movie came in on a 4 million rand budget. It was the biggest film at the Toronto film festival. It got released all over the world. It made its money back because of distribution deals, international distribution. It was released in 26 cities in the United States at once. It got bought by Universal Pictures to be remade by the Fast and the Furious team. And it is a cool piece of film. It was marketed overseas as sort of the Tarantino of South Africa. There is nothing here. You go out into the press, there is some sort of publicity hype. It did really well it beat a lot of American films on the Ster Kinekor circuit here. It hung in for a really long time. Nobody will go and deconstruct that film, nobody will write about it, nobody will care. It is no the submission for the South African best foreign film for the academy award. And I have strong feelings why. It is because it is a very harsh indictment of crime. It is about these harsh gangster characters who are attractive characters. They basically end up killing each other in warehouse. It is about the very difficult concept of money in a place where people are dispossessed. It isn’t really a happy ending. It is very violent and it starts with two policemen chasing somebody and the cops are joking with each other about how corrupt they are, how corrupt the system is. ‘Is your gun working,’ ‘No it is not working it has probably been sold,’ it is those sorts of lines. It starts like that and it just gets more and more hectic. But, it is a great film, it is a great piece. I was really proud to be part of that. I put my soul into that. But, it does not exist. Like Milan Kundera’s ‘Book of Laughter and Forgetting,’ or the ‘Unbearable Likeness of Being.’ We find reality now in sensuality or some other kind of post modern escape, society in transition.
Interview Aymeric Peguillan
“Listen. I am a trained violinist. I started playing the violin at 7 and played until I was 18. Being trained in classical music in France. And I had a cousin who was a jazz guitarist. And when I was getting trained in my violin, we played a few family gigs together. That was pretty much it in terms of jazz. I did a few concerts in classical. And then at 12 I had lots of back problems and my physio took me to my first jazz gig. Lionel Hampton in Paris and that was a big revelation for me. After that I started to listen to jazz, everything I could lay my hand on and then I started, where I could by law, going to clubs. I started going to clubs in Paris and other French cities and every time there was a festival I was trying to go there. And I started travelling a lot around the world for work, nothing to do with music; Film production and then non-profit work with Doctors without borders, for many years. Everywhere I would go I would try and find the place to listen to jazz.
Then, one day I was working in Bangladesh with Doctors without Borders and another French guy arrives that night and we share a flat and he starts listening to that music in his room that I had never heard before. “What is this music, it is beautiful.” It was Abdullah’s music. We spent the entire night listening to Abdullah’s stuff. At that time my knowledge of South African music was MM, HM and I had vaguely heard the names of JG, and CS. That was it! For me that is a huge train passing over me and we spent the entire night talking about South African Jazz, Abdullah in particular. We spent the whole night listening to Abdullah.
This guy tells me about Kippies as he had just spent three years in South Africa between 1989 and 1992, which were obviously critical historical times. He told me about Kippies, Sophiatown and all sorts of places like Rumours and iconic venues. And, in my head it is clear that at some point I will have to go to South Africa. At that time I was quite lucky because with Doctors without Borders when you are a head of mission, which was my position, you could do your own little trading between heads of missions, so when the guy finishes his contract somewhere, just call him and say, ‘listen when are you finishing because I am interested to come that side, ya.’
So I called the guy in South Africa and said I would love to come and take over from him. I landed in South Africa in January 1994, four months before elections with all the tensions and hope, this very special atmosphere, feeling you are part of this big history with a big H. I was staying in Yeoville and from the first week I was going to Rumours in Yeoville and Three Sisters in Hillbrow, going to Razzmatazz and Kippies of course and to any place where I could listen to live music, Moratele park for the gigs and also for that very special atmosphere. I am out every night and most of the times I finish my nights at Rumours.
I started meeting some musicians, Hosticks, Prince Lengoasa and a few others, Mac Mackenzie… And as you know Bassline, 206 and the Blues Room opened. All this happens and I am there. I am single like a free bird. By then I had left Doctors without Borders and I am working in communication. I am a freelance translator, I am doing voice overs and all sorts of things. And I meet all sorts of people. And I spend my life in the street. And every club at that time has its own specificities. Bassline is the most happening place, sometimes with its own frustrations. Beginning, the stage was at the end, then the stage was in the middle, then the stage was on the right. And especially when the stage was on the left as you entered, for the musicians it was crazy. But still always packed, lots of gigs, lots of great atmosphere. Kippies remained one of the places, very noisy. There was a place called the Shebeen in Rosebank and then Rumours stayed until ’97 and where you could see Charlie Sawyers arguing badly with Mike Makalema late at night. Charlie would come with his horn and Mike would try and jam with Charlie and these two would have an electric thing on stage. It was never easy. It was like arguing.
And then the new cats came on the block. There was Voice with Marcus. He gets together with Herbie, Andile, Sydney and Afrika and Lulu. Voice was the band that really took the place by storm. They were cooking. Herbie’s swing was already there and Marcus was like really sharp. Lulu was the best drummer at the time in the country. It was really cooking.
There was also Hugh Masakela’s joint in Yeoville. JB’s Jazz joint or something like this. And that lasted for about two years. There were four partners with lots of money stories and drugs. That was the time when Bra Hugh was seriously sniffing. Every club would have its different atmosphere.
And then Bassline moved. 206 closed, Rumours closed, Blue Room became a bit different. There was very corporate business shit and a few ladies of the night that hung out there. Sophiatown had closed already. Kippies was going through difficult times and also closed. I was living in Troyeville and found a beautiful space. And that’s why I started Pegs Cosy Corner and there the idea was to do more like a social club that would play jazz and be open from Thursday night to Sunday night. And open very late. We were a late night kitchen serving food until 2:30 in the morning. Nice place, but quite isolated. It became a neighbourhood joint. We would have gigs but not on a regular basis. That was when I started creating a relationship with guys like Andile, Herbie, Feya, Vusi Khumalo, I had known already for quite some time. Sydney Mnisi, Sipho and Mac again and Peter Mahlubo was there often. I really enjoyed myself. Those were two of the best years of my life but by then I was married and I got a child born in July 2001. And at the end of 2001 it became difficult. I was working in advertising, four days a week in agency. We were managing clients on the continent from South Africa. So, they wanted me to travel more and more and it proved to be more and more difficult. In the first quarter of 2002 we had to close. We were initially four partners then two other partners. They were silent partners. I had to stop. I never managed to find somebody that would help me or take over when I was not around and who would do jazz. There was literature on site, we had Downbeat and Jazz Times magazine there. It was a nice joint. We also had an armed robbery precipitating the closure. No one got hurt but it was scary.
The musicians felt good there, they had a table and they would sit around and talk shit there. And then I went into advertising full time for another two years, by May 2004 with my wife we decided to move with our second kid we decided to Europe and I took a job with Doctors without Borders at the HQ in Geneva. I was there for four years and we would come back to South Africa once a year on holiday. We moved to Swaziland for four years still with Doctors Without Borders. I was in contact with some people but not that closely. And when we got back here which was December 2011, my wife had a job here and I was a bit tired after 8 years of MSF so wanted to do something else, so started studying at Wits and things didn’t go exactly the way I wanted. I was spending time with my kids and thinking how I would start something.
You had the Loft. You had Wish, which was at the corner where Poppy’s is now. Marcus was doing a gig. Bassline was in Newtown. Nicky’s was there, but terrible food. Good music but for musicians, it was frustrating because the piano couldn’t be used because it is not tuned or in bad shape. The stage is very uncomfortable. You come in and there are only two tables that see the stage properly, all the left section you can’t see anything, the other section you have these benches facing each other and she has never done any changes. There was nothing.
When I came back I hooked up with a lot of guys like Marcus, Feya, Andile, Sydney, Carlo, Peter, Concord and I asked, ‘where do you guys play?’ ‘We don’t know. We do corporate gigs and we do gigs at houses. There is no place to play, festivals some time.’ I said, ‘this can’t be because Joburg the city that it is with the history that it has, you can’t not have a proper jazz club.’ So, I started to engage with a lot of people and talked to musicians and guys like Colin Miller, people at Sheer sound, guys at SAMRO, Carlo at Wits, Brenda’s son at Kaya and I try to put on paper the concert. What would it be, where would it be and what would be the operational hours and format. Quite rapidly I came to the conclusion that it would be something where music was central and musicians were at the heart of the concept and where food would come as a compliment. We would need to create a destination where people would come to spend a few hours. Oscar Mahuba used to be a regular and he was the brand manager for Milk Stout. He sponsored the Milk Stout series at the Bassline many years ago. Oscar helped me put a presentation together. I started approaching people to see if they were interested. And as expected I was not getting much good support. The only support I was getting from a friend of mine who happened to be at the time the director of the Doctors without Borders office in Joburg in Jorrison Street, the street up from the Orbit. We started talking about the concept of The Orbit which was a restaurant downstairs in the pathway. I told him I liked the space. At the time I didn’t know about the first floor because at the time the two floors were not connected. Dan and I started discussing more about this and I continued and I applied for my liquor and entertainment licence and then I discussed with Colin a lot because he worked with Pro Helvetia at the time and his offices were up the street and he told me about Robert. I knew of Robert because of MELT and all the recordings he had done.
I was freelancing for MSF and I get a contract, which pushed me towards Switzerland. I go to Switzerland for March, April to May 2013. By then, I still don’t have my liquor licence, and my entertainment licence. By then I have made another proposal to the land lady of the premises, including the first floor, which is completely naked at the time. Dan is still on board but clearly the two of us don’t have money. I am getting a lot of kuk on board because my wife is not impressed with me and she thinks I should get a decent job because she remembers the previous jazz fair with me working my ass off until 3am. She doesn’t have as good memories of it as I do. I leave for Geneva and there I hook up with some friends, including that friend who made me discover Abdullah’s music. He is now based in Geneva. I do my consultancy there and use the opportunity to go to Luzern to meet Robert. And I spend a whole day with him at Luzern at the studio there. Beautiful place, beautiful house with all the sound systems he has developed with Vivid Audio. He is looking at me like who is that guy because we have never physically met before. We start talking and we realize that we know a few people in common and I am not even close to the background in music that he has. He has produced a lot of music and iconic records. I tell him about the project and ask him, ‘for a project like this who would I speak to’. He gives me a few names of people he thinks are solid and reliable. One of them is Brenda Sisane at Kaya FM and a few others who are not necessarily in music. A couple of them, being in the liquor trade.
We talk about a lot of things and spend a really good time and we stay in touch by email. My sense was that he was not in a super good space at the time. He didn’t look very good health wise and also looked like he had left a lot of things in South Africa, emotionally, financially, physically. There was that tragedy and there is something that he speaks about that is not all good. His son was there as well. Great experience for me. I think when I left him he probably thought I must be a bit crazy and a bit stupid to want to do that. And he speaks of experience having left a few million pounds in South Africa. And at the same time I can sense that the guy is sporting.
I went to Basel and I went to meet the guy called Veit Arlt, who is a professor in Basel University and is very connected with a music foundation in Basel. He is connected to a big pharmaceutical company. In that set up there is a massive lover of South African Jazz, who is loaded like you have no idea and is kind of willing to help supporting South African artists and who is actually owning a club in Basel called The Birds Eye. So we go to the Birds Eye which is a very nice club and that is when I realize a lot of South African musicians are actually recorded there. Carlo, Hilton, Feya, Andile, Paul Hanmer. McCoy Mrubata, Kesivan, many. And Veit is very instrumental in assisting in this. So I put my proposal to them and a few months later we agree that they would support us.
I come back to Johannesburg and when I come back Marcus Wyatt introduces me to Kevin Naidoo and Kevin is a big jazz lover but not a musician at all. He is coming from financial services and IT. He owns three companies. He is a bit of an original. He is a good business person. We hook up together and I introduce him to Dan and present to him the concept and where we at and we tell him what we need in terms of money, ‘are you interested?’ Before that, I had had a few close encounters with a number of people who were seemingly close to saying yes and never did. People like Hugh Masakela’s nephew Pious, who was very close then suddenly disappeared and never returned his messages. Pissed me off quite a bit.
That was it, Kevin was the guy. We formed that partnership and mid July I get my liquor licence and a couple of weeks later we get our entertainment licence. I said I am not going to sign the lease unless this is sorted. I always do things by the book. And then I chickened out, end of July because the ideal plan for me was to run that place with another partner. For me that was the ideal set up … Having had the two year experience of the small place, with this big operation I was going to die. And I am half dead actually as you see me.
The ideal set up was I have a friend in France in Lyon. He has a night joint like this. There are two partners. One does a week and then the other does a week. They exchange. When the one is in charge he is in charge running the place and managing it and the other one has a back seat doing marketing and so on. And it works like that. But I never found this partner, because my first partner is busy freelancing and traveling quite a bit although he helps me a lot on the social media side, he cannot alternate with me. Kevin has got all sorts of commitments with his businesses, so in the end the picture is that I am on my own with the team. And that is challenging and I don’t sleep much and I don’t have as much time as I used to. I am enjoying myself. Don’t get me wrong. It is that idea. This is a six-day operation. If I want to see my kids I wake up 5:30 in the morning and take them to school so I literally sleep 2 and a half hours per night. Right now I am trying to make time during the day. It put a lot of pressure on the family, so I am trying to preserve my Monday’s. It is a bit of a monk kind of thing. I don’t have much life, outside of that. You see me here today with you, it is a bit of an exceptional thing. It is good for me as well, that I get out.
The thing about the Orbit is, it is already a special place. It filled a gap immediately as we came in. By the time we started we have a very good network of people in the industry and outside. Kevin is very well connected, Dan is very well connected and I am well connected, so we all have our groups of friends and acquaintances. Beyond that we came up with a model that was very centered on musicians and we said that this place had to be a place where musicians felt comfortable and really enjoy playing and they meet other musicians. The sound is good, there is a sound engineer all the time, there is a backline. We made this deal with Tomms Music, which is this music shop in Braamfontein. It is really about getting this going for musicians and make sure they have it. I couldn’t believe it initially and very quickly we got musicians coming and wanting to check the place and tell us I want to play here, and not just your chancers and junior guys, established guys. For me, the day Barney Rachabane walked in and said, ‘I want to play here,’ I was like ‘hey’. And guys like Salaelo Selota, guys who were either iconic figures or guys who had made it in the music industry. That is the thing we need to preserve at all costs, we need to do this for musicians and make sure musicians are very happy and comfortable, because if we fuck this up there is no point in continuing. There is no other venue in the history of Joburg that has had a piano like we have. It is not like a grand Steinway. It is a Yamaha C3 in very good condition and it is fucking sounding brilliantly and all piano players enjoy it. There hasn’t been a venue in Joburg that had a piano. Kippies never had a piano, Nicky’s had one but it is not useable. Blues Room, Bassline didn’t have a piano. We are coming with something that looks serious from the start. We have a drum kit on site; we have an amp on site. The guys come with their instruments and that is it. Drummers come with their cymbals. Piano players come with their hands and that is it and this is how it should be. That is the only thing we wanted from the start. When people walk in they know where they are because of the music that plays and the pictures on the wall. Before we started we had a series of meetings with established musicians, we told them that is what we would like to do and how do you see yourself fitting into this thing. I am very happy we did it. Carlo, Concord, Andile, Peter, Marcus, Sydney, Justin, all good guys and in the end it worked because they bought into the project and everyone is excited about playing there and we are excited too. We’ve seen already in the last five months, projects being born, creative ideas coming out and bands being put together, visiting musicians coming to play and visitors coming to say we heard about The Orbit in Cape Town and we heard about the Orbit in Washington. It is changing the way things are happening and it is changing the way things are happening for musicians as well because there is a momentum. In the last six months there have been a number of recordings.
Live at the Orbit?
We record everything. But people are coming with recorded new material. Nduduzo, Thandi Ntuli, Steve Dyer, Feya, Herbie, Language 12, Sisonke, Banda. It is an exciting time you know and guys right music and they want to perform at the Orbit. We launched Reza Khota’s album. Launching Kesevan first week of October. We did the Joburg launch of Carlo’s thing, Stories quartet. We are doing Thandi end of September. Benjamin Jephtha. There is a dynamic. It is really nice. And then the bigger guys, Joy of Jazz. We did the media launch for Joy of Jazz at the Orbit and then we did the road to Joy of Jazz last week with Nduduzo. A beautiful show.
We have a room for musicians. We have a policy that musicians who have played at The Orbit who are going to play at The Orbit, don’t pay at the door. We feed them well when they come to perform. I told the staff they need to know these guys and they need to remember them. When they come in they need to feel acknowledged, comfortable. appreciated. I remember when I had all those conversations with those guys before I even put this thing on paper, what was coming up regularly was that thing on recognition. Like, ‘we don’t get any recognition, we don’t get any acknowledgement for what we have done. We are nobody’s. Nobody knows about our work.’ And it was quite strong. And, it is not like an ego thing from artists. You could sense there was a genuine respect and the fact that there was no venue. Guys would be playing restaurants where I little corner was put for them. The only venue that was trying hard before we opened was the Freedom Station in Westdene. Steve has done a wonderful job. Small but all the cats love playing there and the connection with the audience is so good and he is a great host and so for us the idea was not to redo African Freedom Station or Pegs Cosy Corner but to do something bigger, with a jazz club feel. But, because we are in Braamfontein to have a business model that works we needed to have the other things on the side. The food, the wine, the liquor, comfort. You come to The Orbit on any given night and you are going to have a top business person with a crew of partners. A couple of PhD students or academics from wits, a few couples where guys take their girlfriends to have a good time. A girl’s table of about six girls having a girl’s night out. You are going to have some NGO workers, some city workers. You are going to have a table of international tourists. A guy who is alone who wants to go somewhere nice to experience South Africa and comes on his own and sits on a stool. So you have these people and they all come for one thing and one thing only and they want to experience South African music live in the best possible conditions. I am not saying it is perfect. I bet 95% of the people have an experience of a lifetime. They see great musicians, in great company, at a reasonable price, We’ve been going five months. On my planning I marked the gigs that I found special and there were a lot of them. Last night was special, Dorothy Masuko, 79 years old, you should have seen this woman on stage, Fuck! People standing at the end and she had the time of her life. Yesterday we had a table of twelve people, the co coordinator of UN Aids, Michel Sidibe from Mali. I know him from Swaziland. Nice crowd. Last week Barney was amazing. And Sunday, Sydney Mavundla was fantastic. We are not there yet, we know it is going to take a few more months to establish ourselves and then we may change the business hours because I am finished.
Can you see a change in SA Jazz?
What struck me the first time I heard Abdullah’s music was that there was something very deep and solemn about the music. There was something charged with images of spirituality but images of projects as well. There was something very connected to this country. There was something very simple but at the same time very sophisticated in terms of the changes and there was a lot of singing in the music and for me the striking thing was how many images I could put onto that music. Images of people, images of marches, images of protest and how the music would change from something so completely joyous to something completely hurting. For me, it was amazing the number of emotions I would go through from listening to one piece. It doesn’t always happen that quickly. Abdullah is a case of its own but when you listen to Herbie Tsaoli’s album, African Time, I listen to that every single day. We open the shop and we play Herbie. That is a bit of a ritual. And when I listen to Nduduzo’s music, that album that is coming out now, Mother Tongue. Fuck! It’s so deep and powerful and Feya’s music is so deep. And Marcus’s melody is unique. It is about those changes. It is about how many emotions you are going to find in one song. I found that very specific to South African jazz, how colourful it is and how many images you can put into it. All the guys from the Eastern Cape have these really strong rural images that come out of their music. It speaks a lot to you about essential things like family and values and connections.
Did you not come across the Blue Notes in France?
No, in France I was very focused on American and European jazz and I didn’t grow up in a family other than my cousin who is into Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. But, I never got an education by any one. As much as the Blue Notes were very big in Europe and France in particular, by the time I started getting a serious interest in jazz which was ’82, these guys were passed already or the impact that they had a few years earlier had gone. I heard the name Chris Macgregor vaguely. It is only in 2002 that I found about it.
Is the education work part of a personal passion to shape jazz?
We are just a medium but it is guys like Marcus who put the Blue Notes orchestra together, it is really about people making sure they do know about that music which was a bit of an accident initially they thought it would be a once off gig but it was something they continued. We did a couple of classes with the guys at Wits who are students. We tried to bring young guys on stage but even among musicians I am not sure that everybody is aware about the Blue Notes.
UCT, Mike Campbell is quite in tune. And UKZN as well I find that guys that come out of UKZN are very strong. You can see at The Orbit. The UCT guys are very fluent in contemporary bebop. The Wits guys are a bit more like all over the show. Pretoria is very good.
Your work with medicine and your work with jazz, can you stitch them together?
I don’t know I have never really tried to connect the two. For me the reality of my work at MSF was the many different kinds of peoples and cultures I was going to encounter, work with and socialize with. I am looking at essential stuff, not too many nitty gritty’s on the side. I find there is something very essential about jazz. There is something very central to your existence. It fills you in a way which is similar to what the work I have done with MSF would be as well. Its real emotions, real extremely deep, you don’t listen to jazz by accident and you don’t work for MSF by accident. You may encounter them by accident but once you are in it you concentrate on the essential. If I wanted a connection I would say jazz is a life saving music. MSF is the business of changing lives but jazz is something that keeps you alive.