SOX (RIP)


"I used to sing at nightclubs to survive, those years in the 80s" - Sox

Daniel Phakoe, better known as ‘Sox’, passed away on April 28 2022 after a long illness. Sox started his music career as a drummer for a group called Joyco from Maokeng in Kroonstad, where he grew up. He later performed with the Hot Soul Singers and Public Affairs. As a solo artist he is best known for his 1988 hit ‘Don’t Call me Le Ja Pere’ ('Don’t Call me a Horse Eater'), a plea to avoid racial stereotypes. The following is a transcription of an interview with him at his home in Thembisa, east of Johannesburg, on 15 November 2009. It has been edited for clarity.

(When did you get into music?)

Recording professionally, it was 1987. With a group called Public Affairs. Our first album was Master, with Eric Frisch (Productions). That was me, people thought it was CJB, the voice. Because I used to sing at nightclubs to survive, those years in the 80s. I used to play in the nightclubs a lot, in Johannesburg. You know, the nightclubs in town then, there was a time when they would book you for about two months or three months. I was doing cover versions — I didn’t have my own songs by then — international stuff. Remember, in the 80s, every Christmas time, there was this thing of waiting to hear the latest album from Lionel Richie, Kool & the Gang. People they didn’t buy local music then, until Brenda [Fassie] comes along in 1983. Then Brenda changed the whole complexion of this music industry. It was ‘Weekend Special’, which people thought it was Diana Ross! Only to discover that it was a local girl.


And then all these musicians who were hiding, didn’t even want to compose their own songs, then after Brenda, 'Weekend Special', then CJB comes along, Phumi MadunaCheek To Cheek came after Brenda was going to have a baby in Cape Town - Bongani, her first-born. Then Brenda came back and did the full album of Weekend Special. Those LPs were called maxi singles back then. it was only two tracks. It was ‘Weekend Special’ first. It wasn’t an LP, and on it was written ‘not for sale’. There were record companies who were selling them (but it was meant to be) for radio stations and record bars to make people aware so-and-so is coming with a new album.


Tsokotla (1995)

(What does the label ‘bubblegum’ mean to you?) 

Bubblegum, it was irritating at first. But if Brenda didn’t mind, who are we to mind? Because she’s the one who started the whole thing. She didn’t (mind). 


These kwaito guys, they didn’t want to call us bubblegum musicians, they wanted to call it ‘oldskool’ musicians. (journalists, DJs..). there are some, from Y(fm). I listen to them sometimes. They still call us bubblegum musicians, we don’t mind about that. I mean that’s what we created in the 80s, and if it wasn’t (for) us, they wouldn’t be here today. And they must thank Brenda for that. Because if it wasn’t (for) Brenda, I’m telling you, even now, people would still be listening to international music by now. Not even having trust for their own people. Only Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Soul Brothers would have been surviving by now. 


(What was your experience of censorship at the SABC, particularly when trying to mix different languages?)

Back then it was difficult because we didn’t understand why. I remember my album was banned by the SABC. That album was called Shame Boksburg [1989]. You remember in the 80s in Boksburg whereby those guys, these conservative people, they didn’t want black people to stay in those parks there. But those guys were the ones who were cleaning those parks. And my uncle was working there too. And then the SABC didn’t want to play it. And then they sent people to come and break my windows. They were even looking for me at each and every record bar. They were even paying people – they wanted to see, who is this Sox? Then I met them in Johannesburg. They said, ‘Guys, this is Sox.’ And they look at me, and they look at the cover of this album. They said ‘No, this is not the same Sox’ (laughs). Because I look different from the album, different haircut. So they said, ‘No, this is not him.’ I don’t know what they wanted. 


But the SABC, then, it was difficult for those DJs then. They didn’t know what to do. I was not even allowed to sing a Zulu song, because I’m a Sotho. And Lesedi FM didn’t play it. They wanted you to play your own music. Either it’s English mixed with Sotho, then it's good. And then, those guys at Natal, if they want to play my song, and its written in Sotho, they can’t even pronounce it, they won’t play it. Because they don’t know what does that mean. 


But things have changed now. They’re playing everything. 

Come Back Home (1988)


(Your 1988 debut album Come Back Home - did the SABC play it or was it censored?)

One, this one, ‘Siyafana’ - it was English and Zulu, it was only played on Ukhozi FM.  It was called Radio Zulu then. 

Those (radio stations) who are playing Sesotho music, and Tswana, they will play it for those (audiences), when I sing English mixed with Sotho. If it’s Zulu, the big radio stations, Ukhozi FM, they will play it. They will choose from the album, they will listen to it first. You know, Radio Zulu have never played ’Le Ja Pere’. Do you know why? Because they didn’t know how to (pronounce) it. Instead, they were playing this song, ‘Come Back Home’, it’s English-only — and ‘Siyafana’, because it’s Zulu.


That’s where that (sleeve) picture comes in. The person who came up with the concept of this cover was an engineer, Simon Higgins. He was the one. He bought me this jacket at Park Station there. This suitcase was carried by someone else, and then he gave that guy R100 so that he must have this thing. It was empty, and that guy was very happy. This photo was taken here in Thembisa. It’s next to the cemetery, but its not like this anymore, because there are RDP houses there now. 


Even Chicco, you know, ‘We miss you Manelow’ - Manelow was supposed to be Mandela anyway, but the SABC said, ‘No, we can’t play this tune.’ He said ‘Manelow’ and then it was a different story, they said ‘fine, this is good’. But he knew what he was singing about. 


(Didn’t censors realise?) 

Some of them did know, but the rhythm of the song was good, so all the DJs were excited about the song. But when you mentioned the name Mandela, then they freaked out! They said, ‘No, we can’t play it! We can’t play this, you have to change this.’ Then Phil Hollis called Chicco and said, ‘Chicco, look, you have to change this Mandela thing to something else’. And Phil Hollis is very creative. He said, ‘Look, why can’t you call this Manelow?’ It was Phil Hollis’s idea.


(What was it like working with Phil Hollis?)

Phil Hollis was good. He’s like a black man in a white skin. Phil Hollis can hear a hit when somebody just brings a demo tape there and he listens to it. You know what he did, with ‘Manelow’? He took that album, he went to a shebeen in Soweto, he bought people beers, these pantsula guys. He said dance for this song and I’ll buy you beers. And those guys, they danced. He said, ‘No, this song must be a bit slow’. He phoned Chicco and said, ‘Chicco, make these pantsulas dance. That means you have to up the tempo. This song, it’s a bit slow. If these pantsula boys can’t dance, then this song is not going anywhere.’ He knew!


Rapellang Kgotso (1991)

(Would you say white people played a positive role in the music industry, or not?)

Some did contribute. Some were exploiting people.


(Why do think most engineers back then were white, not black?)

I mean I can’t blame anybody for that. Our black brothers were not exposed to being engineers. Because they thought if you go to school for that it takes a long time. Just like doctors, you know, you go, you qualify after seven years, or something like that. … Some of those white engineers, they did help us a lot in the past. They used to show us how it’s done, like Ian Osrin. 


(Was there a lot of exploitation?)

All of them (other labels), they were doing the same thing. Musicians used to come and go out from Gallo to go to EMI, EMI was doing the same thing to others, then others joined the other companies…


(Was it racial exploitation of just part of the business?) 

It was business. They’re ripping musicians off.  Those black guys, when they became executives, they were worse than those white people!


(Were any white artists popular among black audiences?)

It was only PJ Powers. White people did like PJ Powers, but she was liked the most by black people. Because she used to sing a little bit of Zulu there, even if it was not perfect. Zulus were crazy about her. They even gave her the name Thandeka.


Mango Groove. Juluka … can you imagine the first time I watched Juluka? Seeing Jonathan Clegg on stage. Here in Thembisa. I remember looking at that group playing there. There was a lot of people in the stadium, if only 5 or 6 white people. And when Jonathan Clegg did that dance… he did it more than Sipho Mchunu… and people like him more than (their) own — Sipho Mchunu, the Zulu guy, who had heads of cattle in his hometown and everything.  People said that white guy, he can do this better than Sipho! Sipho used to take Jonathan Clegg to Mai-Mai, there in Jeppestown, to go and see those Zulu people dance. And you can even see, when Jonathan Clegg walks, he’s like a white Zulu mamba! (laughs)


Lesilo (1994)

They were calling Mike Fuller the police of the music industry. He was the only white guy who can go around all these townships. That time it was only white policemen who were coming. They knew who he was, (but) they portrayed him as that (laughs) - as the police of the music industry. He’s the guy who discovered Rebecca Malope.. I remember the stable was in Bree Street or something. Ali Katt was in their stable - ‘Let the Good Times Roll’. That guy who was singing just like Teddy Pendergrass - he had a beard, they called him Ali Katt. And then Hotline was in their stable. And there was this group called Casino, who was at Mike Fuller Music. And there was Zone 3 that was in the same stable. That was MFM stable.


(Have you toured/performed in other parts of Africa?)

Many times. I know Botswana like the palm of my hands. Lesotho, Swaziland. I’ve been to Kenya, Tanzania. I’ve never been to Zimbabwe and Maputo (Mozambique). Those are the only two countries that I’ve never been to.


(Did journalists ask about apartheid?)

They did, but the promoters sometimes they told us not to speak to those guys. Especially if they (want to) talk about South Africa during the 80s, especially politics. Sometimes I didn’t have to say anything. Because I don’t know, sometimes you find that you are in a hotel, and those guys from Umkhonto we Sizwe, they were there. And they know who I am, and I don’t know them. Some of them, we only find them on stage, operating those lights for us, then they tell us after where they are from.


(Were there difficulties returning to SA afterwards?)

We were scared at first. I remember one time when we crossed the Botswana border post, Tlokweng, (to) come (back) to South Africa. I remember they stripped our Kombi there. I don’t know what they were looking for … maybe (they thought) we were using explosives in Botswana, or whatever the case is …Ei, it took about 3 hours there … they were searching everything. But they didn’t find anything. They just said ‘OK, now you can go.’ (it happened) especially if we come from Botswana, coming to South Africa, at the border post of South Africa. 


It was just like in Angola. (Sox performed in Angola too) Ja I did, with Sidney, that guy who was singing ‘Mama’s Baby’. And Johnny Mokhali, who was the Michael Jackson of Botswana … He’s staying in Mafikeng, as I understand, now. 


And then we went to Namibia. They said there was a big festival there. We went to Namibia - Ondangwa. When we arrived there, I was surprised because instead of going from OR Tambo (airport in Johannesburg), they said ‘you’re going to take a flight here in Lanseria to Namibia.’ And we were surprised to see the (plane) in camouflage. I said, ‘Why is this flight like we are going to a war zone or something?’ William Mthethwa said to me, ‘You talk to much!’ (laughs). 


It was us, Yvonne [Chaka Chaka] and everybody, We went there and when we arrived, only to find that there was elections in Namibia. The first election. I don’t remember the year, but it was the first election of Namibia… and then the festival was organised by this party called Turnhalle (DTA) - it was South African soliders, mixed with some white people from South Africa, wanting to take over from Sam Nujoma, which was SWAPO. We didn’t know anything by then. Only to find out that we are wearing T-shirts, written ‘Vote for Turnhalle’. I said to William, ‘Look at this, are we going to vote there or what? We have never even voted in our own country!’


We did the concert, only to find out on the radio after the election, on the radio on our way to Windhoek, they said ‘Sox and William and Yvonne, they were performing for a party called Turnhalle, in Ondangwa. That means they voted for that party’. We have to go straight to the station and tell them, ‘We were just organised (hired), they said there was a festival but we were surprised, it was just a plain field there. People were not paying anything there, it was just (the) election, which we didn’t know. We have never experienced that before.’ Dang!


Then I remember what happened in the 80s, when there was this song called ‘The Peace Song’ (‘Together we will Build a Brighter Future’, 1986), that was played here in the 80s. Lazarus Kgagudi, Blondie Makhene. Yvonne Chaka Chaka sang on that song, but Phil Hollis said, ‘No, Yvonne didn’t sing’ (to protect her reputation). That song was about peace, but … then AZAPO saw that firsthand. You know how they burnt the houses of those guys. Steve Kekana’s brother was killed, because of that. Blondie had to run away. William Mthethwa was singing there. Suddenly, after, people houses were burning. Nobody wanted to say, ‘I wrote that song’. 


It was playing on all these radio stations ... and then AZAPO says, ‘Fuck, this is a shit song. Who is singing here? This song is promoting National Party.’ They said that song was promoting the ruling government. I don’t know … We never had a chance to listen to that song, and suddenly people’s houses were burning. Nobody wanted to hear that song any more.


Don’t Call Me Sejabana (1993)

You must ask Blondie about that song. Maybe he’s scared to talk about it now. He (had to) seek refuge in Lesotho. And then he had to come back and have a meeting with AZAPO to solve the problem. Blondie had to go to Lesotho, he had to leave the country. I remember when I met him (recently) in Macufe, I asked him about the same song, he said ‘Sox, you know you’ve got a very good memory for a lot of shit things!’ (laughs)


(Did apartheid close SA artists/audiences from other African sounds?)

How long have I know Oliver Mtukudzi? I knew him from 1980, when I joined Hot Soul Singers. They [Hot Soul Singers] were playing this kind of  mbaqanga music then, they were competing with Mahlathini … I was just a member of the band, a backing singer for the Hot Soul Singers. Then we went to Zimbabwe, it was Independence Day. Bob Marley was playing there. (I was there) with Hot Soul Singers. I was not even… nobody knew who Sox was then. I remember seeing Thomas Mapfumo, who was a hit in Zimbabwe then. Devera Ngwena. And then Oliver Mtukudzi. Bob Marley, for the first time. Imagine – it was like I was dreaming or something. 


And for the first time, seeing Robert Mugabe, being sworn in there in Salisbury Stadium, Harare. Dang! I was just from school, in the Free State. Coming here in Thembisa, and then the next thing, I’m in Zimbabwe, seeing all those things. Bob Marley – I never thought I would see that man. Robert Mugabe, Kenneth Kaunda. All those people we were taught about at school, seeing them there. Dang! 


I listened to Thomas Mapfumo, he was a superstar there. But when Oliver Mtukudzi, the youth of Zimbabwe there, they knew, this man is going to be big one day … And now he’s staying here [in SA]! Somewhere in Midrand.


(Back then, could one hear Tuku in SA, eg on the radio?)

No, no, no – we knew American stuff. South Africans always liked American music. 


(Here in SA, when did you get a sense things were changing politically?)

After Mandela was released [1990], the music industry changed. Then it affects us, from the bubblegum music. every DJ didn’t want to play that kind of music anymore. They wanted to play the genre music of kwaito. And more international, house music, hip-hop. Even if you want to make an album now, you’re asking yourself, are they going to play it there (radio) or not? There was this kind of quota and all these things. All the radio stations started to listen to the music and (ask) ‘is it fit to play it on this radio station, is it fit or not?’ making people to phone in – ‘is it a miss, or is it on?’, those kinds of things. You can imagine how embarrassing it is for some people to be in the studio there, people telling you your song doesn’t fit to play in that station. It was the end of it. 


The changes came in the ‘90s, when people like Spokes H comes along. And then these kwaito guys come along. Then everything changes… Kwaito music has changed the complexion of the music industry completely …


The guys, these kwaito boys. They have their publishing, everything. That’s how they’re making money. Even if they go to SAMRO, SAMRO gives them 100%. But I have to share that 100% with Eric Frisch. I get 50 from SAMRO, the other they give it to Eric Frisch.


Codesa Jive (1992)

My music is only played on one radio station – Thobela FM. All the other radio stations don’t even bother to play our music. It’s only that station that plays. Now. Even our brothers in the SABC, here at Lesedi FM … they don’t even bother to have a programme that can play oldskool music. That’s why the record companies have realized this now, that’s why they’re making The Best of Sox, The Best of Chicco. These guys from the taxis, they miss that kind of music of the past. It’s 20 years later and now it’s back in business.


Bubblegum (also) ended when Brenda died [in 2004], anyway. She was the only one who was sticking to that kind of music. She was the one who started that kind of music … Brenda from ‘83, she was ruling the music industry, until she died. 


(Are sales low these days because of piracy?) 

They use that as an excuse. They talk about piracy. They (record companies) are the ones who are pirating music too! That’s what they do!


(What are you up to these days?)

Right now, after February [2010], I’m going to (work) with Dan Tshanda of Splash. All of us we started in the 80s, as bubblegum musicians. We still tour Botswana and Namibia and whatever. I’m doing to do an album with him. He read about my story and he wanted me to come back to the music industry. He said ‘look, people in Botswana, they still want to know what happened to you. You still have a name, as (far as) we know. so we can make an album there, and you promote it’. Together we are going to mix Venda and Sotho music together… I think it’ll take us maybe 2 to 3 months. Because he wants to use some live instrumentation. And then he said I must bring along the guy who was producing my songs, the second assistant producer, Malcolm X. So I’m going to bring him along. Then we’ll mix that old stuff with Dan. It’ll be a different sound, but … I wait for them to make the music, then I write (lyrics). Even if they can make one song there that can make me sing the very same day, I will do it.


© Afrosynth 

E & S BROTHERS - Taduma

AFS053



E & S Brothers’ 1985 album Taduma holds a unique yet overlooked place in the history of South African dance music. When Shadrack Ndlovu and Ernest Segeel teamed up with Dane Stevenson, owner of Blue Tree Studio in downtown Johannesburg, and journeyman producer Taso Stephanou, South Africa’s bubblegum era had just begun, spurred on by the success of Shangaan disco. 


The relative success of their debut 12” ‘Don’t Bang The Taxi Door’, marketed aggressively at taxi ranks throughout the country, helped put the Blue Tree label on the map and E & S were invited back to record a full album: Taduma, featuring on keyboards Dr Buke, an in-demand session player from Soweto.



Rooted in Africa, yet purely electronic, Taduma was a moderate hit, spurred by tracks like ‘Taxi Door’ and ‘Mhane’, its hypnotic refrain ‘Mhane, famba na wena’ meaning ‘Mother, I am going to you’. Other tracks like ‘Mapantsula’ and ‘Be Careful’ place Taduma within the street-savvy ‘pantsula’ style and dance synonymous with consecutive waves of music from disco to kwaito, house and beyond, while ‘Sikele Masike’ repurposes a traditional Shangaan work song. 



Vocally E & S are closer to rapping than singing, in a combination of English and vernacular – predating other credited pioneers of kwaito in SA like Senyaka and Spokes H. Driving the music instead of vocals are waves of searing synths over rudimentary but explosive drum machine sounds – the word ‘Taduma’ meaning the sound of the drum.


Remastered from the original tapes and reissued for the first time, Taduma will be available on vinyl and digital platforms from May 2022 via Afrosynth Records. Order it here.

RICHARD MITCHELL (RIP)


Photo: Facebook

"What's kept me going is the technology. I love the technology. And the changes. I really embrace that." - Richard Mitchell


One of the key South African engineers and producers of the 1980s, Richard Mitchell passed away on 8 December 2021. The following is a transcription of an interview with him at his home in Johannesburg on 16 November 2009. It has been edited for clarity.


(How did you get started in music production?)

I started in Cape Town. I was actually born in Zimbabwe, left when I was 6 months old. We traveled all over the world, South America… then came back and finished school in Cape Town. 


I started as an assistant engineer in Cape Town, and one of the first sessions I worked on was ‘Mannenberg’ with – it was DOLLAR BRAND in those days. And I think that was probably something that just sealed my fate. We did four or five day and nights of us recording, and that as just one of the tracks. It was a studio called UCA. It moved it’s now Milestone… Murray Anderson. But I think it was in a different building that time. 


I came up (to Joburg), late 70s. I actually came up with a band called BALLYHOO. The whole idea was that we were going to set up a studio in Joburg. I’d been doing some work with them down in Cape Town. And that didn’t work out. So I ended up at a place which is now the AudioLab, in Blairgowrie. It was part of the Teal Record Company in those days, which became part of Gallo.


(Did you ever play in any bands?) 

No I was a shocking guitar player, in university. I was really terrible. I was studying marine biology. So I think I realised that very early there was no way I was going to (make it as a musician).

 

(How did you become an engineer, were there courses to study?) 

No there weren’t any. You could join the SABC. (but) I had a British passport so they refused to even accept me. Some of the guys went to courses overseas. I was lucky, I was taught by JOHN LINDEMANN, he was kind of in a way my mentor, a highly respected engineer. But it was a hard road. It was the typical kind of …(being the) the teaboy, and running around, and then you get thrown into the deep end - and sink or swim. I was working doing radio commercials at the studio. And John was the chief engineer, and left. And recommended me. He was more into studio management at that stage. He oversaw a lot of what was happening.


(What was producing an album like during the 80s?) 

We sort of hit a formula almost, I did a huge amount of work with ATTIE VAN WYK, we did all the YVONNE CHAKA CHAKA stuff. And we co-wrote a couple of things together. The irony of it was that we did a lot of it in a little mobile studio, parked in downtown Doornfontein. It had a sort of studio room attached to it… It was all programmed, drums and stuff. But we would sort of knock out a tune in a day, go away and have an idea of lyrics. His wife used to write quite a lot as well, and we’d sort of pool all our ideas together.


(Synths became a central part of the sound – why do you think this was?)

It was just something that was really working. The early CHICCO days, and Yvonne – that sort of poppy groove, it almost followed on from the HARARI, the band era. And I think it became…It was obviously a more affordable way of achieving certain things.


(Was the American influence on bubblegum overt or more subtle?) 

Obviously some of the influences were from America, but I think that was actually more in the late 70s, with the Kool & the Gang – and the groove kind of stuff. This almost – the groove content of it was actually almost new. It was really based around the pantsula guys, and their dance kinda style. Very much an offbeat rhythm, snare drums and all that kinda stuff. So it really wasn’t following anything from the international side. The melody side was very – almost European pop, in a way. And I think that was what interesting me about it, was that it was kind of rhythmically very African – well kind of African, in a way – but very new. But then the pop melodies - especially ‘cos Attie is a very prolific writer, as such. With just straight-ahead pop melodies put across it.


(Was there any live instrumentation?)

We used some live instrumentation. But predominantly – the drums were all done on LinnDrums, and things like that. It was a learning curve. Everything was still tape-based, so everything had to be sync’d up … (And there were) various codes. I used to have nightmares with codes.


(How much input did the artists have in songwriting?)

To a degree, a fair amount. Yvonne liked to contribute, more and more actually as she got more confident. Chicco also used to contribute an enormous amount. 


At that point I had worked a lot – sort of mid-80s, had worked a lot at RPM studios, which was part of the Teal – was merged in with RPM studios, which is now Downtown studios. And did a lot of stuff there till the mid-80s, then (I) had gone, said ‘OK, now I’m a freelancer,’ and set up my own company. 


And it was interesting, because I was actually working with EMI and with an offshoot of Gallo, Dephon. So I was doing Yvonne, plus we were doing BRENDA FASSIE’s stuff as well, and CHEEK TO CHEEK, and all that stuff ... It caused an interesting [tension between] Brenda and Yvonne – ‘You gotta work with me, you can’t work with her!’ But it was an excited period. Things were going out there and selling copious amounts.


I think it [competition/rivalry between Brenda & Yvonne] was quite healthy. And it was interesting that in the end, CHICCO ended up producing some of Brenda’s biggest hits, from ‘Too Late for Mama’. But I mean he’d also done quite a lot of work with Yvonne. I’m not sure of his exact details, but I think his mom ran a shebeen and was a really street-smart kid. And he was a percussionist in one of the offshoots of HARARI, UMOJA. But rhythmically he just had something - he was unbelievable. He had the ability to hear something and adapt it. He’d probably shoot me for saying this, but he heard Simply Red, and adapted that into a massive hit, it was called ‘I Need Some Money’. He knew how to lock down a groove. He’d take grooves that we’d programmed, and he’d go away and come back and say, ‘No, this is wrong, that’s wrong, change this.’ 


He knew what he wanted, and he was also part of the Dephon stable at that stage. He started as a percussionist, then as a solo artist. He had a smash hit singled called “We can dance”. He eventually evolved into production. Its like any artist, they want their ideas…


(What was is like working in the context of international isolation & the cultural boycott?) 

It was an interesting period because fundamentally there was such a boycott going on with the international artists that there wasn’t a huge amount of content available. And that’s why the local industry boomed. It was probably the most prolific period. Because people were looking for music. and they couldn’t buy the new U2s. There was (only) some (foreign stuff)…


(Was the music industry segregated, or how did artists cross over?)

I think it was quite targeted. I don’t think it was a kind of conscious sort of thing. It just happened. There was some kind of crossover. Like I remember some of the CHICCO songs would be played on 5FM, or Radio 5 in those days. There was a fair amount. Guys like Alex Jay were phenomenal with picking up on some of the local, almost more obscure – huge hits that were happening in the townships, and kind of bringing them out (to whites). 


But I think also in the studios, it was almost like a breakdown of apartheid. It had been happening over a period of time, where there was a lot more interaction between white and black musicians and things like that. So there was a lot more respect from both sides, of what was available. 


I did a band called eVOID – ‘Taximan’ was actually played by BAKITHI KHUMALO, the black bass player, which nobody knows about … It was Erik and Lucien [Windrich] … Erik – he used to play bass and the keyboard, but he didn’t really have the chops to play it accurately enough. So I said, ‘I’ve got a bass player for you’ and I got Bakithi. And that goes way back, we used to do that in the 70s.


(Outside of the studio, were mixed band playing live too?)

I think in that era there were more mixed race bands. I think JOHNNY CLEGG was starting to happen. 


I mean that was ’84, ‘85 – there was the big Operation Hunger CONCERT IN THE PARK – there were over 120,000 people there, at Ellis Park. They reckon it was probably more. As a concert it was phenomenal, because it was such a crossover of everybody, from HOTLINE and JOHNNY CLEGG and STIMELA to white pop bands


What was interesting at the time was that a lot of the music was sequenced and programmed, but they would go out with bands and play (live). It was just too difficult at that stage to get the technology to go out (instruments belonged in the studio).


For anybody in the music industry, it [Concert in the Park] was one of those milestones – ‘OK, we are finally breaking down the barriers.’ I think in fact [US Senator] Edward Kennedy was in the country at the time. and I remember it because somebody stood up and said ‘Edward Kennedy should come and see – this is the future of South Africa’. And it was one of those really (powerful moments), I think it was RAY PHIRI, or CLEGG or somebody. And I just thought it was one of the most profound statements. It was so true.


(People could begin to see of the end of apartheid?)

Ja, it was around that time there was that whole Rubicon speech. We all expected [president PW] Botha to back down and say ‘OK, that’s the end of it’, and he didn’t - that sort of prolonged and dragged it on. 

I think it had actually got to a stage when people had really had enough, and were a lot more vocal about it.


(Were people of different races socialising after-hours?)

It started … I mean the 80s was an exciting period because we started actually hanging out a lot together. There was a club in Sebokeng called Easy By Night, that almost became our- the music industry hang out. STIMELA were known there, STEVE KEKANA, all these kinds of people. We used to all go and hang out, and we’d take more and more people. So it was kind of a fun place to go. I remember the first couple of times being really kind of embarrassed – 'cos I mean we’d arrive, and jump this whole long queue that went halfway round the block. And everyone looks at you, you go ‘oh my goodness’ (embarrassed), but it was cool … It was just a really fun period.


(Any bad experiences?)

I don’t remember being in a (bad situation)… there were odd festivals that got aggressive. A lot of the time that was because there were bands didn’t arrive and all that kind of stuff, things would go wrong. But in the early periods, it was almost like this release, of tension and stress. It was an explosion actually, a cultural explosion. People wanted to go and hear this music they’d been hearing on the radio. 


(How did you deal with censorship at the SABC?)

I think we started to get more of a ‘fuck you’ attitude, you know. I mean there were songs being banned left right and centre. Some of the STIMELA stuff was banned. What they used to do is take a styluses and across that track, gouge it so you couldn’t play it on the vinyl. They kept trying to keep thef lid on it ...


YVONNE not so much, because she was more mainstream pop, but I mean BRENDA certainly started pushing the envelope. I mean you look at ‘Too Late for Mama’ and ‘Black president’. ‘Too Late for Mama’ is actually an indictment of the society – the sadness of this lonely woman. It was the late 80s, about ‘87,’88, (so by then) I think it (apartheid) had probably had it. I think everybody was kind of anticipating that the end was close. I mean we did a release when Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prizethat was in the 80s (1985). It was a collaboration with SIPHO GUMEDE and RAY (PHIRI) and a whole bunch of people… It was never released here, it was smuggled out of the country and released in the states. 


(Was other SA music getting outside the country at the time?)

A fair amount. Look, you know, there were two sides. There was the political undertone, but there was also the straight ‘let’s do pop music and avoid that [politics]’. And obviously some of the more serious musicians were a little bit disparaging about the pop music. 


The jazz guys – the Stimelas and all sorts of people like that – there was an enormous amount of, I wouldn’t call it piracy but copyright infringement – people would listen to each other’s music and rip it off, adapt it and stuff like that. Whoever came up with a new kind of hit groove or whatever, there would be ten permutations in a couple of weeks.


(What role did Stimela play?)

The interesting side to the whole thing was that STIMELA were signed to Gallo, but Gallo didn’t want to record them. They didn’t think that their music would sell … Stimela was actually formed from two bands that were like under the Gallo label, it was THE MOVERS and THE CANNIBALS. And they had been doing a lot of kind of American-style groove stuff, and things like that. They fused and they started recording with different record companies, under different names. What they’d do is find frontline guys, and that’s how bands like the STREET KIDS were formed. That was really all RAY and the Stimela guys. They started programming stuff - ‘Game No.1’ and all that. Some of it was live, some of it was programmed. That’s when the serious guys started to see what the technology could do, as well.


(Didn’t this cause contractual headaches etc?) 

Oh ja no (yes), there was. They [Gallo] tried stop them. Eventually they just relented and said, ‘OK, we’ll record you’, because hits were popping up all over the place. And they suddenly woke up to the fact that ‘these are our guys’. But they hadn’t tied some of them to production contracts, so they missed out on that one. But the reason I brought them in was it was interesting how they started using the new technology as well, and embracing it. 


(Was there competition among engineers/producers?)

I think everybody was out to kind of achieve what they could. It was an interesting period because we were trying to push the envelope all the time - and everybody was convinced that what they were doing was the best thing since sliced bread. But so much of it, if you look back at it, all had a similar sound. It became passé in the end because everybody kept going to those clichéd sounds. But in the initial stages, with the Yamaha DX7 and things like that, they were phenomenal sounds. This was like, wow! And then we became adept at actually being able to programme and I think engineers - the successful ones - became really good programmers at the same time. You had to.


(How did you cope with the rapid changes and innovation in technology?) 

You had to learn on the job. There was no period to sit back and (research/practise)… and it became a standing joke: who has the time to read the manual? You just get in and do it!


(How regularly could one churn out albums - weekly?) 

It would be, ja, just about (weekly). Maybe a bit longer, 10 days, two weeks max. 


(So you were always in the studio?). 

Ja, I was a workaholic for about 4 years, just 24 hours a day. 

(But if you love music…) Ja, it was a fantastic period. 

(Did you consider it work?) No. You know, for me, the greatest satisfaction was actually – when I used to work at Downtown Studios, we’d walk up to the Carlton Centre, and go past all the taxi guys and hear songs that you were working on, blaring out while they were washing their taxis. It was a heck of a kick, that whole mass communication thing. 


And then going to festivals and seeing that songs a lot of the time badly translated by bands. The bands of the artists, they were desperately trying to play [the programmed stuff], which was kind of impossible, you know.


(No backtracks?) No, it wasn’t even considered. The biggest problem – you know the keyboard stuff and that – was one thing, but it was the drum loops and all that kinda stuff that they battled with. And I mean eventually you ended up with sometimes – I’m trying to remember the name of the group, I think Cheek To Cheek or one of the Gallo artists – I mean they had six keyboard players on that stage! (Each) just doing one thing or the other, because you’d just layer loads and loads of the stuff.


(What was it like working with Mally Watson and Attie van Wyk?)

With Malcolm I was just an engineer … Malcolm was phenomenal. He was probably one of the most disciplined musicians I’ve ever come across. And I mean that in a big complimentary way. He always had his stuff pre-programmed well. He knew what he wanted. It was always a pleasure working with him. It was the easiest. For me it was a huge compliment. It was an interesting period, because that was when I had left the Gallo group, and I was a director at RPM studios, and just said ‘enough’. I was working as an engineer, I was the chief engineer, but I was made the director, I think to keep me quiet. But I left, I said ‘no’, I went to freelance. And Malcolm immediately picked up the phone and said ‘do you want to come and work here’? I said ‘great’. 


So I was working with Attie, and with Malcolm. They were at the stage probably two of the (best) producers (in SA). So I’d do a day with one of them, then I’d go and do a night session with the other.


It’s a collaboration. The producer is somebody who normally will take the project from A to Z. An engineer will come in and in those days the engineer’s role was kind of more – obviously there was a whole lot of technical areas, with tape machines and mixing consoles (so you need more than one person). 


With Malcolm, he’d pretty much mapped out the songs in preproduction. That’s why I say he was really organised. He’d do a lot of that. With Attie, he and I would sit and actually write all the programming. They both came from enormous musical backgrounds. I mean Malcolm was one of the top session players. 

 

Attie and Malcolm ... there were other guys involved. And I think that the interesting side – they were two white guys who were doing it … I think eventually that wore a bit thin. 


(Why was it often white engineers & producers in studio with black artists?) 

I think of lot of it was just that they were coming up with the popular melody lines. The black guys were coming up with the grooves, and the rhythmic side of it, but the lyrics and melodic structures (were done by whites). And I think that’s where the thing took off. Because before that, it was kind of all OK but it was just really amateurish. And all of a sudden we’re hearing, like, the ‘Weekend Special’s – you know, timeless melody lines. 


An interesting anecdote with YVONNE was that ‘Umqombothi’ which has become her signature tune, was done on a Monday morning. We started missing around with a cassette of some groove that Phil (Hollis) had found. Or no it hadn’t… the track he wanted us to kind of copy and adapt or whatever hadn’t arrived, so we started messing around. And Yvonne was there, and wrote this, kind of composed this tune. And (it was) Attie, AL ETTO, myself and Yvonne. And Phil came in later in the afternoon and listened to it, and said, ‘No, that’s rubbish - absolute rubbish. It’ll never sell!”


I mean the grooves were quite extensively researched. It was a lot of time … especially with Chicco, he used to spend an enormous amount of time working on a groove. I mean he’d take a groove and go and play it in a club at night, and see if people reacted to it. it was all about the groove and the bassline. And once that was locked down. You see, that’s where the guys like Malcolm and Attie were good. They’d take that and then put some nice chord changes, verse and chorus structures and so on… Before that, it was just this endless, repetitive groove. 


(How did lyrics come about?) 

You’d try and come up with some kind of concept for the song. And then write a rhyme around it. But it certainly wasn’t a case of lyric first, and then melody… (groove was main thing). And I think even today, a lot of it is like that. It hasn’t changed that much.


(What was it like working with Steve Kekana?)

Ken Haycock was the MD was CCP Records, which was the black division at EMI. Ken was phenomenal. My fondest memory with Ken was I’d done an English album with STEVE KEKANA. We wrote all the tracks, and he said, ‘you guys go have some fun”. I don’t know where they come up with the song - ’The Bushman’. And it became this (hit). Technically it was a huge amount of fun, because it integrated drum machines and live drummers… it was a melting pot, cos I’d worked at VideoSound, and they were doing Gods Must be Crazy. I phoned the director and said ‘can we have access to some of the Bushman stuff?’ So the guy in the (song), the bushman, is the genuine guy from the Gods Must be Crazy. It become this big, massive crossover hit.


He (Kekana) was the most phenomenal singer. He was just a singing machine. I mean it was frightening what he used to do. He’d just go in and sing and sing and sing. And do all the harmonies and just track them, and it became this huge sort of synthesized voice sound. Everything was … vibrato .. everything was just perfectly matched. It was frightening. And he was such a great human being. I did stuff with Malcolm with him, I did stuff with Tom Vuma, who did a lot more indigenous African stuff, earlier on. And then we did an album… Steve went to Gallo and we did an album. The Stimela guys actually played on it. I just remember because the sleeve was phenomenal, the guys were all in dustbin outfits…


The problem is that most of the black music in those days was not given a huge amount of credit. A lot of the deals that were done were extremely dodgy. People were handed recording contracts, with a publishing contract kinda tucked in, and they’d just sign away (their rights). It got better (in 80s), but…


(Some black artists must’ve been making money though, right?) 

They were, but by the same token, the record companies were creaming it. so … if we looked at the deals today, there’d be different structures in place. There were…especially young, up-and-coming people were kind of cajoled into signing deals that were not that kosher.


(Any memories of working on Sipho Hotstix Mabuse’s hit BURNOUT?)

We’d done another version of the song. And this conversation came up. Sipho was playing around with the piano one day. And I recorded it, put in on (tape) and said, ‘That’s a great lick, we should do something with that.’ And he went away. I’d just got a LinnDrum - that day, or the day before. And I was playing around - how did this thing work? (I found) it’s got a rolling tom pattern in it, and thought ‘oh, that’s really cool, but it should be doing this…’ And that’s how the song (started). 


And then he went in and played the piano lick. Steve Kekana actually came in, he’d been out partying with some friends and wanted to show them the studio. I said to him ‘come and sing on this’. He said ‘No, I can’t’. He went away, dropped his friends off, he came back and said, ‘This song has been going in my head, I want to sing on it’. and that’s how it happened. It was a bizarre situation (coincidence). And that was the time….


What happened was that Gallo heard the song, and heard the potential in it and said, ‘Forget the rest of the album, we’ve got enough, don’t worry. You’re taking too long.’ It was the first 4-track album that came out.


(When did the bubblegum era start to slow down?) 

I found eventually I started to get very bored with it. I think probably for me, one of the turning points was when one of the heads at one of the independent record companies came in with a cassette of an artist I had just finished co-producing, it was a pre-release copy that he’d managed to get hold of. He said, ‘This is what we need to copy. This is gonna be huge!’ He didn’t know [that RM was the one who did it]. I just thought, ‘No, this is starting to feed back on itself.’ 


(When was this?) 

Probably late 80s, I think. And that’s kind of when it started changing … CHICCO became more aggressive in a way, almost militant, in his lyrics and things like that. I think we started to incorporate more and more live instruments into it. There always had been the live (element)… the drums tracks were programmed, but the bass player would play live, or the guitar players, or stuff like that. 


I think people were buying less but they were also buying slightly different ... it was more international, and a lot more of the kind of higher-level musicianship - the STIMELAs really started to blossom. 


I think the labels started to make less money. From my point of view, I started, as I said, to get bored... I think I probably made that apparent to Attie and Malcolm. For me, I think once we’d done ‘Too Late for Mama’ with Chicco (producing), then I did the follow-up album, which had ‘Black President’ on, but the rest (of the album) didn’t really have anything (special) on it. 


I started doing an enormous amount of film work then at that stage. There was a period when there were big tax concessions for movies being shot in this country, so (there were some) huge soundtracks being done, or fairly big soundtracks. A lot of that, in the late 80s. I did some stuff with Katinka Heyns. And then.. I did a very interesting movie with a guy called Jeremy Lubbock, who was an ex-south African guy who’d done the “Nuts” soundtrack with Barbara Streisand (and) who worked with Michael Jackson. He was a guy who had been living in LA and was known as an orchestrator. 


So I think I’d sort of moved on and said ‘OK, time for change’. I was doing quite a lot of stuff with Ray at that point. He had done the GRACELAND thing and people had picked up on him. He was doing a lot of demos that were picked up by a French record company. But then he went out on tour with Graceland, I think for 18 months, and they kind of lost interest.


(Any more thoughts on Graceland?) 

I think there were some issues, certainly, when it came to who had contributed. I know Ray had some quite heavy legal sort of fights about getting just rewards and stuff. But I think in the end, if you look at what’s happened with LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO, I mean its put them on the map. I think initially everybody though ‘OK, that’s it, that’s the floodgates opening, we’re gonna have this deluge of local talent flooding the world markets’ and stuff like that - and it didn’t happen.. Ja, there was some exploitation, I mean let’s face it, but (a few of) the guys (involved) have certainly benefited from it, as well. So I don’t know, I wouldn’t like to get a whole moral attitude (about it now).


(Why was music of the 80s was so successful and why has it been largely forgotten?)

The biggest tragedy was that the archiving system was chaotic. And a lot of the multitrack masters got wiped. And burnt – EMI had a huge fire, I think it was in the early 90s. I know also that a lot of the Gallo multitracks were recycled, they’d say, ‘OK, its released, so we can wipe those multitracks.’


You know, it’s part of the heritage that we have from South Africa, of the culture. But it was never recognised by the government of the day. A lot of it was kind of looked at as subversive, or to keep the masses happy. I don’t think that people really realised the potential of the songwriting in those days, and the performances. I mean that was…. the early days of those synthesizers and the drum machines and things like that, but there was still very much a performance-orientated mentality to it. I think also the songwriting was approached in a different way, there was a lot of buzzing going on in the studios, but there was a lot to write about. There was a huge amount of playing with concept ideas, the lyric ideas, to be subversive but not to be apparently subversive.


(What are you doing these days [2009]?)

I’m still working in studios. I do predominantly a lot of DVD productions. We shoot live shows, various acts. We did HHP this year. We did JOYOUS CELEBRATION. I do sometimes get involved with the visual guys, but I’m not a visual person. I’ll actually project-manage it, and put guys in whatever (roles). and we do a consulting thing with a big studio in Durban, a government-funded thing, they wanted a top-flight studio director. It’ll actually be up and running this week. It’s been the last sort of month and a bit. But it’s fun. 


And then we’ve got some … I can’t even give you any details, because I don’t know too much about it. but there’s some big international producer who’s coming out to do a collaboration with some local producer.


You know, what’s kept me going is the technology. I love the technology. And the changes. I really embrace that. 


For me, the late 80s and early 90s period was when I got involved up at Bop Studios, when they first started up. And that’s where I kind of probably lost track of what was happening in the local industry. I was doing a lot of stuff with…CAIPHUS had come back at that point, so I did a long project with him … and I mean the early 90s I was pretty all up in Bop, that was just…. you know, from studios here which had started to become really dated, it was this 10-year quantum leap into technology. I mean they were the top studio, it was all suddenly digital multitracks ... But I didn’t go through a period of that growth. It was just from here, cranky old 24 tracks and all that, and into what’s happening in LA right now (at Bop).


A couple of us, DAVE SEGAL is one of the other guys, embraced it. He went up there (Bop) all the time trying to do projects. He’s now with EDDY GRANT. He was LUCKY DUBE’s engineer – he did all the albums, he did all the live shows. So the band’s been picked up by Eddy Grant, and they’re touring now. 


© Afrosynth