In the early 1980s two South African producers teamed up for a project catering for disco dancefloors. Emil Zoghby was by then already well established, first as a solo crooner in SA in the 60s before moving and finding success in the UK. The younger of the two, John Galanakis was a top session musician, also touring the UK with TREVOR RABIN and recording in the US with MOROCKO, now delving into production under Zoghby.
Their relationship had started a few years earlier in the UK, Galanakis recalled in a 2009 interview: “I was also doing some productions with Emil Zoghby, lots of stuff — from porn sci-fi movies [probably alluding to 1979’s Spaced Out, aka Outer Touch] to the brother of Nat ‘King’ Cole, FREDDY COLE – we did an album for him, sort of big-band style, orchestral, and all that kind of thing [1980’s Right from the Heart, where he is credited as John Gally]. He was mainly producing, I was the engineer, arranger and musical director — wrote out all the parts, and things like that.”
Upon Zoghby’s return to South Africa in the early ‘80s, he set up Heads Music and produced some of the the country’s top acts, including THANDI ZULU (aka TZ JUNIOR), MARA LOUW, Shangaan disco originator OBED NGOBENI & THE KURHULA SISTERS and the early STIMELA side-project ADAYE, as well as popular soft rockers BALLYHOO’s 1982 album Ballyhoo Too.
As in-house engineer for Heads, Galanakis honed his production skills under Zoghby’s tutelage. “After Morocko, I got a bit fed up with musicians and egos and that, and I just got into the studio, producing and arranging. Emil came back here [to SA]. We worked together for about 3 or 4 years, doing production.”
While not working with other artists, as a production duo intent on feeding a young and increasingly hungry disco market, Zoghby and Galanakis released a string of 12” singles as STARLIGHT in 1983: typically cover versions of international hits — Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘Family Affair’, David Joseph’s Joseph’s ‘You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)’ and Klein & MBO’s ‘The Big Apple’ — backed with their own compositions on the B-side.
When the time was deemed right for a full album, it featured only one cover: the recently released local track ‘Picnic’, composed by Sello Mmutung and Keith Hutchinson and originally released as ‘Picnic (Moger)’, and also covered by Stimela side project Kumasi around the same time.
Besides ‘Picnic’ the album contains five of the duo’s original compositions, including their similarly styled response, ‘Picnicing’, which replaces the original’s sax with spaced-out synth stabs. Then there’s ‘Jah Jah Love’, an ecstatic disco sermon of dancefloor dynamite weighing in at over eight and a half minutes.
Other tracks on this landmark album — ‘Let’s Go Dancing (Boogie Boogie)’, ‘Keep On Moving’ and an eponymous instrumental — offer a similar fusion of classic disco with newer Italo and proto-house influences: machine music with a human touch!
Laying the groundwork of much of what would follow, Starlight showed how it was possible for forward-thinking South African producers to defy the status quo and make music for a multiracial, ‘crossover’ market united by their love of disco. Underlining Starlight’s appeal, the cover artwork for the album was done by Zulu Bidi, best known as a musician and artist for BATSUMI.
Galanakis would soon become one of the key behind-the-scenes figures in South Africa’s bubblegum scene as head of the Hit City and Leopard imprints, while Zoghby too remained active after Heads with other labels such as Smash, Local, Third World and Midnight Beat. Sadly both are no longer with us — Zoghby passed away in 2014 and Galanakis in 2018 (RIP). But their music lives on: remastered from the original master tapes and reissued for the first time, Starlight will be available on vinyl and digital platforms from early 2023 (40 years after its initial release) via Afrosynth Records.