THE SOUTH AFRICAN MUSIC JOURNEY AS TOLD BY THE LEGENDARY DJ CHRISTOS
South Africa's music scene has come of age in 20 years of freedom and to celebrate this, Beat Bulletin spoke to the legendary DJ Christos, who has been a member of SAMRO since 1990.
He spoke about how the South African music scene has evolved and also shared some tips from his industry notebook.
You made your mark in the music industry 20 years ago, when you launched Kalawa Records with Oskido, what inspired you to launch the record company at that time?
When we started Kalawa there was no dance music. The only popular musicians were Chicco and Brenda. The rest were one hit wonders. We launched Kalawa to make a difference. We focused on producing dance music and launching artists to produce diverse music. We did very well, launching some of South Africa’s big names including Boom Shaka, Busi Mhlongo and Joe Nina among others.
With Kalawa we were relevant, producing music for South Africans. However my interests were in expanding our market reach, and I was more interested in the interpretation of music, and expanding our reach by producing music that could attract an international audience. So, in 1999, I launched Kitsaitis Records. I let go of Kalawa to focus on Kitsaitis Records five years ago. I launched it to introduce a different genre - deep house.
Describe the South African music scene 20 years ago?
In 1994, South African music was non-existent, it was a dying breed. We were just playing Chicco and Brenda, and deep jazz, beyond that we had nothing. Looking back, it’s amazing how far we have come. South African music has achieved a lot, and has evolved a lot since the days of Brenda and Chicco. The late 90s saw the emergence of various new artists.
Then Oskido, DJ Fresh, Greg Maloka and I started the Southern African Music Conference, which became a platform for skills development for young people. We groomed young talented and upcoming musicians, including the likes of Black Coffee who has put South African music on the global map.
Five years after Black Coffee was involved with us he became a hit. This proved that the skills development programme was a success. In no time, South African deep house and dance music were in demand.
Looking at the international music scene today, South Africa accounts for at least 40 per cent (www.tracksource.com) of dance music consumed worldwide. Within a decade, we have seen a massive consumption of SA dance music globally. This is presenting a lot of work and opportunities for talented young artists.
These are things the youth ought to know. There are opportunities for talented young people in the dance music scene, and there is a market for SA dance music globally, because of the quality of dance music that we produce.
What’s changed in the way music is being made today?
The quality of music in the 90s was good, it had substance, artists invested in music videos, they spent money on it and they did it right. They invested in live instrumentals and the music quality was good.
Today, everything is done digitally, there are very few artists recording with live instrumentals. Creating music has become more convenient and faster and as a result we’ve seen a lot of artists come out in this era than 20 years ago, but there is a huge difference in the quality of the material being produced.
My belief is that in music there must be something for people to take away, something that will build, or comfort, or allow people to learn something, and there must be a positive message; whatever you say there must be something positive in it, whether it’s sad or happy there must be learnings for the listener.
What has been the impact of technology on music over the last 20 years?
When we started in the 90s, we were walking around with vinyl and LP records and cassettes. For a DJ that was a lot of work. It was just not physically possible to carry more than 20 records at a time, carrying all that around was heavy, at any given time you had over 20kgs of luggage to carry around to play at a gig.
Just to get the vinyl pressed to begin with was a mission, because we didn’t have a vinyl plant in South Africa and had to send it to Zimbabwe to get it pressed, and so it was really quite an expensive exercise. Making music was also expensive. To get into studio to record would cost at least R30 000, just to kick off. That is the equivalent of a couple of hundred thousand rand today.
Technology has made making music a lot cheaper and easier. Today, all you need is a PC and software to kick off, and with about R10 000 you can start recording. With a memory stick that weighs less than 500g, you can play an entire gig.
What has competition been like in the industry?
Back in the day, we were stuck with the major record labels, the big companies dominated and monopolised the space. In the late 90s a lot of independent labels started emerging, and today out of the 20 that were there, they’ve been swallowed up by the dominating .There are a number of independent labels that have sustained for various reasons. In this industry, people tolerate each other, because if you are good at what you do, you work together with other people, whether or not they are your competitor.
The future of music 20 years from now?
Over the next five to six years we will get to a point where music is given away for free online. Artists will make money out of performances, events or selling merchandise, and not the actual music sales, given that even the music that’s being sold is still being shared. South African music is flying the flag high and we are making inroads in the international market.
What advice would you give to up and coming musicians? Register your works with SAMRO it pays, and don’t do it when you have released that big hit, do it even at the idea phase. A lot of musicians release big hits that get great air play and nothing else to show for it because they never register their works, and a lot of the time you find that it’s not that they don’t know, they are just too lazy to do the admin, and just can’t be bothered. The reality is that admin must be done, and once it’s done it pays.