Updated: May 3
CEO (Total Exposure)
I think there are some serious cultural moves happening now, 18 years into independence.
There are two South Africans in the news currently doing big things: Musk and Twitter; Black Coffee and the Grammy. Although I don’t think we should think of Musk as South African. And I don’t want to think too much about what a Musk Twitter future looks like right now. I’d rather like to think about the future that Black Coffee is creating for South African music. It’s bigger than a Grammy. And it starts with a podcast.
When Black Coffee bought a stake in the largely moribund Gallo Record company a few years ago, the deal generated interest and muted excitement, when in fact it should have got people sitting bolt upright in their seats. What Coffee was buying on paper was the largest catalogue of African music masters in the world. But in reality, what he was doing was laying the foundation for a new exciting future – he’d just bought the history of South African music and was setting it free.
Coffee started with two things post-purchase – first, revisiting the giant catalogue to introduce a new generation to some of our classic hits by giving free reign to today’s stars to rework those hits.
And second, a project that is perhaps more significant and exciting; a new 6 part podcast series called Gallo Vault sessions - a trawl through their massive music archive trying to make sense of it politically, socially, and culturally. And to celebrate it with some seriously good mixes.
It's remarkable that it has taken 18 years of post-independence before anyone seriously started to revisit, rewrite and review our rich, exciting, skewed music history. And what is equally remarkable is that it is being interrogated by a new wave of young people.
Let's be clear it’s not Black Coffee doing this himself, but he has given free rein to seriously ambitious, creative young people to explore it.
It is a young cultural agency Konjo, spearheaded by a serious young cultural warrior Zara Julius, in conjunction with Gallo Music that tackled this massive podcast project, unpacking just how much the politics of the past determined our music industry of today. More so than perhaps any other country in the world. Even the US.
It throws into relief just how much we still use language of that time – and how the podcast sets about finding new language to talk about our history. It’s fascinating. As is the realisation that there are a number of young DJs deep in the scene, vinyl collectors of old rare cuts. And Julius, one of them herself, tapped into this wellspring, commissioning them to create unique mixes for each episode. They’re setting a new cultural agenda, outliers for now, but they may well be the harbingers of a much bigger new scene.
The revisiting of our past is important as one major Amapiano artist remarked to his label “the kids today cite me as an influence for their tunes, but I don’t think they realise just what my music is built on - Miriam, Hugh and a host of artists I grew up listening to. We need to access our past.”
I like that these projects are starting to happen now– it reminds me of the awakening that followed independence as the borders suddenly opened up and we could and did, to a person, consume everything from the outside.
Now fittingly we’ve turned inwards to relook at who we are and I think these are the green shoots of a very interesting new wave to come. We must be grateful for these preternaturally talented people like Black Coffee, they come around infrequently with a big vision and the ability to bring it to life. And as Black Coffee said on receiving his Grammy – "I also dedicate the award to every African child who has a dream of excelling in anything they envision. I want to affirm that it is all possible." And this podcast is another step on that journey of believing in ourselves.
But this also gives the promise to take a slightly longer-term view. Our focus is so much on the now, the next tweet, the short term; but actually, it takes a generation to change things. And culture changes things definitively.