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Home is where the music is

Hugh Masekela (talking to Mothobi Mutloatse)

I remember we use to live on isinkwa. When we saw musicians eating fish and chips and being drunk in the streets of Johannesburg you could tell that something had been put on wax. (Laughs). We are laughing now but it’s a sad thing y’know. Gallo makes millions of rands. But you may wonder if they know that it takes only eight thousand dollars for a student musician doing a degree course. If a recording company can make three millions out of Harari why don’t they send Sipho Mabuse or someone else to Berkeley or maybe even open a music school in South Africa. We have super talent back home.

The only thing disco is all about is love. I love you baby. We’ll boogie all night. Shake your moneymaker. Do it to me tonight. Do it to me three times…Now we’re trapped, man. Disco is a social tranquilizer. You don’t recognise other things. We can’t boogie for the whole year.

The opportunity I got, every musician deserves it. When I went to school in New York the fees were 900 dollars a year and my rent was 90 dollar a month. I also worked part-time. Compared to records which are sold, that’s nothing. They also don’t pay for radio plays and publishing. There is not even one artist who was sent to a music school by a South African record company. Am I right? This is because they don’t want another Miriam Makeba – who will talk all this stuff I’m saying…
We were able to meet artists in US who fought against racialism despite the fact that they were in an industry that exploited to the tilt. People like Dizzy Gillepsie, Miles Davis and others fought the record companies. To their detriment for a long time but they fought, man, and they survived. They are not only a class in a clamour.
For black musicians ekhaya it is difficult to be an activist because in the end you no longer record. You close shop and then have to find a job as a backyard mechanic or something…I couldn’t have survived in America without Chisa Records in which I partnered with a white businessman.
It’s amazing that Kippie Moeketsi has been around for such a long time and he has never made an LP on his own. It’s only when Pat Matshikiza or Dollard Brand calls him that he’s been able to do something. There’s an image hanging around him that he is a drunkard. Truth is he has been frustrated in his attempts to set things straight for black artists. Bra Kippie is among the most brilliant artists we’ve ever had and also a champion for the rights of his colleagues. Even militants used to call him a troublemaker…Jy kom kry ‘n man is kwaad over his royalties but in the end he says thanks mister Golembo!
During those times Golembo was running Gallo. These were guys who ran away from Mussolini’s fascism in Italy. The point I’m making here is that these issues are never talked about. We never say that some white people who are hardly devoted to the field are hired to watch us.
I remember when I was a clerk at the Germiston administration offices a township superintendent would come all the way from Stellenbosch and learn the pass and permit issues from us. Six months later when he already knows the job he would jump on us, man. One way or another the system catches up with you.
It’s a rough thing to minimise exploitation of musicians. I am not saying people should strike but if artists do not perform what will be done? It will be said that I reside in the US. Some will say that’s politics. But it’s economics, man. People need to eat. If a man is making a million dollars and pays you fifty dollars, there is something wrong. And if you accept it there is something wrong with you too.
I haven’t had any regrets or setbacks in my music career. Coming from Alexandra township, mfowethu, and looking what I am and what I’ve achieved – shit man, if I say I had setbacks I would be greedy. I only wish my fellow colleagues could have the same opportunities I had. It doesn’t take going to America to be successful. If Rashid Vally can sell records, there is no reason why there shouldn’t be a black recording company. All the entrepreneurs who own supermarkets blah, blah, blah should realise a challenge or even work as affiliates to big recording companies. All the profits come from black artists. You need something in favour of these artists, man. If Nico Cartens is making millions with his boeremusik how come Ntemi Piliso remains a pauper when his songs are for a much bigger segment of the population? I think the buying public should wear off the idea that musicians are irresponsible, immoral and drunkards. They must realise that these people represent their culture. They express their aspirations and inspiration. They are the chroniclers of their feelings.
It is not true that the buying public prefer overseas artists to the local ones. We were nurtured on Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan and Nat King Cole. There is always this slot which is exploited to the maximum to try and make a dispute….Agreeably it is a South African anomaly. Since we’ve developed this taste way back they are trying to make us look black American.
Disco is everywhere in the world. Just like twist, it’s a sickness. The only thing disco is all about is love. I love you baby. We’ll boogie all night. Love is the thing. Shake your moneymaker. Do it to me tonight. Do it to me three times…Now we’re trapped, man. Disco is a social tranquilizer. You don’t recognise other things. We can’t boogie for the whole year.
The black artist must be his own master – not only as a producer but economically. They should take the ledger line. They must make partnership in distributing and calculate howmuch is needed to distribute widely. This, in ignorance, has always made musicians look like dried out drunks. For instance a buffer is created between blacks and whites. A sort of middle class. Some people who will aspire to live the white way. If we have cultural dominance, say, and they happen to like the Mahlatini groans, they’ll turn out to be like us. They know that we look after their kids…So a place like Beverley Hills (Orlando West) or Dube comes into being, where those who are not driving a BMW are so backward.
The real issue is not apartheid. If there’s anything, we don’t want to stay with whites. Apartheid yona itself is in our favour technically. We have nothing to lose – we are poor anyway.

This article was first published in Chimurenga Online (2003)

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