Words by Mercia Tucker
The Boiler Room and Ballantines have made their way to South Africa once again for True Music Africa, a tour dedicated to uplifting talent in the continent to a global audience. In a spectacular display of the strength of cross-continental conversation, Ballantines and Boiler Room hosted the True Music Forum on Wednesday night in Johannesburg followed by the Boiler Room event on Thursday night. The forum, held in Warsaw and Madrid previously, was the first for the continent and a hub of idea-exchanges in creative corners.
Ballantine’s Head of Music, Tom Elton said to me “True Music is a platform that we’ve created for two reasons: one, it’s to give a stage and a microphone to artists, dancers, creative people to get up and do their thing and we broadcast it and show it to the world. And the other thing is just to take good music and good entertainment to people round the world in their homes.”
He added “True Music is about giving a stage to perform but it’s not just about the music they create or the dance they put on. The reason we’re here tonight is the True Music forum. What we really care about and we think the world should care about is what they say and what’re their motivations. So, there’s two objectives and two ambitions of the True Music forum tonight. One is to bring together the music community to share ideas or exchange ideas but also, it’s to kind of inspire the next generation of people watching about how they can do it, how they can make a success in music, how they can follow their passions but do it their way without compromising. It’s about giving as much guidance as possible to that next generation which is why we’ve got the speakers we’ve got who have the experience they’ve got. They’re gonna go up and talk about true music as well which is so important. That gives the platform, for us, a totally different outlook. Tonight is how we talk through music and tomorrow is how we dance through music.
Hosted by the inimitable Helen Herimbi, the co-founder of Kalawa, Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa took to the stage as the first panel interviewee where he regaled us with tales of his growth in the music industry and peppered it with an impromptu breakdance. A true African music legend, the forum provided an opportunity for Oskido to ‘get the flowers while they can still smell them’ and pass some of his decades of knowledge and experience in the music industry to the audience.
Sabelo Mkhabela hosted the following discussion which asked the question “How is digital catalysing Africa’s creatives?” Joined on stage by Jepchumba and Muthoni Drummer Queen from Kenya, the panel was rounded out with Phendu Kuta from South Africa. The founder and creator of African Digital Art, Jepchumba creates unique online creative experiences while Muthoni Drummer Queen is an artist and the founder of both the Blankets and Wine and Africa Nouveau festivals on the continent. Phendu Kuta founded Unlabelled magazine in South Africa and together the three gave a robust and insightful discussion on the digital atmosphere on the continent.
The third panel, focused on club culture and foundation of new genres was hosted by Maude Churchill as she masterfully guided the panelists DJ Kenzhero, DJ Doowap, Boni Mnisi (a queer visual activist that hosts events in Cape Town celebrating womxn and non-binary people of colour), and Theresho Selesho, who started his career working on the Oppikoppi festival and now serves on the IFAS French Institute of South Africa Culture Committee.
The broadcast can be viewed on https://truemusic.boilerroom.tv/.
The following day saw the finale of the Boiler Room events on the continent which had the crowd eating out of Maphorisa, Moonchild Sanelly, Da Capo, Uncle Partytime, and Symatics’s hands with their performances.
On their role within artist development on the continent with their plat, Boiler Room’s Chief Business Development Officer, Steven Appleyard says “Different companies have their different specialisms within music. Record labels are still great at developing talent and distributing records. For us, it’s more from a pure, collaborative, non-competitive point of view. Just trying to help incubate and catalyse music scenes that are already getting a bit of buzz. There needs to be a meeting in the middle. Artists who are part of the scene need to have built momentum by themselves and have been getting hype by themselves and have developed it somewhat to the extent where we come along and are like ‘Look at what these people have built, look at what they’ve achieved by themselves.’ We need to come in and showcase that on the next level.”
On the significance of Boiler Room in Africa and the line-up particularly, Steven says “Why we wanted to come back this time was because around the world, especially in Europe, everybody’s checking for Africa in terms of music. It’s the most influential music spot in the world right now. But we wanted to come in and dive under the surface a bit more and see what are the different scenes that are going on. So, from around Joburg and Durban, looking at gqom music to more straight hip hop music going on here to the more house tinged lineup we got tomorrow, I think across Africa in general… We went to Nairobi, we looked at the new wave scene over there… Across the whole continent, it’s incredible but South Africa’s got this special place in our hearts, it’s really exciting at the moment.”
Tom added “There’s a reason why we’ve come back five times in four years. The platform has come here more than any other country and there’s a reason for that.”