The final episode in the first season of the remarkable Gallo Vault Sessions podcast looks at the music industry under transition post-independence through bubblegum, kwaito and up to Amapiano today, and brings to a close a vital reexamining of our complex musical past, this time with insights from Don Laka, Simphiwe Dana, and Dr Sipho Sitole.
The 6th episode thinks through South African music from the late 80s and considers how technology affected its sound, how music finally broke free of SABC radio censorship to the rise of powerful Black female voices and the breaking down of the industry-sanctioned silos governed by producers and talent scouts. Music really was starting to be set free. And yet despite these giant strides, it reflects on how we still tend to hear more American music on the radio than South African.
Accompanying this episode is a KONJO curated mix by Nombuso Mathibela, and gives a journey through Gallo Music transitioning out of apartheid.
It starts in the late 80s, which saw the emergence and dominance of a new sound that reached beyond the sounds of mbaqanga, isicathamiya and sax jive and came on the heels of bubblegum – Kwaito. Given birth to largely by Kalawa Jazzme records – a collaboration between DJ Oskido & DJ Christos and Don Laka – it was the first-time audiences were hearing free expression and multiple vernacular languages spoken on tracks, playing on the radio! Finally South Africans were hearing the ways they actually spoke reflected back to them on the radio through Kwaito; mixing Afrikaans with Setswana and isiZulu.
In addition to this significant aesthetic, it saw the rise of Black women occupying a new performance and fashion style in the wake of household names like Miriam Makeba; as Brenda Fassie kicked down the doors of respectability politics in the bubblegum era, icons like Lebo Mathosa walked right through them. Lebo Mathosa’s legacy in South African music and aesthetics can still be seen today with the explosion & success of women in Amapiano who are currently dictating the fashion and dance styles of the scene.
On the label side, Sipho Sithole had advocated that Gallo Music take seriously their commitment to this new sound of South Africa, and they made significant marketing budgets available for the new artists they signed: Simphiwe Dana, Skwatta Kamp, Thandiswa Mazwai, and more. It was an exceptionally exciting time in the industry, and for Gallo Music in particular…across genres!
However, after this mid-2000s era, many labels found themselves in turmoil…and Gallo Music was no exception. They released most of their major artists from their contracts; and shifted much of their focus towards publishing. Today they are rebuilding on their incredible legacy of music that informed, reflected, and influenced the South African music’s industry’s development. With commitments to projects like this podcast, the signing of a new roster of artists; and Gallo Remixed, a series of recordings that celebrates the record label’s 95th birthday by reimagining treasured African songs from Gallo’s catalogue for a new generation; with Grammy award-winning DJ & Artist Black Coffee as executive producer.
As the first season of Gallo Vault Sessions draws to a close, we look forward to bringing more music, stories, and cultural insights of the vast Gallo Vault to our listeners.
Gallo Vault Sessions is presented by Gallo Music in collaboration with KONJO. The series is narrated by Kineta Kunutu, and researched, produced and written by artist, researcher, and DJ Zara Julius at KONJO. Episodes one to six are available on select digital streaming platforms
Engage and follow the story on social media:
Instagram: @gallorecordcompany @k.o.n.j.o