The fourth episode of the Gallo Vault Sessions explores the role of talent scouts and producers as proxies for white-owned record labels and just how influential they were in shaping the sounds of ‘black music’ in South Africa. But also, how they were the buffer zone between labels who profited off Black recorded music and the artists who bore the brunt of a financially exploitative industry. And it cemented Johannesburg as the hub of the record industry.
It touches on the legacies of mega producers Griffiths Motsieloa, Cuthbert Matumba, David Thekwane, and Rupert Bopape who between them discovered signed, and marketed many of the major artists of the era from Dorothy Masuku to the grandfather of maskanda Phuzushukela, Mahlathini and more.
We hear from legendary penny whistler & organ jive player Bra Lulu Masilela from The Boyoyo Boys, who despite writing many major hits never received any songwriting credits; as well as Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse, Bra Mike Swaratle, Gallo archivist Rob Allingham and the charming origin story of Mam Hilda Tloubatla, the original soprano from The Mahotella Queens.
She tells how her parents packed her off to boarding school, but it was only her luggage that made it there – she hopped on a different train to Joburg and landed on Gallo’s doorstep wanting to sing. Her timing was impeccable as the legendary producer Rupert Bopape happened to be short of one singer for a session he was recording that day. That session was the last piece in the puzzle that led to him forming the Mahotella Queens. It also led to Mam Hilda’s parents finally finding out where she was – they saw her in a picture in Drum magazine performing at a farewell concert for Letta Mbulu who was heading into exile.
Many other musicians of the time had similar stories, of how they would hang out on the street corner that housed Gallo, EMI and all the other recording studios, hoping to be picked up for a recording session. The intersection became known as ‘loafers corner” eventually immortalized in the hit of the same name by Orlando 7.
The producers also took on the role of marketers, testing the appeal of their new recordings in their ‘mobiles’ – vans with a large set of speakers on top which would play the newly recorded songs outside the train station as commuters arrived for work. And if anyone liked a song they were given a slip of paper with a number on it and told to go to the nearest record shop to order the album.
However, most of the artists didn’t sign any contracts and were only paid fees for each session by the producer. It wasn’t until the arrival of educated musicians that the producer as proxy practice largely ended. As Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse tells it, Gallo initially tried to get them to work with a talent scout, but they refused – they were talented enough to look after their own affairs, write their own music and crucially enter into negotiations with the labels on more sound footing. Accompanying episode 4 is a specially curated mix by Naledi Chai from Fly Machine Sessions, exploring the sounds from some of the producers in the show.
The series is narrated by Kineta Kunutu, and researched, produced, and written by artist, researcher, DJ Zara Julius at KONJO. Gallo Vault Sessions is presented by Gallo Music in collaboration with KONJO. Episodes one to four are available on select digital streaming platforms with a new episode launched on the last Thursday of the month, until August.
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The remaining episodes and their release dates are:
EPISODE 5 (27TH JULY ’22)
South Africa Abroad / Beyond the Cultural Boycott
EPISODE 6 (24TH AUGUST ’22)
The transition years: 90s and 2000s club scenes