They say music is soul food. And one of the most soulful music styles of contemporary music comes out of the island of Jamaica: Reggae. Marked as subversive during the South African Apartheid era, it provided an important spiritual force to establish self-consciousness: “Get Up Stand Up” by Bob Marley, “Equal Rights” by Peter Tosh are timeless anthems of freedom fighters all over the continent and still played in dancehalls and at homes.
Today music is an international billion-dollar business, making it hard for new bright stars to enter the scene. But, like in Jamaica, there are lots of talents all over South Africa. Their voices can be heard in the streets but they never make their way into the studios because this is costing a fortune for them. Well, if they cannot come to the studio, the studio has to come to them.
In August/September timeframe a recording project has been conducted at the House of Judah in Khayalethu, a suburb of Knysna, with the goal to give local artists an opportunity to put their talent on CD. Executive production responsibility was in the hands of Livity Labs, Germany, which provided a mobile recording environment in professional studio format to the community. The project was coordinated by the local Reggae artist Iniqwa, who spent neverending efforts to arrange tracks and to organize singers and players of instruments.
One does not have to be a sound engineer to understand that professional recording is difficult in areas without sound-proof rooms. Once barking dogs are on the track, it is hard to get rid of them. So where to record?
Local chef and DJ Ras, Brother Mau-Mau, provided his restaurant premises for recording. “This is a community project and I am happy to support it”, says the Kenyan chef. If the environmental noise became too excessive, alternative locations had to be used such as the Jah Works B&B of Sista Kerri McKenna, empty shacks or even the shop at Nzmeni Street, the main street of the House of Judah. An unusual sight for customers, who however enjoyed unexpected and free live music.
By recording instrument for instrument separately, and using special microphones, a total of 19 tunes have been recorded in 2 and a half weeks time frame.
A number of instrumental tracks were provided by the German Reggae artist Dub Covenant. This enabled the recording of bright singers such as songwriter Sister Leah, Ras Mau-Mau and the 17-years old Sista Julie with her fast yet sweet Reggae tune “House of Judah Rock”.
“I never imagined that I could manage this,” says Sister Leah. “It is an inspiration to continue singing.” Or Sister Julie: “It is so different to record a song from just singing along.” Even more, Rapper Red Hot Chili, the youths of the Sunday workshop a.k.a. Rasta Rebels and the Rastafari Nyahbinghi Choir added broad musical variety.
The Judah Square All Stars album will be available in December 2013 at the House of Judah and locally in Knysna. The project is an example for the low-cost production of excellent music. There are numerous talents to be discovered. Who will be the next?
Blog contributed by Achim Ibenthal.