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The Parlotones – LA is a great big freeway

It took them four albums, probably over 200 gigs a year, and a lot of work, to become one of the most loved rock bands to emerge from the modern South African scene.
One could argue whether Colourful was their breakout hit, and got them established with major airplay on mainstream radio. Others would say it was their rendition of Lisa se Klavier that got them noticed by the public. Whatever it was, young girls went gaga when they heard that the band were playing at a venue close to them.

Of course, as time marched on, like many a South African act, they felt that they had done all they could locally, and decided to relocate to Los Angeles, which is still the nerve centre of the world’s recorded music scene. They are obliged to return to local shores four times a year to perform, as part of their contract, but they have spent a lot of time overseas of late.

They join the ranks of many a local band who made the jump overseas, only to find it a lot more challenging than they initially realised. Just Jinjer confessed that when they were there, they went from playing gigs of 6,000 people in Jozi to gigs of 6 in LA. Likewise, Tree 63 spent a considerable amount of time in Nashville, with lead singer Jon Ellis returning to Durban for a while. Seether made a very successful go of it overseas, but it is believed that Shaun Morgan has a house in Cape Town and spends quite a lot of time there. Maybe once Africa is in the blood, there is just no getting rid of it.

It was Burt Bacharach and Hal David who spoke of LA being “a great big freeway, put a hundred down and buy a car, in a week maybe two they’ll make you a star, weeks turn into years how quick they pass, and all the stars, that never were, are parking cars and pumping gas.” And of course it was Dionne Warwick who sang about it. But whatever happens with The Parlotones in America, they can be justly proud of their achievements so far, and they should just keep doing there what they did here: work consistently, and keep working. Like all of us, they may have no control over where fate may take them, but at least if they’re aiming in the right direction, they are far more likely to get there. Good luck boys! We’re all rooting for you.

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Evolution of house music in South Africa

SA is generally regarded as one of the largest House markets in the world. House owes its origins to the great city of Chicago, but has found a modern home in Miami, and is also part of the pulse of what makes Johannesburg such a cool and vibey place.

Some would argue that House emerged as the contemporary successor of Kwaito, though this line of thinking would stimulate great debate among die-hard fans of Kwaito, and puritans of House. Some may even argue that this is one of the reasons why Mandozahas lost his spark, and why a song like Nkalakatha would probably not work in 2014. Well, that really IS a matter of debate.
But perhaps one of the reasons House music has become so prevalent is its engagement with the DJ – this is music that is easily translated onto the dance floor, and easily translated onto the decks. Many a DJ is also a producer, and the music that is born in the studio often makes its way into the public arena when the producer goes out to DJ at a gig or a club.

Of course, the irrepressible Soul Candi Records is the doyen of House music in SA, and has given the music scene the likes of RJ Benjamin, Crazy White Boy and most recently, MiCasa. Soul Candi’s incubator of House beats in the past was their music school, which taught DJing and House music production. This function has subsequently been seconded to another college, but is still done in conjunction with Soul Candi.

And although downloads and music file sharing are becoming a bigger issue with the local music industry, such activities actually fuel the growth of House music, as it becomes popular organically and virally when it spreads across computers, phones and flash drives. To quote Sergio Botelho of Soul Candi: “Music is actually more popular now than it has ever been.” Preach it, brother!

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Richard Branson’s engagement with music

Did you know that Richard Branson made his first million from the music industry?

As with Clive Calder, there is a strong South African connection here. First, it must be said that Richard Branson absolutely loved Nelson Mandela, and had huge respect for him. It was Nelson Mandela who asked Branson to help out an ailing gym company called Health & Racquet, which is why it eventually became Virgin Active. Read more

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Clive Calder: the silent music billionaire

Rumour has it he still loves watching cricket at The Wanderers Stadium, and that his mom still lives in Orange Grove. This is Clive Calder we are talking about, referred to as one of the ‘Big Clives’ in the music biz, the other being Clive Davis, over the years the head honcho of a number of record labels and arguably the man who turned both Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys into stars. Read more

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That’s MR Jay-Z to you!

So what’s up with Beyoncé’s hubby? You have to admire the man who came from nothing and built an empire in the Empire State.
Now in his 40s, with the musical world at his feet, Jay-Z is testimony to the power of hard work. He and the wife are musical royalty, and they have been instrumental in helping presidents come to power. It’s particularly interesting that Barack Obama’s strategy for becoming the head honcho of the United States cleverly and strategically involved invoking the power of America’s two largest and most important cities: New York and Los Angeles. Read more

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Madiba, music and the struggle

“Free-e-e-e-e-e Nelson Mandela,” belted Amy Winehouse a few years ago, long after he had been released from prison. She was singing at a 46664 concert, which Madiba had endorsed and wanted to have happen, for yet another wonderful philanthropic cause.

South Africa’s beloved leader, Nelson Mandela, never professed to be a musician of any sort. The country’s favourite father, who died in December 2013, was a great personal brand builder, but never showed an inclination for music. How is it then that his legacy is so inextricably linked to music? Read more

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Idols: is it still relevant?

Let’s pretend to be Dennis Hopper and Keanu Reeves from Speed: “Pop quiz, hot shot! How many Idols winners or finalists can you name from the last ten years?”
Chances are, not that many. Started in 2001 in South Africa, Idols is the local spin-off of the highly popular British TV show Idol, and its American spin-off American Idol. It promised fame and possibly a few riches for the many who took part. And so they flocked to the cities from far and wide, to audition, and become the next big thing. Read more

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The genius of Enoch Sontonga

If you take a drive along Enoch Sontonga Road, and pull into the Enoch Sontonga Park, you will find a small monument there to a man named… Enoch Sontonga!
Who was he? He was a musician who wrote Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the beautiful prayer and hymn that is forever part of the South African national anthem.
It’s actually hard to believe that the apartheid government banned this song, considering it to be far too political. It’s also hard to believe that at one stage it enjoyed prominent status in Tanzania and Zambia, and is the national anthem of both, so far from its South African origins. Read more

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How Psy broke all the rules with Gangnam Style

Gangnam is apparently a swishy area of Seoul not unlike Beverly Hills, and is to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, what Beverly Hills is to Los Angeles.
It was relatively unknown to the world until a South Korean artist named Psy wrote a song about it, which turned into a huge Internet smash, with over two billion views on YouTube – the most watched video of all time on the Internet TV station. Read more

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I am the one and only: one-hit wonders

Did Chesney Hawkes know, when he was singing his mega-hit song The One and Only, that it would be his one and only hit? Doubtful. As they say, hindsight is always 20/20 vision, or hindsight is an exact science.

What is it about some people that allows them to have a sustainable long-term career in music, and others a flash in the pan one? Is it luck? Is it circumstance? Is it the fact that some take advantage of a situation, while others take less advantage of it? Someone once said that the difference between Madonna and Cindy Lauper is that Madonna kept on evolving, whereas Cindy did not.
The world’s stage is littered with artists who have had one hit, and then faded. Read more

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