THE 70'S WERE GROOVY
1977 The dust from the ’76 uprisings hung heavy still on the horizon. The news ran with a headline that Winnie Mandela had been banished to Brandtford in the Orange Free State; a State anything but free. Randolph Hartzenburg, my ex high school teacher, friend and artist read the news; the stirrings within him birthed the song, Nelson. I did the music and our band, Cold Bones, performed the song.
Much of the music in the struggle years painted a world alien to the one lived in by the oppressed of Apartheid South Africa. Cold Bones became the voice for a world denied. Their style of music mirroring a country in tumult. Nelson was not Cold Bones’ only song; their range and repertoire of song, a country’s shadow put to song.
Nelson became an anthem in 1985. It’s a song that’s been playing through my life.
ENTER THE 80'S
Come 1985. The student turned teacher. My haunt was Oaklands High School in Cape Town. Vivid images of our school surrounded by massive “anti- riot vehicles" still crowd my memory. Caspirs of the not so friendly kind, larger than life policemen dressed in camouflage keeping a hawk like eye over Oaklands High School; over the students who took to the streets singing “freedom songs.
Students believing their words and music would change the tide; would change a country.
Cold Bones was underground, but Oaklands had a school band. I fed the band a diet of all the subversive songs we’d been raised on in our youth. The struggle repertoire included original songs, protest songs by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Victor Jara, Bob Marley, etc. Unwittingly, I stirred trouble deep as parents often were not sure if I was teacher or student.
The Oaklands Band was young. They derived most of their material from songs they had work-shopped with their peers. They produced catchy renditions of old Rock and Roll songs, adapting the lyrics to reflect the social conditions prevalent.
When all hell broke loose during the student struggles of 1985 the band belted out songs that were Blowing in the wind. Blowing the winds of change. They performed the Toyi Toyi with electric guitars and drums, captured the fever of a militant youth, a restless time.
The Oaklands band was popular and was invited to just about every mass rally. They played whether the cops threatened to “come guns blazing”, or teargas- hailing.
I, as the good teacher, “student sat” them whilst they performed at the student rallies. At one particular rally, there must have been at least 3000 students who had gathered. The Oaklands band broke into their last song "We are the world" All the students held hands and the sea of solidarity moved to the rhythm of the song. Wow. The BBC was there with the cameras freezing the moment. The day was tense day but something bothered me. Yes, the safety of the students - but that was par for the course. It was more, was knowing how much more sting the message what have if it sounded better.
I approached a prominent music store and very naively asked if we could borrow sound equipment for our rally. Roy of Paul Bothner was as cool as you can get: "Take what you need, it’s on the house!" was his retort. And so I launched off into a "new career". Sound man and caretaker of the student band during school hours.
In the spring of ‘85, I attended a fundraiser for victims of famine in Ethiopia, held at UWC. A sardine, in a packed hall, I was transported by the sonic treat flooding my ears. South Africa’s best sax man, Robbie Jansen, played Congo's. When his hands and fingers struck the vellum of that drum, he struck a chord deep within me. I was catapulted into oceans deep.
My ears were reborn! Never knew it could sound so real, so mystical. I knew then I wanted to be part of this world.
I carried the ‘fund-raising’ seed with me. It incubated as I collaborated with artists, musos and poets. On the 27th October of that year it germinated with the “Concert Against Detentions”. A staged stand against the "detentions' gripping our land; a vociferous protest against the State of Emergency which prevented folks from holding meetings.
The state of emergency was declared on the 27th October 1985. The very day the Luxurama Theatre in Wynberg, Cape Town, rocked with the “Concert Against Detentions”. The very day we hosted a meeting of minds like Basil Manenberg, playing Tenor Sax; Paul Abrahams, playing Abdullah Ibrahim’s, Maneneberg; the young Oakland’s band playing the song, "Casspir Massacre” and Peter Horn Civil War Canto Number 1. The sound waves of resistance resounded to the State. Shivers marched down listener’s spines. The sound was great.
The winds of change started blowing in the 90's. I was still teaching, but moonlighted in the evening at Dock Road Theatre. A landmark now better known as CD Wherehouse.
The 90's dawned to a radical technological makeover altering the familiar face of the sound industry; but changes take their time to trickle down to the Southernmost tip of Africa. Engineers mostly still operated in the black and white world of the familiar. Those were the days engineers had to create their magic, make a mix work.
Theatres here was not initiated in the graces of good gear or reliable radio mics. Down to the engineer to compel the sound to sound so good, people has to comment about how good it was.
Did a thousand shows of the musical Fairy Land for the prominent duo of musical writers, Taliep Pietersen and David Kramer. From the Pietersen, Kramer stable, I also did District Six the musical, one of the most successful musicals in South African history. Also Kat and the Kings, which won a Sir Laurence Olivier Award as best musical when it was performed in London.
Round and round the cassettes turned (can you believe it we actually ran backtracks off cassettes), as shows changed stages from Joseph Stone, The Ritz Hotel, The Dock Road Theatre. What a time warp it feels like now. At times the cast complained that I had slowed them down; other nights they were apparently on fast forward but like "Ole Man River"( Most beautiful version sung by Salie Daniels from the show Fairyland) they just kept on rolling (hissing) along. Just by the way each track needed TLC; Eq. changes on both channels and all frequency bands.
Still with all this very "technology challenged" equipment we were using, the magic came pouring out from Talieps and David’s shows (full houses and standing ovations) and I in the middle of it all.
My adventures with the late night show of acapella group Not The Midnight Mass made me think that the human voice was the most beautiful instrument...
This launched me off on another journey. In search of the perfect vocal sound......
ROUST ABOUT 90'S
My initiation into pro audio came in the mid 90's, with Depeche Mode doing a gig in Cape Town. I was listening to the UK Soccer result outside the Three Arts Theatre, where I guess they were rehearsing. Next thing I know, some blokes ask to join me in the car. I had no idea who they were. Little did I know they were some of the band and crew of the group curious to know England’s soccer results. I kept them posted on the score and so got to meet John Lemon, their FOH engineer. Saw his gear. Midas desk with the whole range of Summit Gear, Eventides and Tube tech stuff. Man, I was blown away. My black and white world, burst into colour. I tried to buy some of this gear locally. Nearly died. Stuff was either priced out of the water, or dealers stared at me as if I was talking a different language.
I look at the wonderful toys you have today to color your sound I think to myself " You are lucky my friend"
1997. My wife hands in my resignation at the school we both taught at. She announced, “It’s official. You are now a sound man!” The educator in me slumped into mourning. But I forged ahead. There were new students waiting in Sound’s wings...
Started Eastern Acoustics Live. Then started getting in the gear from the States. I had a H3500. On a day I sent an email to Summit Audio and was amazed at how responsive and friendly people were. I had an enquiry for a Avalon 737. Contacted Brad Zell who was at Avalon then. So my audio kinship grew. Yet most folks down here thought I was mad trying to sell the more 'esoteric gear" as they called it...
South Africa then could have been viewed as an emerging market to pro-audio. Fair to say, that the current face of the market is a far savvier one than 10 years back.
Then it was quite common for consumers to simply regard all pre-amps in the spirit: “a pre-amp is a pre-amp. Period”. Forget the merits in seeking greater or distinctive functionality from a particular brand.
The interest point to equipment was its price; the cheaper the item, the more cheerful consumers were in making the purchase!
It’s taken all of 10 years for this mindset to evolve slowly. The impetus for the evolution has been varied; the power of the information revolution, the internet and no doubt, the power of products as experienced through demos. Nothing like exploding into a different world when experiencing a new piece of gear, one that you have set your heart and mind on for quite some time and finally you can try it- no strings attached! With Eastern Acoustics Proaudio’s investment in Summit Audio, Millenia Media, SPL and other high end products, the growth spurt accelerated. And so slowly the appetite for high end products was tickled and stimulated.
And the market awoke to a new face of pro-audio consumers.
Eastern Acoustics Proaudio may have started with 1 product, but quickly saw that a cross-section of products was needed to appeal to the range of tastes, price and other consumer interests.
Eastern Acoustics Proaudio positioned itself in the South African Market as a distributor able to compete in terms of price. It’s created a small but inspired audience who knows they can get a great product here that they can get overseas; but with a promise of swifter after sales service and backup should anything go awry.