Speech by Minister Pallo Jordan announcing the Downtown Music Hub Project, Newtown Johannesburg

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17 Apr 2009

Good morning all,

This morning’s occasion is a celebration of one hurdle cleared in our national striving to mine the rich vein of creativity embedded in South Africa’s diverse musical traditions. One hurdle cleared because this is the beginning of what will become a voyage of hope and discovery. 

At Moshito, one year into my term of office, among other things I posed the following challenge:

“Globalization is now a fact of international economic life. Open markets, which invariably also impact on cultural industries, including the music sector, will either be a threat or an opportunity to grow our cultural industries exponentially because of the new patterns of production and distribution. Even though cultural goods and services are consumed all over the world, their production is still concentrated in specific regions of the world. There is, consequently, a highly skewed market with an asymmetric structure. But the global trends are irreversible. South Africa has a simple choice: we either adapt to that reality or learn how to create opportunities for ourselves within that environment; or we go under, to the accompaniment of loud protestations and bitter complaints.”
Minister’s Speech at MOSHITO, 2005, Johannesburg.

Let us all agree that South African Music industry has the potential of becoming a major foreign exchange earner and job creator provided we can maximize its potential and market it aggressively at home and in the international music market.

One of the spin-offs of the political revolution of 1994, is the emergence of a fairly affluent African, Coloured and Indian middle class, who have seized the opportunities that opened up in 1994. The most significant segment amongst these range in age from thirty to mid-fifties, correlating closely with political events of the year in question. The rising spending power of these and other Black middle strata is the stuff of first year economics classes.

After fifteen years, this is no longer a new market segment. Perhaps what has not been sufficiently appreciated are the opportunities its existence offers as well as the challenges those very opportunities pose.

Now that might sound like I am talking in riddles, so let me explain.

A dialogue that frequently transpired between African and African-American musicians during our years of exile usually involved an element of point-scoring. Among the issues that were regularly tossed about was the extent to which the music of the African diaspora had come to dominate the popular genre of the twentieth century. By the 1960s this was a self-evident fact with respect to both the Americas. This owed much to what has been referred to as the cross-over, White musicians from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, imitating the acts of African-American musicians, which in turn opened the door for the authentic sound to acquire a wider audience. That invariably raised the question, has the dominant position of music produced by the Africans of the Americas, created an equivalent effect with regard to music from the mother continent?

What strikes one as ironic is that very few of the participants in that oft-repeated discussion ever reflected on the reality that control of this lucrative African-American music industry was located outside that community. Before the irresistible rise of Berry Gordy, African-Americans were the foot-soldiers of this industry, but none were commanders and generals.

The first challenge we have to face is how to develop and grow what is potentially a significant portion of our cultural industry while ensuring that the community of musicians, in the first instance, and the community they derive from at large, benefit directly from its success.

What we are planting this morning is the seed of a public private partnership in which we shall involve both corporate and community investors, working jointly with government through the Department of Arts and Culture. We shall create an inclusive structure that can stimulate broad-based participation by organizations and bodies in the music sector as well as corporate and institutional investors.

The receptiveness of the world community to South African music is testified to by the success of Miriam Makeba and a host of other South African musicians on the international stage. Because they were far from home, the South African musicians who have made a mark internationally have been marketed and promoted by non-South African promoters and record companies. The return home of many of these artists is an important cultural and economic reality we are neglecting to our peril.

The second challenge we face is to create a better future for South African musicians and the SA music industry by using the success of Makeba and others as the platform for a SA musical offensive in Europe, the Americas, South Asia and the Far East. I am convinced we can open up these markets to musical products from this country. The range of these has also increased exponentially with the convergence of a number of information and communication technologies.

But our initiative must also nurture hope amongst that indispensable element in our music industry - the artists themselves.

The greatest single constraint on the launching of a musical career is access to recording facilities. This initiative seeks to lower the barrier by making recording facilities, the pressing of records, their distribution and sale, and availability more accessible to the most talented of our musicians. The Downtown studios will be transformed into South Africa’s first music hub that will provide opportunities across the entire value chain of the music sector.
We envisage a digitally-driven multi-media production house that will meet the quality standards required on the music market place.

The partnership will be structured to provide a bridge for second-economy independent music creators and producers. What we want to see is a state of the art South African local content production hub.

As a partnership amongst state, corporate and community based entities, this will not be a state-owned enterprise. The government, through the DAC, will be one amongst many investors. A board of directors, reflective of the relative weight of the partners, will oversee the company which shall in turn be under the management of professionals.

The possibility of establishing a number of such state of the art recording studios in South Africa’s musical hotspots should not be ignored. The example of this hub, we hope, will be emulated in other parts of the country. Acting with such a company rural communities could explore setting up a number of mobile studios that can operate in the rural areas of all the provinces.

In addition to exploiting the new avenues for marketing that 21st century telecommunications offer, we should investigate the possibilities of building a relationship with major international marketing companies. Nor should we neglect the possibilities of investing in such companies and smaller niche labels as a means of gaining access to European and American markets. In a number of instances this could have the added advantage of repatriating the music of South Africans exiled in Europe, North America and other parts of the world.

The coming Soccer World Cup and related events offer the South African music industry a marketing opportunity second to none. Thousands of soccer fans from around the world will descend on our country, most of them young people, with disposable cash and eager for good entertainment. Interesting partnerships between our hub and the old established companies to re-issue and distribute old and out of print recordings; the creation of musical documentaries on the various genres of South African popular music; as well as the recording of new compendia are all potentia that must not be overlooked.

We want to create a unique and innovative music production entity that will empower all the stakeholders in the music industry, with special emphasis on the musicians and the communities from which they are drawn. It should become a significant player in local content development across all genres of South African music. Building on the research the DAC has supported at Fort Hare, the University of the North and the University of Zululand, there would also be a special focus on traditional and folk music.

South Africa could become the centre of a continental African music and entertainment industry. By inviting other leading and emergent African artists to use our recording facilities and offering a globally competitive marketing and distribution capacity, this Downtown Hub could perform a vital role in projecting African music internationally. In other words we would like to see a vertically integrated operation that talent hunts, records, promotes, distributes and exports South African musical product and related media, employing the most up to date communications and information technologies available.

Skeptics have warned us of the power of radio stations and especially their disc jockeys. We are aware of that power. But others have overcome it in the past. It will not thwart us today. Piracy is another threat that we shall not shirk facing.

To realize this project we purchased this studio from Gallo/Avusa in November 2008. Since the beginning of this year the Cultural Development Directorate in the DAC has been involved in the development of a business plan.

The Minister shall be appointing proposed board members who shall oversee the establishment of a Section 21 Company to run the Downtown Hub.

The success of this venture is going to depend on synergies amongst all the players in the music industry in the first instance. But beyond that, other sectors and players in the South African economy should find ways of co-operating with us. Amongst our first marketing challenges is persuading the tourism sector to come on board. The national carrier, SAA, should have more South African music on its entertainment menus. We should persuade SAA to have an entire programme devoted to South African music! Equally, hotels, B ‘n Bs, resorts and game parks should include South African, especially local music, on their entertainment menus.

Synergies will also be required among the existing South African record producers, especially those of long standing, new producers and those that shall hopefully emerge as a result of this initiative.

I commend this Downtown Music Hub to the artists and musicians of South Africa. We have used your taxes to create a new institution that will serve you. We invite you all, to use it.

Thank You.