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White Elephant Studios

by Dave Durbach / 06.04.2011

“Sorry I’m swearing, but I’m the moerse cross. And I’m a musician, so I have the right . . .”
Struggling maskandi artist Ibhubesi Elimhlophe, aka Shaun Terblanche, is ranting, doubling over and shouting into my cellphone voice recorder in the hope that I’ve got a direct line to the president.
“Look, Jacob Zuma, you must please open one big moerse studio for us musicians, Jacob Zuma. And let us record! There must be all the facilities there, Jacob, guitars and drums and keyboards. And we mustn’t pay for studios, Jacob Zuma, and SABC must pay us our money directly. SAMRO is robbing us, Jacob Zuma. They don’t give us our real money.

“Please, Mr Jacob Zuma, make one big moerse studio for us, Jacob! And let us record there for mahala so that musicians can do their work. And we must have all the facilities there. We must even have food there, Jacob. We must have everything there that we need. We don’t really need food but we just need that studio. And Jacob, we need to get paid directly from these motherfuckers here, Jacob, the SABC. Their name is SABC. Please, thank you, Mr Jacob Zuma. Amen.”

You can read more about the mlungu maskandi sensation Ibhubesi in MAHALA 3, but right now this unprompted diatribe seemed to be directly relevant to ongoings at the state broadcaster. A few hours earlier, I had switched on the TV that morning to hear Ringo Mandlingozi talking about the SABC’s shiny new studio, due for its official launch that night.

Like many others, I was under the impression that the good people at the SABC were trying to tighten their belts, not splurge on high-end equipment. Since 2009, widespread reports have surfaced about the SABC money problems, endemic mismanagement, along with huge pay-outs for top brass and big cuts for everything else.

SABC M1 Studio

Surprising then that the SABC is now pulling out all the stops to upgrade their flagship M1 studio at their Radio Broadcast Facility (RBF) in Auckland Park. Not only did they reportedly spend R10-million on bringing in the P200 Solid State Logic production console, the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and turning the studio into a larney performance venue, they paid a slew of top stars to perform two songs each and dished out the free food, booze and swag to their “esteemed guests”, most of whom were SABC bigwigs and music industry suits.

The M1 Studio at the SABC RBF was first built 32 years ago to record the likes of the National Symphony Orchestra. It has now been revamped and, according to the SABC website, about 90% rebuilt, apart from the impressive organ that covers the entire wall behind the stage. This process included a newly designed stage, seating, foyer and other essential studio amenities like kitchen facilities and bar area.

The line-up for the night opened with young guns like soulman MXO, pennywhistle revivalists Kwela Tebza, R&B crooners Jaziel Brothers, rapper Tuks Senganga and sexy songstress Asanda Bam. Grizzly Afrikaans folkster Anton Goosen got some warm applause, before Stimela set the place on fire with their new-look line-up, which includes a sexy young thing called Portia playing a six-string bass, a white rastaman on guitars, a young replacement for the late Nana Coyote, and no less than three keyboardists. Their rendition of “Whispers in the Deep” made the entire night worthwhile, with Chikapa shaking his ass like it was nobody’s business. Winnie Khumalo got down like a woman half her size, covering Brenda’s “Promises”, before Future Sound, Bricks and Ringo Madlingozi finished things off.

SABC M1 Studios

Between their short sets, the suits came out to pat themselves on their shiny suited backs. Speaking on behalf of the SABC board, Head of Group Communications Kaiser Kganyago had this to say: “Anyone who thought they were dreaming – wake up, you are at the SABC. We are about radio and television, and the major part of radio and TV production is music. Therefore it is obvious that we build a partnership at the SABC with the music industry. This is a very important place where most of our content is going to be generated.

“We have installed in this studio one of the best technology gadgets. The P200 SSL console is one that has been used by some of the best musicians in the world – like Mariah Carey, Katy Perry and the ever controversial Lady Gaga. I know her too, it’s not only for the young ones.

“This studio signals a bond between ourselves, the music industry and our audience… We are now calling upon the music and performing arts industries to come and utilize this prestigious studio, which is going to create memories. The SABC is here with its 18 radio stations and 3 television channels, presenting to you an era of technology, which is digital. Everybody knows that we are moving to a digital world. And we have started in here.

“I always say this to other people – never compare the SABC to anyone else. We are the only public broadcaster in this country. No one can compete with us. The others are small. We are reaching out to more that 24 million people a day. Who can compete with that?”

“Nobody!” shouts an evangelical yes-man in the crowd.

RBF general manager Gelfand Kausiyo also paid thanks to everyone involved in getting the project completed on deadline, before the end of the financial year (which ended the night of the launch), since it was first conceptualized 3 years ago (when news of the SABC’s financial crisis first emerged).

SABC M1 Studios

Rapturous clapping and more back-slapping met Kausiyo’s list of names of those involved in the project – “especially the BEE companies that caught taxis from Soweto every morning to come and build this studio,” he added. Somehow I doubt that’s what the bosses of those companies are using for transport, or even that Soweto is where they’re living.

“Everyone is going to want to come here, and we’ll welcome them with two hands, because we are the only public broadcaster. It’s about empowerment, for all of us.”

You said it, Kaizer. This studio may just have proved that the suits haven’t done nothing at all. But what about those musicians, like Shaun and many others, who can’t afford to pay thousands every day to record here? What is government, and the SABC in particular, doing to help up and coming artists who are struggling to put food on the table through music. Fighting piracy? Funding music education? Subsidising studio recordings? Or throwing self-congratulatory parties for expensive white elephants. Keep up the good work, SABC!

SABC M1 Studio

SABC white elephant studios

SABC M1 Studios

*All images © Dave Durbach.

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