A battle against forgetting

2013-08-19 00:00

SOME youthful passions last a life-time. For former Maritzburger Matthew Temple, who now lives in London, and Kloof resident Chris Albertyn, music has been a constant since they were friends and students together at UKZN in Pietermaritzburg in the early eighties. Although they now live on different continents, they’ve channelled their obsession into various collaborations, including a blog and a record label that focuses on reissuing old SA jazz from last century.

They were at the Cape Town launch recently of the reissue of an album by Sathima Bea Benjamin, wife of Abdullah Ibrahim and a musician in her own right, which Matsuli Music has produced. Benjamin, now in her 70s, performed songs at the launch from the album, African Songbird, which was first released in 1976.

Jazz aficionados may know of her but Benjamin has long struggled for a wider audience. Although not without recognition — she was once invited by Duke Ellington to be a permanent member of his band, and received the Order of Ikhamanga in 2004 for her contribution to South African music and the anti- apartheid movement — for most of her life she has lived in the shadow of her husband’s career.

In Maritzburg recently visiting family, Temple explained how they came to be involved in reissuing music. He and Albertyn started a blog called Electric Jive in 2008 to share SA music from between 1950 and 1980 that’s out of print. They both contribute to the blog, along with two other enthusiasts, Siemon Allen, a Durban-born artist living in the U.S. and Nick Lotay from the UK.

“For me, it’s not just jazz, rather I’m interested in rare recordings that are no longer available, but are part of the canon of SA’s jazz heritage,” says Temple about his interest. “I want to make that available. EJ is about sharing stuff, documenting SA’s musical heritage, [especially] black urban music from the fifties to the eighties.” He says Electric Jive is “probably the biggest archive of SA records that’s available with narratives and long essays describing music”.

Temple is the main mover behind the Matsuli Music label, which started in 2010 but had been germinating for a long time. Albertyn describes his role in Matsuli as “a supportive back-room partner and strategic sounding board”. It took three years to get their first licensing deal from Rashid Vally, who ran the As-shams (Sun) label and Kohinoor Records in JHB in the seventies and eighties. Vally had established a friendship with Ibrahim at the time and issued seminal recordings of his in the seventies. “He gave the artists free rein so this was a wonderful opportunity for them,” says Temple.

Matsuli has reissued three albums so far: Chapita by Dick Khoza, a drummer originally from Malawi who played with all the main bands in the late ’50s, early ’60s; Batsumi, a recording from 1974 by a Sowetan group called Batsumi and Benjamin’s album.

The print runs have been small — 1 000 or less — and notably vinyl sales have done the best.

“It’s a niche market interested in music,” says Temple by way of explanation. “Enthusiasts and serious collectors have gone back to vinyl. Copies of these three original records would cost R5 000-R10 000 on eBay. We’re tapping into collectors who want to own the records but can’t afford originals.” He added that Vally did small print runs of the originals so they are hard to find.

Temple says he’s “essentially production co-ordinator”, involved in everything from licensing to outsourcing the remastering, packaging and paying the artists. “Payment is a real tricky issue. Because of how black artists have been ripped off by the white recording industry, how it’s done is tricky — I don’t want to step into the role of white exploiter. I try very hard to make sure artists get the royalties that are due to them.”

It may be a lot of stress for an extramural pastime, but for him it’s worth it. In London he’s a procurement director for an IT company. “Doing this is necessary to counterbalance that,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed music — it’s always been something I come back to. I would feel lost if I didn’t have it in my life.”

Ideas for new projects are already taking shape in his head. “I’m trying to convince Abdullah Ibrahim to allow me to release some recordings which haven’t been released before. I also want to write a book about Rashid Vally’s life and his contribution to SA music, and possibly do a documentary on him.

“And there are so many archives that exist but no database. That’s another thing I could be involved in. These projects are all about a battle against forgetting. Because things go out of print they recede from view.”

• See www.electricjive.blogspot.com


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