Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Mosu Matsie 585 Studios – Budding Success

There is hope post Covid-19 and my fears of a dormant, if not none, responsive jazz community to current plans seem to have been alleviated. One of the many solutions I might have not looked at closely is the growing number of recording studios. I suppose it could be that I have always thought it is just a trend that will pass after a short while.  Frankly, I never investigated the reasons for these studios that are mushrooming almost everywhere.

I recently received an invitation from Rapula Kurre Mhlanga to check out his new home-based studio. Prior to that he had indicated that he planned to build a studio and that he was looking to buy state-of-the-art recording equipment. I did not make much of the conversation at the time until I went to see his recently completed studio. Here is how best to describe this new studio; ‘a musician’s heaven.’

My first concern was the impact of the lockdown with restricted movement and of course social distancing. I committed to the visit and I was all prepared to go and view this newfound space. I was impressed with the layout, especially the size which makes it easy to follow most of the new ‘normal’ Covid-19 regulations.

One would think because this is a home-based setup, there is a possibility that current regulations would not be observed. No, that is a totally wrong assumption and I was pleasantly surprised to be met at the gate with a bottle of sanitizer in hand. We joked briefly about the ‘new normal’ as we were walking towards the studio. What a welcoming environment with some truly inspiring paintings that clearly define Rapula’s character and his love for African music! I was not surprised though, to find Fela Kuti’s portrait as a main centre piece. He has been Fela’s disciple for many years and his commitment to anything and everything Fela Kuti is truly inspiring.

After the tour of the studio, we sat down to discuss his plans. First, I have to share Rapula’s background with you so that you can contextualise his plans and the rationale behind some of the decisions he has taken. He has been in the music business for ages and in his journey, he has interacted with a lot of musicians both in Botswana and many other countries. Some of them have had some success and independence, while others fell into hard times. The Covid-19 pandemic has not helped much in reviving the livelihood for those going through hard times.

Rapula’s humanitarian side, which I had never seen before, started shining as he was sharing how he plans to invite musicians who are struggling to come and use the facility to reboot their lives in preparation for post Covid-19. This is not all. The same opportunity is being offered to sound engineers of all levels. This is an amazing gesture and I applaud Rapula for taking such a stand.

While help may need to be qualified, it was clear that there will be consideration for reasonable and affordable recording rates for artists, especially new and aspiring ones. I have no doubt in my mind that as we look to a mixed emotions future, there are people like Rapula who are thinking beyond the pandemic and are actively participating in the provision of tangible solutions. They have gone past the chat shop stage and I find that very encouraging.

So, how much of his plans are in motion? The studio has had its first gig; doing some recording tests with some musicians who really deserved the opportunity. The quality of the test recording bears testimony to the state-of-the-art technology Rapula has invested in. There has been one or two minor set-backs due to the regional lockdown which obviously he has no control over. The fortunate part is that he has managed to establish the viability of his project and the opportunity to test the equipment was key.

As at the time of writing this article, a sizeable number of restrictions had been lifted and therefore, allowing the work to continue. After taking everything into consideration, my view of what studios should be has changed and probably widened my expectation of what they could be. Rapula has come up with a formula that addresses the majority of the industry problems which date back to pre-pandemic era. At the top of the list of solutions is that the fact that this is more of a community-based project, it will effectively deal with issues in the arts trenches. Rather than have a one size fits all solution, each case is unique and based on merit without impacting negatively on the quality of the service one can expect.

This is a new project with a huge potential and, without a shadow of a doubt, a key solution to most of the problems the arts industry is likely to face post Covid-19. Therefore, as we rethink new strategies and cleaning up the old ones, let us not ignore the efforts, such as Rapula’s, that have already gained traction and are moving in the right direction.

So, why did this Mosu Mantsie 585 Studios make the It Has To Be Jazz® project review? The current pandemic has no boundaries and the trail of destruction it has left behind is testimony to its power. But then human resilience, as demonstrated by the likes of Rapula, reminds us that with unity there is nothing we cannot achieve. Rapula stood up to be counted and it is something to be applauded.

In the meantime, be safe and be considerate of others. Always wear a mask. Most importantly observe all restrictions. Covid-19 is real.

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The Telegraph October 28

Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 28, 2020.