The making of Concord Nkabinde
25 December 2015
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. We have a returning guest on the show today, Concord Nkabinde, welcome onto the podcast once again, nice to catch up. It is the end of the year, compliments of the season to you.
Concord Nkabinde: Thank you Brad, same to you, so good to be back.
BB: Concord, the last time we spoke, we spoke a little bit about your journey into music and where it all began and as you said, your ‘arrogant’ decision to go and study music, but one that you haven’t regretted. Out of school and working as a musician in South Africa, it must have been challenging when you got started, obviously not many people knew who you were. Was that decision the right decision, tell me about some of those struggles that you had to overcome to get to where you are today.
The contracts of being a local musician
CN: I was asked that question recently and the tendency to want to talk music when you talk about the journey, but my response to that is, my journey has been a sobering one, if I can put it that way. I say that because you experience the best moments, the highs and then the next time you experience lows.
That’s going back and forth between those two, for me, has been a good lesson for balance in life in general. I’ll be touring with Johnny Clegg and playing on the most amazing stages internationally and after that tour I come back to Jo’burg and the next day I’m carrying my own amp into the car, going to play a small jazz gig in a club somewhere.
For me, that has helped me to be grounded, in a sense. For some people, when they experience the best and the highs in life, they then start demanding that everywhere they go, irrespective. For me, the journey has been a very special one in that sense, but also I’ve learnt, as I was saying, that the journey is not about the music itself.
We need to find a purpose and it doesn’t really take much. If you look around you and look at the needs, you look at the needs to develop people and people need therapy. South Africa we’ve been through a hectic history and our music and our arts can play a very crucial role in terms of speaking to the lives of people.
As artists, we really need to try and get in touch with that aspect of life. Because then it will speak to the kind of arts that we create and that art will then be consumed by the very people that need to hear that and I think that’s a win-win situation.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
BB: Concord, what inspires you as a musician?
CN: People, I love people and whenever I engage with people, even a five minute chat with someone that I’ve never met at a supermarket, can make me get home and make me want to write a few verses down. I think without people, what we do is really pointless.
I enjoy interacting with people and lately I’ve loved working with young people cause apart from sharing knowledge with young people, there’s so much that we as adults can learn from this generation that some people believe is a lost generation.
In their world they probably see us as lost, but I love the energy that young people have and for us to interact with them. It helps balance that energy so that it has depth as well. For us, as well, it’s a balance, even as we grow older, we need not lose the energy for life and that’s what I enjoy.
BB: Looking at some of the names that you’ve worked alongside, it’s the who’s who of South African music industry, if you look at the South Africans you’ve worked with. You mentioned Johnny Clegg, you’ve worked with Ray Phiri, amongst others. There have been some big names, what would you say and it’s a difficult question, but what would you say has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Some of his favourite giggs
CN: Two jump into mind. The one is definitely working with Johnny Clegg. I worked with Johnny for six years, just touring the world and learnt so much from him. Johnny is a true scholar and he reads a lot and he’s always willing to share the information that he picks up wherever he goes.
Just in terms of understanding also the business side of the music, the concept, how to come up with a strong concept, I learnt a lot from Johnny Clegg. He knows exactly what he wants and it’s helped sustain his career for all these years.
The other highlight would be receiving the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2006. It came as a surprise and what’s special about it is that it’s not one of those awards where you have to ask for votes and so on. But it’s a panel of professionals in the industry who observe who is doing what and again, it’s not just about the music. They look at your being a leader in music, being an ambassador for the arts and also the potential you have to grow your career. That was very special for me.
BB: You mentioned the youngsters coming through and the talent that we’ve got in this country, the landscape has changed in the music industry over the last 12-24 months, five years, it’s continuously changing and as we get more and more into the information age, the faster it changes. What’s been the biggest innovation do you feel in the music industry and what’s been the biggest thing that’s holding us back?
Ideal for musicians to be independent
CN: How much time have you got? Look, I’ve always been passionate about musicians being independent and by independent I mean not signing with these big record companies. Since day one I started as an independent. In the early days I wanted to get signed as well because after a while of being in the industry, you get told that the only way you can get ahead is for you to sign to a record company.
But when I look at the implications of that, it didn’t make sense to me because I wanted to hold ownership of my own work and so I can explore it and take it to wherever I want to take it. We’ve seen a growth in a number of artists that want to be independent. I must say, many of them still don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s a process.
The industry is getting very messy at the moment, but the ones that will do well are the ones that will emerge out of that mess because they empower themselves with knowledge. To understand how the business side of the music industry works is not that difficult. There’s so much information on the internet, there are books available and there are workshops that happen all the time, even though most musicians still don’t attend those workshops.
When musicians take their careers into their own hands and go independent, the results, the one we’ve seen is that we’re starting to hear varied genre of music, not music that has been decided in some boardroom in a record company that this is the most ‘in thing’. So everybody must do the same thing.
We’re starting to hear more original music and if I may say, more honest music from the artists. I would just encourage artists that want to go independent, make sure you really empower yourself with knowledge and you’ll be surprised how many things you actually can do yourself, from all the gifts that you have.
Nice to have control over your own talent
Some people have people’s skills, some people love writing. Yet we sign every right away and the record company will put a publicist for you, they’ll put a manager and a booking agent and all these people have to be paid and often you don’t really know what they’re doing for you.
As an artist, try and do things first yourself and where you fall short, then you can outsource and bring in whoever you bring in for a specific period of time. For me, the industry is exciting in that sense and to make reference to the fill up the dome thing that happened recently. That’s quite an extreme, not every artist will be able to do that, but what it did, it made a lot of artists to really look at how they do business.
Really look at how they interact with sponsors and really feel encouraged that if we put effort, there’s a lot we can achieve before we even approach sponsors and by the time we want to approach sponsors, actually they maybe want to approach us.
The space is changing continuously and also sponsors are realising that some of these artists are actually able to achieve so much without us, so they might have to think differently about how they sponsor music and so on. It’s interesting times and unless we have knowledge to manoeuvre around these times, we will fail as artists.
BB: I couldn’t agree more. Knowledge is power and it’s up to each and every one us to become empowered, it’s not going to be handed to us, we need to go out and seek it. I think that’s fabulous. Concord thank you so much for your time once again here on Old Mutual Live, we look forward to catching up again soon. Thanks very much.
CN: Thank you Brad, see you soon.