BASSLINE – 10 Henry Nxumalo Street, Newtown, Johannesburg. Virtually every major South Africa music star has performed on a Bassline stage. Bassline in the downtown Newtown Cultural Precinct, has become an institution amongst music fans. In its 20 year history the venue has hosted over 3000 concerts featuring many of Africa’s most famous stars and world music icons as well as most music acts that have emerged in South Africa since the 90s – South African jazz & Shifty artists such as Vusi Mahlasela, started their illustrious careers at Bassline. – www.bassline.co.za
Brad Holmes of the Bassline said: “The Bassline celebrates 20 years this year. In all that time we have been driven by our motto ‘In Music We Trust’, and if there was ever a South African record label that epitomises that shared DNA, it’s Shifty Records. The Bassline is proud and honoured to be associated with Lloyd Ross and all things Shifty, and we look forward to welcoming the Shifty Heritage event to Newtown.”
SOUTH AFRICAN HISTORY ARCHIVE (SAHA) – Established in 1988 by anti-apartheid activists, SAHA is an independent non-profit human rights archive committed to documenting, supporting and promoting greater awareness of historical and, since 1994, contemporary struggles for justice and accountability. Since 2011, SAHA has been working with Lloyd Ross to preserve, organise, research and make accessible the endangered archive of Shifty Records as the formats of many of its historic audio recordings were deteriorating rapidly. With funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies, a significant collection of audio, video, photographic and documentary materials have now been digitized so as to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of this rich historical collection of musical activism for research and education, as well as cultural and heritage events like Shifty September. – www.saha.org.za
Catherine Kennedy, SAHA director, said: “As an activist archive with a keen interest in what neglected or at-risk records can reveal about *how* people have struggled for justice in South Africa, Shifty Records has added an amazingly fitting, not to mention delightfully noisy, dimension to our archives at SAHA. The rich archival materials deposited by Lloyd Ross with SAHA come together to form a striking musical assertion of the right to be heard, to challenge and demonstrate defiance of injustice, and to claim public space to fight for human rights in South Africa. Helping to make this proudly South African story of musical activism reach a wider audience through the Shifty September programme is both a privilege and a whole lot of fun for the SAHA team.”
SHIFTY RECORDS – “Even though most of the recordings took place before my time, the Shifty catalogue inspired and formed the basis for how I interact with music to this day. How it grounds us; re-affirms who we are and why we are. The music on Shifty did this better than any other label on the planet. These were artists creating music in a tumultuous time sharing tales of suffering and joy (often simultaneous). The likes of Mzwakhe Mbuli, Urban Creep and perhaps most importantly for me, Tananas, connected me with the music of South Africa before anything else. It offered a glimpse into the notion and possibility of a rainbow nation long before the term was coined. Most importantly, the recordings made me feel part of this country.” – Guy Buttery, multi-instrumentalist and two time South African Music Award winner.
The key player in this project, Shifty Records is an independent South African record label founded by Lloyd Ross and Ivan Kadey during the dark beginnings of the turbulent 1980s. From the release of its first full- length album thirty years ago until the dawn of the new dispensation in South Africa, Shifty Records set out to document the songs of South African musicians that felt compelled to comment on the difficult times that they were living through.
Operating for many years from a studio in a caravan hitched to a Ford V6 truck, the Shifty studio produced an album every two months until 1993. These recordings resulted in the most comprehensive collection of South African political and social commentary music in existence. Kaapse goema, mbaqanga jive, rock, folk, avant-garde, isicathamiya, worker songs, poetry, boere punk, jazz, maskande – this range of genres reflects the diverse cultures and influences from which these artists drew their inspiration. The reason for this eclecticism in the Shifty catalogue is easily explained – no other institution would do it within the context of state repression and censorship at the time, so Shifty virtually did it all.
While Shifty struggled to gain exposure on SABC radio stations, its anti-establishment stance was appealing to young and politically marginalised South Africans, as was evidenced when poet Mzwakhe Mbuli’s unadvertised Change is Pain went gold despite having had no radio exposure. In 1989, Shifty Records, in partnership with Vrye Weekblad, organized the nation-wide Voëlvry Toer.
This tour of young Afrikaner South African musicians, recorded exclusively by Shifty Records, has been described by Vrye Weekblad editor Max du Preez as follows: “It is tempting to overemphasize the political impact of Voëlvry. Still, I think it is safe to say that it definitely played a role in sufficiently exercising the Afrikaner’s political synapses to accept an end to apartheid and a negotiated democratic solution by 1994… It certainly helped undermine the unholy traditional Afrikaner culture of respect for authority and older people. It boosted the Afrikaans language like few events before it… And it proved that Boere can rock in their taal, after all.” – Foreword to Voëlvry: the movement that rocked South Africa by Pat Hopkins, Zebra Press, 2006. Some of the artists recorded by Shifty Records include: Koos Kombuis; James Phillips (also recorded as Bernoldus Niemand); Johannes Kerkorrel en die Gereformeerde Blues Band; the Kalahari Surfers; Kgwanyape Band; Matthew van der Want and Chris Letcher; Mzwakhe Mbuli; Sankomota; Simba Morri; Tananas; The Genuines; Tony Cox; Urban Creep; and Vusi Mahlasela.