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Remembering Hugh Masekela: the horn player with a shrewd ear for music of the day

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Hugh Masekela

Trumpeter, flugelhorn-player, singer, composer and activist Hugh Ramapolo Masekela has passed away last year after a long battle with prostate cancer.

When he cancelled his appearance in 2017 at the Johannesburg Joy of Jazz Festival, taking time out to deal with his serious health issues, fans were forced to return to his recorded opus for reminders of his unique work. Listening through that half-century of disks, the nature and scope of the trumpeter’s achievement becomes clear.

Masekela had two early horn heroes.

SOUTH AFRICA -DECEMBER 28 : Legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba with fellow musician and ex-husband Hugh Masekela. (Photo by Gallo Images/ Avusa)

The first was part-mythical: the life of jazz great Bix Biederbecke filtered through Kirk Douglas’s acting and Harry James’s trumpet, in the 1950 movie “Young Man With A Horn”. Masekela saw the film as a schoolboy at the Harlem Bioscope in Johannesburg’s Sophiatown. The erstwhile chorister resolved “then and there to become a trumpet player”.

The second horn hero, unsurprisingly, was Miles Davis. And while Masekela’s accessible, storytelling style and lyrical instrumental tone are very different, he shared one important characteristic with the American: his life and music were marked by constant reinvention. As Davis reportedly said:

I don’t want to be yesterday’s guy.

Much has already been written about Masekela’s life and its landmarks: playing in the Huddleston Jazz Band in the 1950s on a horn donated by Louis Armstrong; performing in the musical “King Kong” in the 1960s and at the Guildhall and then Manhattan schools of music with singer Miriam Makeba; US pop successes in the 1970s and then touring Paul Simon’s “Graceland” in the 80s and 90s.

What is less discussed is the music, and the innovative imagination he has periodically applied to draw it fresh from the flames.

Breaking new ground

The Huddleston band, plus time as sideman and in stage shows, were the traditional career path for a young musician. But then Masekela broke his first new ground. With fellow originals, including saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, as The Jazz Epistles they cut the first LP of modern African jazz in South Africa.

“Jazz Epistle: Verse One” (1960) featured band compositions marked by challenging improvisation – “a cross between mbaqanga and bebop”. Mbaqanga is form of South African township jive and bebop an American jazz style developed in the 1940s.

Masekela had also joined the pit band and worked as a copyist for South Africa’s first black musical, “King Kong”.

This exposure attracted attention to his talent from potential patrons at home and abroad. Pushed by the horrors of the Sharpeville massacrewhen the South African police shot and killed 69 people on 21 March 1960, and pulled by donated air-tickets and scholarships, Masekela left for London, and then New York.

In the next two decades, Masekela’s re-visioning of his music took many forms. He found America hard, but with wife Miriam Makeba (the marriage lasted from 1964 – 1966), the production skills of Gwangwa, and the support of American singer Harry Belafonte he proactively introduced audiences to South African music and the destruction of apartheid.

Jazz legend Dorothy Masuka, who died on 23 February 2019 attends Hugh Masekela’s memorial service. At the back is Sibongile Khumalo. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

On the ironically titled 1966 live “Americanisation of Ooga Booga”, he demonstrated the creative possibilities of “township bop”. Masekela did this by mashing up repertoire and playing styles from the South Africa he had left and the America he had landed in.

But he was also looking in other directions: in collaborations with other African musicians; towards fusion (with The Crusaders), rock (with The Byrds) and even pop at the Monterey Pop, festival.

That list captures only a fraction of his projects in the 1960s. Some bore instant fruit: his 1968 single, “Grazin’ In the Grass”, topped the Billboard Hot 100 list and sold four million copies; the previous year’s “Up Up and Away” became an instant standard.

In 1971, he teamed up with Gwangwa and Caiphus Semenya for another pan-African vision: The Union of South Africa. In 1972 he explored a stronger jazz orientation on “Home is Where The Music Is” with, among others, sax player Dudu Pukwana, bassist Eddie Gomez, keyboardist Larry Willis and Semenya.

Sixties counterculture

But as the title of “Grazin’ In the Grass” suggests, Masekela was also bewitched by other aspects of Sixties counterculture. He dated his addiction back to the alcohol-focused social climate of his early playing years in South Africa, but by the early Seventies he admitted:

I had destroyed my life with drugs and alcohol and could not get a gig or a band together. No recording company was interested in me…

That depression inspired the song that achieved genuinely iconic status back home in South Africa: the 1974 reflection on migrant labour, “Stimela/Coal Train”.

Foreign critics have handed that status to other Masekela songs, such as “Soweto Blues”, “Gold” or the much later “Bring Him Back Home”. Yet powerful though those are, it is Stimela, with its slow-burning steam-piston rhythm that captured the hearts of South Africans in struggle back home, and still does today. And of course the lyrics:

There’s a train that comes from Namibia and Malawi /there’s a train that comes from Zambia and Zimbabwe/ from Angola and Mozambique…

Masekela said:

For me songs come like a tidal wave … At this low point, for some reason, the tidal wave that whooshed in on me came all the way from the other side of the Atlantic: from Africa; from home.

Shortly afterwards, Masekela headed off to Ghana, hooked up with Hedzoleh Soundz, and was soon back in the charts. “Stimela” received its first outing on the album “I Am Not Afraid”, with West African and American co-players including pianist Joe Sample.

By the mid ‘80s, the hornman was back in southern Africa, recording “Technobush” at the mobile Shifty Studio in Botswana, and performing for the Medu Arts Ensemble with a Botswanan/South African band, Kalahari. His music shifted again: roots mbaqanga came strongly to the fore to speak simply and directly to people now openly battling the apartheid regime just across the border.

Returning home

After liberation and his return home, Masekela once more chose fresh directions. In 1997 he banished his addictions and began to showcase the virtuoso player he could have been 30 years earlier without the distractions of the West Coast. He fronted big European jazz bands, and benchmarked a long musical friendship with Larry Willis with the magisterial Friends.

But his shrewd ear for the music of today, rather than yesterday, also took him into younger company. He collaborated with current stars – including singer Thandiswa Mazwai – often encouraging them to take centre stage. Just before the recurrence of his cancer, he was planning a festival collaboration with rapper Riky Rick.

NEW YORK – AUGUST 20: South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela poses for a portrait on August 20, 1968 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

To cap the transformation, the individualistic rebel of the 60s and 70s became an elder statesman of social activism. In 2001, he established a foundation to help other musicians escape addiction. Once more he foregrounded the music of continental Africa, to campaign against xenophobia. And the return of his own illness became the cue to exhortother men to get checked for prostate cancer.

Other South African musicians have succeeded overseas; many have made one mid-career image switch – but few have shown us, in only one person but more than 30 albums, so many of the faces and possibilities of South African jazz.

Hugh Masekela, musician, activist. Born: 4 April 1939; Died: 23 January 2018

-Gwen Ansell; Associate of the Gordon Institute for Business Science, University of Pretoria

-The Conversation

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The Bookstore That erupted Like A Volcano

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A gargantuan eight-storey second-hand bookstore in the heart of downtown Johannesburg, not far from the city’s hipster havens, has for over four decades stocked nostalgia and hidden treasures on its shelves.  FORBES AFRICA stepped into the time capsule that is the Collectors Treasury.


In the mid-1970s, Rissik Street in downtown Johannesburg was a tranquil road featuring an important landmark – a second-hand bookstore that offered an escape from the city’s orchestrated chaos. It was a true literary world in a period devoid of the sensory overload of today’s technology.

Books were the only source of knowledge for the young intellectuals in bell-bottoms and halter dresses that trickled in to spend hours pouring over the treasures in this bookstore called Collectors Treasury.  

It has since moved shop from Rissik Street, and today, 45 years on, a little over a kilometer away, the same wonders, and much, much more can be found at 223 Commissioner Street. The 3,000 books, records and antiques collected since 1974 have now grown to over two million items.

All the vintage collectables are housed in an eight-storey building bursting at the seams with the sheer volume of material in it.

READ MORE | Re-constructing Johannesburg The City Of Opportunity

Brothers Geoffrey and Jonathan Klass, the co-owners of Collectors Treasury, have come to this realization, that the books are literally everywhere. From the entrance to the office where the men have to walk around them with caution, and from there, to the elevator, the staircase, the passages and even the restroom that has been turned into an impromptu storage space.

“People are definitely reading, and they are reading more.,” offers Geoffrey.

“We are at a stage where reading is not for pleasure. Reading is for utilitarian purposes because it is something that we seek to learn, something we have to know in order to advance.”

Collectors Treasury bookstore, owned by brothers Geoffrey and Jonathan Klass. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Also a recording engineer and musician, his brother Jonathan remarks that growing up with a doctor for a father, and a mother who collected antiques, inspired them to start the business. 

Jonathan shies away from talking about his own personal collection of antiques because people always end up bargaining for him to sell it.

  Their upbringing taught the men the value of history. This is the backbone of their business.

 “Whenever we get anything into the shop, the first thing we want to know is what its origins are and where it comes from,” Jonathan says.

“You can’t know where you are or who you are in a particular context unless you know what has come before you. It is becoming part of a culture amongst the youngsters now, the so-called ‘hipsters’; they are the population coming in a lot.” 

Young, inquisitive minds, in search of a deeper understanding of the world, feed their curiosity here while others walk in to simply explore the massive bookstore. Jonathan says it provides a much-needed alternative and relief to today’s smartphone-obsessed world.

“People are stuck in an electronic loop and they can’t get out of it. They haven’t studied the people who are the masters of their craft to know where they should go. I absorbed as much material as I could, and I still do it all the time.

“That is what our shop is about. You can’t come in here for five minutes and expect to absorb what is in here.

“It doesn’t matter what you read, so long as you read because ultimately the book is the theater of the mind.”

Geoffrey argues that despite the vast amount of information shared on the internet, it won’t ever replace the simplicity of a book.

“People’s knowledge is not as in-depth as it used to be, which is why this particular generation of youngsters is more enthusiastic about older stuff than the generation that came 15 years ago,” he says.

Books on African history are the top-sellers at the store because people are looking to make sense of their place in society.

By preserving what is often discarded, the store can become a repository of tradition while it allows the bookseller to determine what to sell.

“If I banned half the books, I’d be cutting out half the cultural influencers that someone could be exposed to. We cast our net widely, and limit it simply because of the volume of material there is. We make our own choices,” Geoffrey says.

Although digital innovations continue to grow in popularity, the culture of reading for the brothers will never be substituted for the sensory experience provided by a book.

“The world does not stand still. What we often think is the beginning of the revolution is the end. I think in a lot of ways the digital experience is in the decline. It goes back to the hipsters wanting to know what came before because they want to be hands-on. They want to feel, touch and see it.

“They don’t want the black box effect. Nobody is going to come in here with something the size of a cellphone with 7,000 books loaded on it and say, ‘I want to sell my library’. No one else will buy it,” Geoffrey says.

Jonathan says the shop has hidden treasures in the form of collectables that aren’t sold by regular retailers.

READ MORE | African Music Platforms Soar As Spotify And Apple Snooze

“As a toy collector, when I see the tin toys I used to have and played with as a child, it just brings back all those memories.”

“Nostalgia is a big part of it. So many times when I am in a market stall [selling goods], somebody will come along and say, ‘this is so nice, I remember it from when I was five years old’. It may be a vase or a piece of furniture or a gramophone. It could be anything and people will remember it,” Jonathan says.

Going out on Sundays for window-shopping at any time of the day is an activity the brothers certainly miss.

Since the early 1990s, the inner city changed from being an upmarket commercial space to an area rife with crime and dilapidated buildings. But the high levels of crime and population density have not hindered the brothers’  love for the inner city and the time capsule they step into daily.

When asked how the business survived the advent of the internet, an excited Jonathan explains the exclusivity of the store and its organic growth that few can imitate.

“Nobody can start Collectors Treasury if they wanted to. It developed on its own like a chemical reaction. We started collecting some stuff and it developed into what it is now, rather like a volcano. You can’t create a volcano,” he says.

A unique passion for selling second-hand books and understanding collectables is needed to stand the test of time. For Jonathan, the online model is not feasible because it is expensive on the one side, and on the other, it minimizes the effort it takes to acquire knowledge or a skill. 

“It has got to be an educated thing. There are people trading from their homes, making it look easy. The same way people who write a book using spellcheck, or musicians using apps to write music who think they are musicians and they are not.

“The online experience is that anybody who can use a computer can become an instant ‘expert’, at times, they steal descriptions off the net, they steal inventory and market it. They do this to make out more than they know. They sound like they have a bookshop where, in fact, they have a garden shed,” Jonathan explains.

Understanding how the internet works helps buyers and sellers spot scammers from a mile away. With about 85,000 books up for sale on the internet, the brothers have expert knowledge on how to identify a legitimate seller.

Over the years, the few dealers and buyers have increased to over a million since the duo began selling online. 

“You need to build a business, and not just sell. We buy what people want, and sometimes we reject books. People usually ask why we reject, but we need to check the market and know what they will buy,” Jonathan adds.

Geoffrey shares a different sentiment about their business model. 

“There is a model; it is going with the flow. If someone wants to make money, they need to do something else. It is for the passion; as long as you are making enough to eat, the rest doesn’t matter. The stock is appreciating. If you sell it, you make money. It appreciates in value if you buy correctly,” he says.

He argues that people need to avoid the get-rich-quick syndrome as businesses differ.

“If I made a million, and I write a book on it, how many millionaires would there be? If Warren Buffet made a million, it is because the conditions at that particular time, plus his input, added up to making a million. You could give somebody the same amount of information now but time has passed and the river has flowed.

“You are not the same person that you were at the time that you made the million. I don’t think Bill Gates could make a million today because it was [under] different circumstances,” Geoffrey says.

The store houses items that are priceless from a bygone era. The brothers sell porcelain and antique figures from the early 1900s’ fashionable movement; items rarely sold by local dealers.

“The markets for the antique porcelains have dropped so much. The classical antiques that were fashionable 50 years ago are not wanted by the modern collectors to the same extent as the generation before,” Geoffrey says. “In a way, the subsequent generation tends to concentrate on buying back their youth. They buy the things that they couldn’t afford when they were younger and didn’t have any money.

“Collecting fashions shift so much. Modern collectors look for different things, but pretty is out!” The rustier and older the item, the more people want it. And they don’t mind stepping into a bookstore bursting with nostalgia and with motifs and messages from an era that has been long gone.

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Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019

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Back in 2007, Jay-Z made a bold statement in song about both his lyrical prowess and his future financial fortunes: “I’m already the G.O.A.T.–next stop is the billie.”

Sure enough, Forbes declared him hip-hop’s first billionaire earlier this month. The news caught the attention of observers around the world—not only due to the breadth of Jay-Z’s financial achievement, but because of what it means for others looking to follow in his footsteps.

“Jay-Z’s entire life is the real blueprint,” says hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, longtime host of the show Yo! MTV Raps. “He’s one of the best examples in our lifetime of one who’s truly achieved the American dream and billionaire status.”

Naturally, Jay-Z tops this year’s ranking of hip-hop’s richest stars. Who will be the next billionaire from the rap world? The answer is almost certainly one of the names below.

richest rappers Drake
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5. Drake

$150 million

The 32-year-old Canadian is the youngest on this list by a decade, but he’s quickly gaining ground on hip-hop’s elder statesmen. Drake’s fortune grew 50% over the past year, boosted by holdings ranging from real estate to his Virginia Black whiskey, as well as a lucrative tour and new residency at the XS Nightclub in Las Vegas.

“Every year, we just want to get more prepared and better at touring and better at things that make money,” he told Forbes in 2013 (his average gross has since surged from $500,000 to more than $2 million per stop). “That’s pretty much my objective every year, other than making good music.”

richest rappers Kanye
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4. Kanye West

$240 million

A onetime protégé of Jay-Z, the superproducer has been making headlines recently for his Sunday Service, an invitation-only get-together mostly in Southern California that is reportedly frequented by the likes of Courtney Love and Tyler, the Creator. He took the show on the road in April for a Coachella service on Easter Sunday featuring appearances by Chance the Rapper, DMX and a gospel choir—while hawking socks and “holy spirit” sweatshirts. But selling church clothes alone won’t be enough to push West into ten-figure territory.

Despite declaring himself $53 million in debt and beseeching Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion to fund future creations in 2016, West makes his debut on this list thanks to a another patron: Adidas, which lured West and his Yeezy shoe line from Nike several years ago. Our accounting of West’s wealth is almost entirely predicated on a conservative estimate of that brand’s value. As it continues to scale up, he could one day join his sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner, as a billionaire.

richest rappers Diddy
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3. Diddy

$740 million

“I started my business career at age 12, delivering newspapers,” Diddy explained two years ago in our centennial issue, where we named him one of the world’s greatest living business minds. “Since then, I’ve always understood that if I give the customers my best and service them differently, whether music, clothing or vodka, I’ll get a return on my hard work.”

The artist formerly known as Puff Daddy dips to No. 3 on this list as industry trends weigh on some of his holdings, including cable network Revolt and clothing line Sean John (though Diddy has sold much of his stake in the latter, he retains a sizeable piece). But Ciroc, the main driver of his fortune, is growing again after case volumes fell from all-time highs in recent years—making the impresario perhaps the most likely candidate to join Jay-Z in the billion-dollar club.

richest rappers dr dre
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2. Dr. Dre

$800 million

It’s been five years since Dr. Dre proclaimed himself a billionaire, but Forbes still doesn’t agree with the assessment made in the wake of Apple’s $3 billion 2014 purchase of his Beats By Dr. Dre headphone line. The superproducer owned an estimated 20%-25% of the company at the time; of the $2.6 billion Apple paid upfront in cash, another $295 million was earmarked to cover debt payments, leaving Dre with a little over $500 million.

Even with the vesting of his final slug of Apple stock last summer, Dre hasn’t quite made it into billionaire territory. He has spent heavily over the years on property (he paid $40 million for Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen’s Los Angeles estate) and charitable donations (along with Beats cofounder Jimmy Iovine, he gave $70 million to start a school at USC). And with his formal involvement at Apple seemingly wrapping up, Dre will likely need to get back on the festival circuit—or start a new company—if he’s to make good on his 2014 declaration.

richest rappers jay-z
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1. Jay-Z

$1 billion

Though he’s hip-hop’s first billionaire, Jay-Z’s lead on the rest of the pack is even larger if his entire family fortune is taken into consideration: He and wife Beyoncé are now worth a combined $1.4 billion. So much for the notion that music is a dying business.

“To convince artists that you can’t be an artist and make money … was the greatest trick in music that people ever pulled off,” Jay-Z told Forbes in 2010. “I think the people that were making the millions said that.”

Methodology

In order to compile our ranking of the richest rappers, we use the same procedures employed in the calculation of our annual billionaires list: poring over financial documents, valuing major assets, and consulting with analysts, managers, attorneys and other industry insiders.

Cover photographs: Getty Images (Dr. Dre: AP Images)

-Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes Staff

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The Creative In The Numbers Game

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Desmond Blackmore has solidified his presence in Ghana’s afrobeats scene and is one of the few musicians to turn into a successful entertainment mogul.


It’s almost impossible to attend a party or wedding in Ghana and not be treated to one of Desmond Blackmore’s ubiquitous chart-toppers.

With hits like Personal Person, Vera and Seihor a must-have on any Ghanaian DJ’s playlist, the 32-year-old rapper known by the moniker ‘D-Black’, has managed to solidify his presence as a leading emcee in Ghana’s afrobeats scene in less than a decade.

And it isn’t just about churning out party anthems and catchy lyrics. Blackmore is also a sharp businessman, who has been building his larger-than-life stage persona into a brand that now extends to a night club, live events, apparel, content production, media and advertising.

His story is the stuff of movies. His father, a businessman who made his wealth importing agriculture machinery, had 10 children with five different women. By the time Blackmore was a teenager, his father had lost most of his wealth through bad investments.

READ MORE | ‘If You Are An Artist, You Need To Be Out There As A Healer’

Blackmore, along with his mother, a civil servant, and his little sister, moved to North Kaneshie, in Accra, in search of a livelihood. With a life devoid of any comfort, Blackmore had to depend on his wit and creativity to make a living and pay his own way through school.

Cue the summer of 2007. Opportunity came knocking and Blackmore decided to take it. Aphrodisiac, a night club and advertising company Blackmore was working for as an errand boy, had shut down operations and as he was leaving the office, he received a call from Coca-Cola, looking for advertising services.

The previous owner of the business advised him to take the deal if he felt he could deliver. He decided to take the chance. He registered his own company within a week and secured his first big contract with the mammoth brand. 

“I have always been entrepreneurial at heart. I like numbers and I am a creative as well, so putting those two together was natural to me,” says Blackmore.

That deal paved the way for the then 20-year-old entrepreneur and exposed him to corporate Ghana. With the proceeds from the deal, he bought his first car and invested the rest into his music.

Blackmore’s is a story of dogged determination. He has gone from being homeless to becoming one of the most successful entertainers in Ghana. Case in point, in 2014, when Guinness Ghana Breweries Ltd (GGBL), a subsidiary of Diageo Plc. U.K., were looking for their official brand ambassador in Ghana, Blackmore was the only name on the list.

“D-Black is one of the few brands in Ghana’s music scene that embodies the Cîroc Vodka brand. The brand is championed by global megastars like P Diddy so we needed someone who matched the ethos of the lifestyle, flamboyance and entrepreneurship that the brand evokes and D-Black was the perfect celebrity partner to further enhance the luxury profile of Ciroc in Ghana,” says Nathaniel Ansong Manu, Head of the Luxury Brands portfolio at GGBL.

With a degree in fine arts and music from the University of Ghana as well as a brief stint studying economics at the University of Cape Coast, Blackmore had found the right combination of knowledge and talent to make his dreams of becoming a solo artist a reality.

READ MORE | African Music Platforms Soar As Spotify And Apple Snooze

With his cash injection from his first deal, he set out to be Ghana’s next big hip-hop artist. He decided early on in his career that he wanted his music to have international appeal and as a result, opted to rap in English, a move that was risky at a time where most of the chart toppers were singing in the local dialect.

“I met someone called Kweku T after university, who was rapping in English too. So we started recording together and we didn’t have enough money to shoot a video or anything, so we decided two pockets are better than one. We put together money and created a mixtape project and we shot three videos,” says Blackmore.

That partnership paid off. Blackmore received nominations from the prestigious Ghana Music Awards, as well as international acclaim from awards in South Africa. After a year and a half, the pair decided to go their separate ways with their individual projects. Then in 2010, he released his first solo album and embarked on a nationwide tour in Ghana.

“I won the hip-hop song of the year at the Ghana Music Awards for the first time in history as well as nominated for the BET Awards for Best African Artist. I went to Los Angeles but I didn’t win and came to New York, bought my own studio equipment, went back to Ghana, opened my own studio, then I dropped the biggest song in the country right after called Vera and the rest is history.”

Blackmore has broken boundaries in his young career as a music artist. He is one of the few musicians to transition smoothly from a successful rapper into an entertainment mogul.

He owns a record label Black Avenue Music to find fresh talent in Ghana. In 2015, he started Live Wire events, an event management company delivering corporate events, celebrity soccer matches, large concerts as well as festivals for the Ministry of Tourism in Ghana.

His early years working for Aphrodisiac gave him the experience he needed to also open his own lounge and night club, Onyx, in Ghana’s plush residential hub of Cantonments.

He also started a media and advertising company, Volcano. But Blackmore did not stop there. Spotting an opportunity in the content world, Blackmore also launched Black Avenue TV that produces movies and TV shows for some of Ghana’s biggest TV networks.

“All my companies are in the entertainment space because I wanted to provide brands with a 360-degree solution. If you want to do concerts, we have experience doing big stadium concerts or niche events, if you need a club or a lounge, you can use mine and when you need to advertise, we have a solution for that as well.”

However the hustle is not just all about making money.

“I started a record label to help those who still had not found a way to break through. It was a way of giving back to other people. So I was thinking if I spent $500 of my own money to help someone come up, it was a blessing.

“If I make my money back, great, and if I don’t, it was still a blessing. Sometimes, just providing studio time, paying for a music video to be shot by an artist who cannot afford it, will go a long way to help an artist and that is how I saw it. I have never made profit from any artist I have signed yet, it is always just about me helping them out.”

And that has been Blackmore’s greatest achievement so far, paving the way for people just like him to achieve their dreams through music.

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