Concord still flying after all these years

Lavatory Records

Having worked with internationally renowned artists such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Zim Ngqawana, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri and Johnny Clegg just to mention a few; Concord Nkabinde can be hailed as a musical legend in his own right. However, Mr Nkabinde himself selects to dispute this status which is testament to his humility.

Born in Soweto, the bass guitarist and creative artist was part of Johnny Clegg’s band, whom he recorded and performed with. Since then he has come into his own, having to adapt to a new era where making music is digitised and audiences are found via social networking. As a mature artist Concord remains relevant and relatable to the youth through his role as a music educator with a natural penchant for communicating and socialising.

Concord took time out of his busy schedule and between travels to speak with Lavatory Records about his eventful career and his upcoming tours. He also told us about the challenges of being a musician in the new era, going from a live performer to an online savvy communicator, his memorable moments and much more. It’s safe to say the “Concorde” landed on the Lavatory Records platform.

Photo credit of featured image above to: Marriet Geldenhuys.

Lavatory Records

Photo Credit: Mario Sales

Lavatory Records: For the younger generation who may not know you, who is Concord Nkabinde the artist?

Concord Nkabinde: Concord Nkabinde is a creative artist in music, who was born and raised in Soweto. I’m also an accomplished performing and recording musician, composer, producer and music educator, who received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2006. I am also the Deputy Chairman of CASA (Composers’ Association of SA).

LR: Did you find music as a passion or did music find you?

CN: Both, I guess. I was raised in a musical family with my father training many choirs and Gospel groups. So music did find me and a passion developed, which led me to wanting to pursue it further.

LR: How did the bass guitar become your instrument of choice?

CN: My brother and I began by playing the acoustic guitar, but then he discovered that the lower four strings of the acoustic guitar were structured in the same way as a bass guitar, only much lower in frequency. He then altered our guitar by removing the highest two strings and altering the bridge in order to space out the remaining four strings. Exploring with those single notes made it quicker for me to learn new songs and my fascination with music grew faster. It was this fascination that then led my father to buy us a “proper” bass guitar. Soon thereafter I had learnt that playing single notes on bass might be less of a mission than playing full chords on guitar, but playing bass carried a bigger responsibility in terms of creating a strong and a dependable foundation for the music. The rest became history.   

Lavatory Records

Photo Credit: Marriet Geldenhuys

LR: Which honourable mentions do you feel have been instrumental in your career? Please illustrate the significance of their contributions.

CN: My five and a half years of touring and recording with South Africa’s musical and cultural icon, Johnny Clegg, will always remain a life changing experience for me. Exposure to the importance of conceptualising music, celebrating your roots, exploring international stages, operating professionally as a business in music and humility, were lessons I took from working with Johnny Clegg.

The other significant moment in my career was in 2006 when I received the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. It injected loads of inspiration in me just to know that people who matter in the industry are watching what I do. That recognition opened a lot of doors and festival stages as well as many international travels.

LR: You are counted as one of the music legends in the country. In your opinion what does it take to get to this level and to be in the industry for as long as you have?

CN: Before answering this question I had to go check in the dictionary what a “legend” is. I am not sure if I qualify to fall under the category of “mythical or supernatural beings”. Anyway, to have longevity and to make an impact in the music industry you almost should not think “music”. What we do is about people, life, uplifting and finding purpose as we bring all these aspects together. Having a long-term perspective also helps in a world and an industry of instant fame, and seeking immediate gratification. Understanding that the skill and technique that I spend hours developing has got to have a deeper purpose and meaning will give you that grounded balance that can sustain you for many years to come.

This means even when you take a solo, your heart for people and your love and commitment to a better world comes through in your playing as opposed to your solo only telling the audience that, “I can play very fast over complicated chord changes.”

LR: As someone who’s been in the music industry for a long time how would you describe the current state of the industry in SA?

CN: Not sure there is a way to describe the South African music industry currently because it is going in all directions. We are a little behind to the rest of the world when it comes to the pursuit of independence from big record labels. Many artists are now discovering that they can do it themselves and use the internet and technology to enhance their operations and really only outsource those few things that they cannot execute themselves. This approach means that we are now beginning to hear all types of “honest” music that comes from artists themselves and not a sound that was always orchestrated by record company executives. This scenario is welcomed by many artists but not so much by media and parts of the recording industry, because it makes it almost impossible for them to categorise music and not easy to sell it in massive quantities. Niche groups are increasing and even smaller bands are growing their following independently. So the bigger piece of the cake that was always dominated by big record labels is being broken up into smaller pieces for all to share. Now that has always been the artists’ dream.

Unfortunately the flip side to this scenario is that when the ground levels, you also find those that may not have much talent, might not even love much, might not have anything to say, also pursuing music. The number of these types of “artists” has been growing and they are getting a lot of media attention and making loads of money. From where I stand, there isn’t much we can do about that except to keep doing what we do and do it well and smart. Over time we can only hope that audiences will begin to possess a better understanding of the arts and their role, and begin to demand more quality for their hard-earned money.

LR: Has the internet revolution impacted your music career in any way? If so, how?

CN: Yes it has, largely through social networks. Communicating with a broader listenership across the world in this manner is something we never imagined 20 years ago. However, access to social networks is no guarantee for effective communication. I find that many artists who are on social spaces still haven’t gotten a hang of effective use of social media. There seems to be no lines drawn between posting about your irritating mother-in-law and posting about an important upcoming gig. So even people with a massive following are still failing to reach their followers and keep them coming back for more. This has become a necessary skill for all musicians, whether as a band leader or a session musician.

Being able to sell music online is another plus. In Africa, depending on the musical genre, that is still far from being a norm. CD sales are beginning to rise again mainly for independent artists. In case you didn’t know, in South Africa we are still selling cassettes in the traditional gospel and traditional pop music circles. I have had my music available on iTunes and many other online platforms for years but the massive success of downloads that was predicted, even with marketing efforts, remains to be seen.

Of course another aspect of the internet revolution is access to information.  I have saved lots of money on lawyers’ fees by just searching for online information and educating myself about the business of music. I have connected with people all across the world and developed many contacts, relationships and projects via the internet.

Not sure where we would be without the revolution of the internet.

Lavatory Records

Photo credit: Mario Sales

LR: Which of the “new age” artists’ music do you admire and why?

CN: Not sure what you mean by “new age” as the term has come to mean different things in different circles.

However of the newer artists, I am very much into South Africa’s HHP (Hip-Hop-Pantsula). I admire young people who value the importance of live instrument within musical genres that often don’t believe in live music. HHP is also fearless in terms of musical exploration and not bound by genre. Lyrically he is creatively very fascinating in a way that older folk relate to his subject matter just as much as his younger followers think he is “hip” and current.

The Soil is a three-piece Accapella group from South Africa who have found a way to create music with limited resources (just three voices) and yet their music resonates with huge audiences. The music is simple, no big production and not smoothly refined yet it is embraced by today’s so-called ‘sophisticated’ audiences across the world. Talk about music that meets people where they are honestly at.

LR: Where do you see the future of the music industry going and what changes would you like to see in it?

CN: As mentioned earlier, with more artists exploring the independent route, the music industry will get very messy and congested. It is out of that mess that focused, creative, strategic and purposeful artists will emerge.

In terms of musical genre, it is pointless to discuss genre in this day and age. Musical genre boundaries are and should be fading. What should emerge more and I as an artist is finding myself as an African/South African narrative, in all that I create. It could be in the stories I tell, the languages I use, the newer ways in which I use the sound and instruments of my people. I refuse to be categorised by a specific sound just because I come from the southern part of Africa.

So let us leave the future of music to just happen and we will talk about it after the fact.

One more thing I can add is that, music has been dying to interact more and more with other disciplines but many musicians have not been open to that. So for us to succeed in preserving our musical heritage, we need to allow music to meaningfully find partnerships with other artistic spaces and even non-artistic spaces.

LR: Please share with us your most memorable performance(s)?

CN: 29th June 2004, the opening of the Montreal Jazz Festival, with Johnny Clegg & Ladysmith Black Mambazo. There was about 110 000 people in attendance as well as a live TV broadcast across the US and Canada. It was amazing to feel so physically insignificant amongst such a massive crowd and yet so important in terms of carrying a ‘voice’ and a message that connects and moves all those people. After that performance, my perception of audiences and my approach to being afforded space to speak changed completely.

More recently I performed as a Duo with Lionel Loueke, a Guitarist from Benin who is based in the USA. This was at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. In one’s career you get those moments that make an impact on you and you will never forget. This was one of them. To share a stage and collectively speak a message of hope to the world with someone who is regarded highly by people such as Herbie Hancock is a humbling yet uplifting experience.

LR: Please tell us about Concord the person. What do you get up to away from the stage and the limelight?

CN: People make me tick. I am always keen on meeting new people and getting into conversations. I learn a lot by listening to people and get inspired a lot by their thoughts. Almost every meaningful conversation leaves me with a new lyrical and/or musical idea.

I also love travelling. It comes in handy with being a travelling musician. So I allocate a lot of time to exploring new territories and languages of the world.

Football on PlayStation is a vitamin I am not sure I could now live without.

LR: You have a very funky and colourful appearance in terms of your dress sense and style. Do you consider yourself a fashionable person and/or just highly expressive?

CN: Not at all. Most people find it hard to believe that I don’t put much though into what I wear or my semblance. I just respond to what grabs me at that time and I will not necessarily stick to it forever. I generally do not like trends that everybody follows. It goes against my approach to living a unique life that will be remembered.

Lavatory Records

Photo Credit: Edzard Meyberg

LR: Any musical projects or events to look forward to from you?

CN: I am currently part of a Collaboration project called ‘THREE STEPS WITHIN” together with Saxophonist/Flautist McCoy Mrubata and Singer/Composer Lindiwe Maxolo. All three of us are band leaders but we were looking for an outlet where we could experiment even more. So we do all kinds of unconventional re-arrangements of known music. We are considering a recording soon.

I am also exploring more possibilities with Friends in Sweden whom I have done some projects with in the last year and a half.

My hard drive is full of ideas and projects that I have been wanting to develop but haven’t had the time to. Now I am looking at pursuing those, including a Dance Project under a different name.

LR: Do you have any special mentions you want to shout out?

CN: To remain inspired as an artist it is important to have a strong support system. Mine is broad. From family to friends to whom I am grateful for support and for allowing me to just be me.

For my musical tools I am grateful to have the support of LAKLAND Basses, MarkBass Amplifiers, Elixir Strings, Essential Sound Products & Music Connection (South Africa).

We thank Mr Concord Nkabinde for speaking with us on this exclusive. To keep up and connect with him, get him on Facebook, Twitter: @ConcordNkabinde and Instagram: @Concord_Nkabinde. You can also follow his collaboration project Three Steps Within on Facebook.

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