2. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 2 DJ, Producer and Label Owner Ralf GUM is one of highly respected figures in the House music scene currently. His exceptional productions and DJ- sets set him apart from the rest. Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) once said ‘It’s the melody which is the charm of the music. It is also the most difficult to produce. The invention of a fine melody is a work of a genius.” Ralf GUM’s latest album ‘Never Leaves You’ encapsulates not only the melody as the charm in the production but also the passion for a Soulful/Deeper sound. We got in touch with him in Sept 2012 - just after his latest offering hit the shops, to tell us more about it and the general state of the House music scene [as he sees it] specifically in South Africa – since he has decided to hang his hat on our ‘Mzansi’ [South Africa] shores. Being from Germany and all of that; what primary ingredient of the Deeper/Soulful House sound were you most attracted to? Actually I don’t know where it comes from exactly, although as a teenager I fell in love with Funk/Soul/ Disco and when I came across House music which was at the end of the 80’s, I found that it combined all the elements that I liked in the other genres and that made House a perfect dance music for me. It just appealed to me. I don’t come from a musical family or musical background at all. I just had that love for music in me, so it’s kind of hard to say why and how it happened. And because you mention Germany it was quite difficult to find place where you can really play that sound, especially when I stated out DJ‘ing beginning of the 90’s. There were hardly clubs which played House music at all. You found maybe two or three spots in the whole country and if they played electronic music it would have been already by then the harder Chicago Acid House stuff. But, I still had it in me and I wanted to proceed with it because it was a pretty intense feeling. I guess that’s where the ingredient is – the feeling. Do you think the same [intense] feeling exist in South Africa? Obviously, I mean I came for the first time in 2008 into the country and was blown away. I had never been to a country where so many people have an understanding for House music and the love for the music. There might be a lot of reasons why the sound became big in the country but I think the most important thing is and the main reason is because people just relate to the groove, the harmonies of House music and I think if that would have not been the case, House would have not blown up like the way it has in the country. The Soulful sound that is evident in all your productions, how do you think is interpreted in South Africa, is the interpretation the same as any other places that you’ve been to where they consume House music.
3. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 3 How do you differentiate from all those place to then say this is uniquely South African and this is what I love about the country? Uhmm, I think House music is sort of consumed in similar ways all over the world. The big difference between SA and the rest of the world [and I’ve mentioned this] is that it is much more people based – more people are enjoying and consuming it this side, obviously there are some elements which you’d consider being [uniquely] South African like a special kind of drum groove, percussions and stuff like that. But to be honest, it has been done by some producers outside of the country for quite a long time. If you look at Louie Vega’s sound, he always uses African drums and not only him; Phil Asher did it too. Actually I don’t see a huge difference between the sounds internationally and South Africa. As much as people like to make a difference between local and international in SA, I always say there is good music and bad music and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Yes, you have a big tribal sound influence in the production side of things but I think House music a universal thing. In the previous times that we’ve interacted, you’ve always alluded to the fact that you look for the element of ‘actual songs’ in the music rather than just instruments put together for the sole purpose of filling the dance floors. When you first heard the original of Shana, ‘Uyangichomela’ for example, was it the way the song came out to you or you just immediately thought this is the track that’ll be big in SA [considering the group’s status with the audiences at the time] let me get on it?
4. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 4 Uhhm, I didn’t obviously understand the lyrics at first [Laughs]! Someone had to explain to me what the lyrics were all about and on that basis I just loved the melody and the energy of the song. I knew then that I could do a nice remix of the song. I know that it blew up again after the remixes were released but actually the track was already big before then. ‘Turn Me On’ on the other hand, I heard on my first gig ever in South Africa, Blackcoffee played it and I was like WOW, this a beautiful song let’s do something with it. He said the track at the time was already old [and had lost some traction in the marketplace] here in SA. Image credit: Ralf GUM @Base, Miami (2005) I then said we could do something internationally with it, because I thought it was a song that would appeal to the world market. And it did! The same with Shana, the track went big on radio again after the remixes were done and released in South Africa, it was also appreciated internationally. I always find it interesting if [people] from other parts of the world who would not naturally understand the lyrics, but relate to the song purely because the melody is just right, well written and has some power in it. Yeah, I guess that’s also where people create some affinity and understand the song a lot better, when the melody coalesces with the lyrics and in most cases there is a story to tell there. Is this then [I presume] your primary focus in your productions and when you release songs? Ya, I think as much as it’s [let’s call it] dance music, which is there to be enjoyed in clubs mainly; a message is important. Lyrics obviously are the only part of the production which can deliver or have a message. This is why I think it’s very important to have well written songs not only to just
5. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 5 ‘put beats/instruments together. You need a good song writer to write words that’ll deliver a message even with House music. Is there then a criterion that you use when you pick the songs that you want to remix, say somebody sends you a remix request, do you have a way of saying YES, I’ll remix this or NO, I’m not interested in remixing this because if this....? Mainly when I remix a song, I take the vocals and ‘put new music’ onto the vocals. The vocals then obviously should speak to me and to the very least I must find a few lines in the vocals which I can ‘cut out’ in the case where I can’t use the entire vocal sample. It’s the vocals definitely, which I need to like otherwise I can’t do it. That is the only criteria I look at when remixing a song. In the case of a track without vocals, I must find some element, like when I did ‘Capricorn’ for example - I LOVED the solos, the marimbas and the guitar solos. So I need to find some elements I can use that make sense and inspire me. I’m sure; you’ve received a lot of requests from young SA producers. When you turn them down you just tell them NO [literally, end of story] or do you give them some kind of music production 101 tutorial for future reference on how they need to put together their tracks/songs? I try to if time allows – always. I think it’s very important for other established artist as well to try and give back or deliver their knowledge to the younger generation. When guys like me, Christos and others were starting out, there was no older generation who could give us knowledge and hence it took a longer time for us to reach a certain level. These days it’s a lot easier because you can find a lot of knowledge on the internet, but I think
6. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 6 it’s very useful for the older generation to teach the younger generation on how to get there. I get a lot of requests to mentor people, but because of time limits it’s not possible to give feedback to everybody who’s asking. On the hand if time allows and if I think the song is almost there but just need minor tweaks, I always try to give feedback. Since you asked whether I turn down some requests yes I do. There’s a lot of young talent here in South Africa, who’s doing music. For them they don’t need a big studio and a lot of equipment to do music anymore – just a computer and a few programs. It then enables a lot of people to do productions [which is a good thing] but it obviously lead to copious amount of productions – more quantity and less quality. And some try to get a remix done by established or what they call ‘big named’ DJ/Producers purely because they think that it might help their career [and not add the extra effort in their work] so yes based on these reasons I’ve mentioned I turn them down. To add on that, as much as a big name DJ remix might help you to make a step further in your career, in the end it is ultimately YOU that need to deliver. If you fail to follow up on the remix that was done for you - by yourself; you are then considered as a one-hit-wonder! I like the emphasis you are making on the idea of ‘following up’ on your work, so it does become a one-hit-wonder. Your latest album ‘Never Leaves You’ did you use the same framework as your previous album to conceptualise and follow up or you took on a fresh tangent completely or is it the case of the people you collaborated with who make it different and unique? Uhhm, I think I stayed pretty close to what I’ve been doing since I started doing music, which is Deep/Soulful House music - but I think it’s important for every artist Image credit: Christo Doherty to try and progress somehow, hence I’ve worked with a lot of great musicians on the playbacks even more than on the first album. There is a lot of ‘music’ going on in the album. I’ve also collaborated with the names I’ve never worked with before, just because I’ve always wanted to work with them and because of their great song writing skills. In ‘Never Leaves You’ the focus is even more on the songs than it was on the previous album. I’m quite proud of the collaborations I’ve got on there, but for me it’s a logical continuation of where I come from musically so it’s not a very big change. I just try to deliver even better songs than before.
7. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 7 You seem to like working with Monique Bingham... YES, who doesn’t! [Laughs]... Which elements of her skills do you like and value the most for you to keep working with her in most of your songs apart from her voice capabilities? It’s definitely her lyrics and for me she is the best lyricist we have in House music. She can always tell a GREAT story with ‘kind of’ new words and doesn’t repeat what we’ve already heard a million times before. It’s without a doubt her song writing prowess that makes her special. Apart from that we are now good friends and we’ll work together continuously. Is it the same impression you have with Oluhle from Zimbabwe? Did you find the same elements as Monique or different altogether in the tracks you did with her? I knew a few songs of Oluhle before I approached her for the ‘Linda’ song, but had never been in touch with her prior to that. With her, I liked her melody – obviously she sings a lot in Zulu and my knowledge of the language is quite limited, but I wanted to have at least one ‘indigenous South African language sung’ track in the album. That’s just because I’ve relocated here and also have worked with Shana before and purely just love the sound of local languages especially Zulu when it’s sung more than when it’s spoken actually! Really, you prefer it sung? Yeah, I don’t know why – it just sounds right more to my ears when it’s sung than spoken. So I approached her and told her about the project. I explained to her a bit on what I would like to have from her side singing in Zulu and a certain type of rhyme I wanted in the lyrics. She then suggested doing a kind of a Gospel song when she heard the playback. I was happy with that, because I can very well relate to Gospel songs. She sent me the lyrics in Zulu and I was like yeah, bring it on! But uhhhm what does it mean? She then translated it to me before we recorded and I was like yes that’s what I like and it was great working with her since she’s based in the UK. It was easier to bring her to Germany ...just a few minutes flight. We spent a day in the studio and the song was done.
8. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 8 How about the legend Mr Robert Owens, why did you pick to collaborate with him? That purely because of the influence he’s had in House music in general. Has he had any influence on you personally? Most definitely, I’ve played his music for almost twenty years now! He always was on my wish list of artists I wanted to work with and when I started thinking about the album I made a list of vocalists I would like to have on the album and I just approached him. Luckily he was game and he immediately said yes, let’s do it. He’s such an easy person to work with and was a great experience because in most cases when you approach someone you never know what will happen. He was the easiest and inspiring person I’ve met and I very honoured to have worked with him. Tell us about his [Robert Owens] trip and what did you hope to achieve in doing the parties/events that you’ve arranged for him? Actually, when he heard that I’m based in South Africa he said he had forever wanted to come into the country. As an African- America living in the US he sees the continent as a ‘motherland’ and had never been here. So, when the track ‘Fly Free’ got released I saw an opportunity for him to come over and fulfil his wish and at the same time assist in my album promotional launch parties During the production stages of Fly Free, how much of input did he give, was it mostly you on the production and just merely added him in certain areas or did you try and extract the wealth of knowledge he has in terms of all aspects of the music production?
9. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 9 We had never been in the same studio before. The playback I sent to him is what you hear now. The music comes from my side, but I’m really happy on the outcome because I hadn’t heard Robert too often on an Afro-influenced beat before. I wanted to have him on a kind of not extremely African vibe but a vibe with some African nuances. When he sent back the playback, I realised that he had just picked up the vibe I wanted on the track PERFECTLY – showing the calibre of an artist he is. He totally added the right lyrics on to the music and the beat. And it wasn’t like going back and forth. I just gave him the playback, he wrote the lyrics, recorded and when I got them back I was like YES, he’s snatched it! What is your opinion of the international perception of the South African House scene and music? I think the international perception is that of an ‘unfinished picture’ of what the music is and actually played here. They really think it’s mainly Blackcoffe’s sound plus some Afro-Deep/ Minimal sound. I think however what is actually going on is just a soulful understanding and underpinning of House music sound that is played. I find that it is also a mixture of international and local influences and these cross-influence each other. I mean some internationals now sound pretty South African and vice versa, South Africans sounding international. I think it’s good to have that – after all House music is a universal feeling. To add on that, it’s important to also look at it in the context of the gigs that take place in the country because if you only listen to [let’s say] the Afro-Deep sound on Afrodesiamp3 or wherever you obtain the music, you get a wrong picture because you might think it’s the only sound that is being played – but in reality, it’s a mixture of all different sounds.
10. WWW.HOUSEONMAG.COM - RALF GUM - 2012 PAGE 10 Let’s look at that for a bit ‘the gigs’. What has been your perception of the gigs in SA musically in let’s say the 3 country’s major metropolis – JHB, Cape Town & Durban? At a broader scale I’d say yes, there is a difference in the places musically. In Durban it’s a drum driven type of sound although there are smaller pockets of people who are into Deep and neither influenced by drums nor Durban Kwaito for that matter. In the Pretoria JHB areas there are more places enjoying a Soulful sound in comparison to Durban and Cape Town on the other hand is a lot European for me as well as the sound they play. If you however go to the Townships in Cape Town you find places which are not at all different from when you play in Pretoria/JHB or wherever. Actually those are not only the 3 places in SA for bigger gigs; there are towns like Mafikeng too. Their 60’ themed party and now the ‘Legends of House’ party happening in December and also the ‘Spring themed’ parties happening in September are quite big. Last year was one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever played for at their ‘spring party’, so it’s not limited to the three areas you mention anymore. Is there anything else you’d like to say? I just want to thank you guys for the support you’ve given me, for a while now. I really appreciate it. END….. INTERVIEW: Nduduzo Smalz Ngobese