The Sunday News
Mbongeni Msimanga Sunday Leisure Correspondent
AFTER having joined and worked with one of the biggest bands to emerge in the country in the 80s — Ilanga — that comprised Cde Chinx, Busie Ncube, the late Andy Brown, the late Don Gumbo, Gibson Batishta, Adam Chisvo, Munya Brown, Gibson Nyoni and the late Virgillio Ignacia, Keith Farquharson’s success story did not end with the disbanding of the band as did with other members.
At 48, he remains a force to reckon with in the very competitive South African showbiz industry. In 2011, he won the best South African Music Awards (Sama) for the best sound engineer.
He said he was about to open a sound engineering college in Cape Town, which would be a branch of Academy of Sound Engineering, based in Johannesburg and operates out of the SABC. The Cape Town campus will be opened in February next year and will be offering a one-year Higher Certificate, a three-year diploma and a three-year Bachelor of Science in Sound Engineering degree.
Having worked with some big artistes such as South Africa’s award winning Freshlyground, and music icon Oliver Mtukudzi, his journey in the music industry can be summed up with just one word — success.
Sunday Leisure correspondent Mbongeni Msimanga (MM) recently caught up with Keith Farquharson (KF) where he spoke of his career that spans more than three decades.
Like so many musicians Keith did not start big. He humbly started by operating a small home studio in one of Harare’s suburbs, but is now counted among the country’s most celebrated keyboard players, songwriter and producer. Below are excerpts of the interview:
MM: You have an interesting profile I must say, from the days you were working with Ilanga and now in South Africa. Can you please tell us how successful have you been in your career as a music producer in South Africa?
KF: I’ve been running a commercial recording studio in Cape Town, doing mixing and mastering as well as a few pieces of music for television and film. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with a number of prominent South African musicians, most notably Freshlyground, and at the same time, a lot of Zimbabwean musicians too including Tuku, Alexio, Willom Tight, Netsayi, Mann Friday and a number of others.
MM: Great achievements I must say. You have managed to penetrate the showbiz industry in South Africa and which artistes, prominent or not have you worked with so far?
KF: I won a South African Music Award (Sama) in 2011 for Best Engineer. I have done two albums with Freshlyground and I also do a lot of work as a live sound engineer. I have also been Freshlyground’s sound engineer for eight years now, which has kept me very busy and taken me to many interesting places. I often run the sound for larger festivals and have had the opportunity to work with many of the big South African artistes as well as several well-known internationals.
MM: Interesting, but we seem to be losing a lot of talent in your form to other countries especially South Africa. Why did you decide to work in South Africa than in Zimbabwe?
KF: There’s a lot more work in South Africa, not to mention the opportunity to have better exposure to current trends and advances in technology than in Zimbabwe.
MM: You also boast of having worked with great mbira songbird the late Chiwoniso Maraire. How was it working with her in your music career?
KF: I met Chiwoniso when I was doing the Peace of Ebony project. She was only 15 and I had to get permission from her father to do a recording with her. In the process we met Andy Brown and we worked together in the group the Storm. We recorded Ancient Voices in 1997 and Rebel Woman in 2006. She was a good friend and one of the most talented and creative musicians I have had the good fortune to work with.
MM: Am sure as a music producer you have had exciting moments with Zimbabwean artistes. What would you say is the most memorable moment you have shared with them.
KF: There are too many to count! Obviously, the Ilanga days were exciting, given that I was young and the band was on fire. Same with the Storm — my journey with Andy was never dull! I also really loved travelling the world with Tuku. We did some amazing shows in some incredible places.
MM: Am sure the Ilanga days are far from fading from your memory and fans that followed the group too. In your view, why did the band Ilanga disband and do you think there is potential to come up with another band of that nature in Zimbabwe?
KF: Ilanga lost Andy Brown after a disagreement between him and Don. After that, things were never the same — the musical magic was no longer there. You must also consider that the mid to late 80s was a really golden period for music in Zimbabwe. Conditions were right for many bands — like Ilanga to thrive and earn decent money from record sales and shows.
There are lots of talented musicians, but given the current state of the global music industry, it is much harder to be able to play music full time and still earn a good living. However, there is always the potential for another Ilanga — it just depends on the right combination of players at the right time.
MM: How is the reception for Zimbabwean artistes in South Africa and have you managed to identify any talent that can be nurtured?
KF: Yes, there are many Zimbabweans playing music here in South Africa. However, there are not many outlets for them to perform to a Zimbabwean audience so many of them end up playing on the tourist circuit and don’t really get any exposure. Then they get frustrated and return to Zimbabwe.
MM: You were there in the early 80s did you attend the first independence celebrations in Zimbabwe? If so can you please share your experience when Bob Marley performed?
KF: I was only 13 at the time and so I wish I could have been there!
MM: In your own view, do you think Zimbabwe still has the same quality of talent that was there during the 80s and 90s and do you think it has improved or dropped?
KF: The talent will always be there. If there is opportunity, it will get noticed. The thing is, during our time there was little technology and so it was real talent. Now some artistes are using technology to aid the little talent that they have. Times are changing and we should appreciate that. I am, however, working with some of the artistes in the country and I am just about to start mixing the latest album from Jah Prayzah.
MM: Thank you Keith. It was a pleasure interacting with you.
KF: Thank you.