Bubele Booi is hiding under a peak cap in the Baxter Theatre Centre.
“So this is where celebrities hang out,” grins one student as they pass by.
The third-year BMus student is not one for the spotlight, though. Preferring the relative anonymity of the studio, Booi is nonetheless launching a career that may take him to the very top of the music world.
Booi is specialising in music technology, a new degree that was pioneered by Theo Herbst in 2014. Booi was part of the first cohort.
He expected music school to be like Fame – The Musical, but found it much more serious and bookish than such extravaganzas.
“It's not your stereotypical movie music school,” he says.
A seasoned music producer – he's been in the studio for more than a decade – Booi lives what he studies. The music technology degree lets him hone his craft while still allowing him space to play instruments (yes, he plays much of the music on the tracks he produces).
But something at the school bugged him. Many – too many – supremely talented musicians were “not putting themselves out there”.
There were loads of people “who have massive amounts of talent but don't seem to want to put themselves on any platform, or don't have the expertise to do so,” he laments.
“There are guys on YouTube who are getting millions of views for playing really basic things on the sax or on the flute or a pop song on the sax, and there are guys on our campus who are crazy good, award-winning musicians, who are not known at all.”
The Live Room
Enter the UCT Live Room. Based on the BBC Live Lounge idea, it's a space for young artists to record in a professional setting and have their tunes broadcast online. Booi and fellow students from across campus pooled their skills and resources, and UCT's own production studio was born.
“We have so much talent on campus that people don't know about. Cats like Goldfish started here. Jimmy Dludlu – some real legends in the industry [started here]. People don't know that. It would be really great to showcase that talent.”
Booi insists that the project wouldn't exist if not for Nomxolisi Masango, who he considers to be “an excellent director in her own right”. Masango's great feel for locations and keen eye for making things visually beautiful – with almost no equipment at her disposal – have had a huge influence on the success of the project.
“It's about backing our boys before they go out into the 'real world',” says Booi. “And it's a way for students to reach other students by putting their stuff online.”
Music is great to talk about, but even better to listen to. Dive into this ditty from Ndumiso Manana, the first student to record in the Live Room:
Jono Johansen, of The Voice fame, was the second artist to record an original song with the Live Room. Johansen and Booi's single 'Cracks in the pavement' was released by Universal Music on 22 July 2016.
This original from Johansen is called 'I'll be there':
Johansen was recently signed by Universal Music. You saw him here first.
The Live Room's third video features Mandie Zara singing 'Old habits', with Dominic Meddick on guitar:
And there are more in the pipeline.
“People are queuing up,” says Booi. He hopes that the studio will live on after he and his founding colleagues graduate, and on the evidence thus far, there's no reason it shouldn't.
At its core, says Booi, the UCT Live Room is all about showcasing people “with an insane amount of talent”, like Manana, Jono and Mandie. Artists must audition, of course, to make sure their music is up to scratch.
“Show us what you've got, and bring it.”
Story Yusuf Omar. Photos supplied by the South African College of Music: Music Technology Division.
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