31 October 2014


Lloyd Ross reports back on Shifty September - celebrating 30 years of seditious sounds and 20 years of democracy:

"Earlier this year, the Alliance Française’s Southern African director, Jean Bourdin, approached me as co-founder of Shifty Records to showcase the story behind the mobile studio and the array of musicians Shifty had recorded over three decades. Jean had identified Shifty’s legacy as an example of liberation heritage appropriate for celebrating 20 years of South African democracy during the Heritage month of September. The role musical activism played in the struggle for a democratic South Africa was key to this acknowledgment of the important contribution of the musicians recorded by Shifty

This invitation resulted in eight separate events covering a month of activity collectively titled Shifty September – celebrating 30 years of seditious sounds.  

The first event was the launch of Shifty Records – what you won’t hear on the radio. This exhibition on the history of Shifty was compiled by the South African History Archive (SAHA) and hosted by the Alliance Française in Johannesburg. The exhibit showcases materials drawn from SAHA’s ongoing Shifty archiving project and was converted into an exhibition catalogue, distributed throughout Shifty September, and an online exhibition.

Six further themed evenings at the Alliance followed featuring a mix of panel discussions, presentations, performances and movies. These events brought into focus the role played by music in providing awareness and release during the apartheid era and beyond. 

People viewing the Shifty Exhibition at Alliance FrncaiseShifty Exhibition at Alliance Frncaise

The month’s activities culminated in the Shifty Heritage Music Festival – Viva la Difference at The Bassline on Heritage Day, 24th September. What made those twelve hours and twenty odd performances so unique is that for the first time ever, a good representation of the eclectic group of Shifty musicians was brought together as one tribe under one roof. The day was to be a vivid testament to the genre diversity of the label not only for the audience, but also for the performers, to the extent that the feeling of mutual respect and warmth between the musicians in the room was tangible to all present.  

Shifty September

The audience – many of whom had been part of the cultural dissidence that mirrored the political struggle during the 80’s and 90’s in South Africa – were treated to an unforgettable flow of musical talent, expressed through a group of artists that reflects the diverse creative and cultural landscape of South Africa. 

Against a rich backdrop of Swahili Swing, chimurenga/rumba rhythms, folk, pop, rock, boere punk, avant garde virtuosity, jazz/rock/klopse fusion, channeled shamanic chanting and rhythmic poetics, musicians from different acts were inspired to drop in on each other’s sets. Some of them travelled from as far as Hawaii, Sweden, Los Angeles, San Francisco as well as the Eastern Cape, KZN, Western Cape and North West to play together and express their appreciation for the contribution that Shifty had made to their lives, as well as to celebrate the role that they and their peers played in South African music culture. 

Considering that the theme of this year’s Heritage month was ‘the reclaiming, restoring and celebration’ of our living liberation heritage, Jean Bourdin’s singling out of the Shifty legacy was right on point. Sadly, it often takes an outsider to identify the value of this very much insider achievement. This is not to say that some local institutions have not recognized the importance of Shifty’s legacy, the most notable of which being SAHA, who have for the last two years been collecting and archiving Shifty media. 

Then there were the sponsors without whom Shifty September would have been a much less grand affair:

Then there were those that helped reduce costs of the Music Festival: Bassline for the venue; Hilltop Live for ticketing; Gearhouse for the sound system; SA Backline for instruments and backline equipment; Puma Video and Visual Impact for video equipment loan.

Plus of course the Thundafund crowd funders and all the people that provided their time and services to make Shifty September the success that it turned out to be."  

Lloyd Ross - Shifty Records