The Shifty Records Legacy Archive Project  ( 2014 )

COVER: A naartjie in our sosatieCOVER: Viva! K-TeamCOVER: Niemandsland


"..inside South Africa music and song played a significant role in putting pressure on the apartheid regime. Scott, in his work on the arts of resistance, asserts that "oral traditions, due simply to their means of transmission, offer a kind of seclusion, control, and even anonymity that make them ideal vehicles for cultural resistance1"

"Independent labels began to play a critical role in expanding the possibilities for recorded music in South Africa in the 1980s. Perhaps the most important label at the time was Shifty Records2"

From the dark beginnings of the Eighties till the dawn of the new dispensation in South Africa, Shifty Records set out to document the songs of South African musicians that felt compelled to comment on the times that they were living through. These recordings resulted in the most comprehensive collection of South African political/social commentary music in existence. Kaapse goema, mbaqanga jive, rock, folk, avant-garde, isicathamiya, worker songs, poetry, boere punk, jazz, maskande - this range of genres reflects the diverse cultures and influences from which these artists drew their inspiration. The reason for this eclecticism in the Shifty catalogue is easily explained - no other institution would do it, so Shifty virtually did it all.

The aim of this project is to preserve, organise, research and make accessible the endangered archive of Shifty Records, a South African record label committed to documenting and supporting the anti-apartheid movement through music and song.

The archive is in urgent need of digitization to a stable medium, as the formats of many of its historic audio recordings are deteriorating rapidly. In addition, there is a significant collection of video, photographic and documentary materials in need of digitisation so as to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of this rich collection of historical materials.

The initial element of the project is the digitisation of the archive, a process already initiated by SAHA with initial funding from the Atlantic Philanthropies:

Phase1: digitizing, archiving and research, listed in descending levels of importance:-

  • Digitizing audio (urgent, due to tape deterioration): transfer all recordings into one stable standard, i.e. 96kHz, 24bit digital sound files. 
  • Archiving audio: cataloguing the sound files into a database with metadata.
  • Digitizing and archiving moving image relating to Shifty and artists.
  • Scanning and archiving still image: press and stills relating to Shifty and artists.

Leveraging off the investment made in the digitisation of this rich archive of materials, SAHA, in consultation with Lloyd Ross, founder of Shifty Records, aims to:

  • To use these materials as a starting point for conducting research, establishing dates, places, people and circumstances relating to each recording, as well as the availability of relevant photographic and video references), primarily through oral history interviews into the history of music in the struggle against apartheid; 
  • To arrange and describe digitised materials, and collected oral histories, in a comprehensive archival finding aid (in line with archival best practices) at the South African History Archive (SAHA), for access and use by researchers interested in the vital role played by music in promoting awareness of, and popularising the struggle against apartheid, both nationally and internationally.

This project is conceptualised as the research phase of a longer-term outreach project that will use the research gathered in this project to engage with young music students to research and collect additional information relating to this rich period of musical and political history in South Africa, through the 1980s, and ultimately to produce and disseminate a publication, with accompanying CD and online repository of the Shifty Records archive.


This exciting project has now developed into Shifty September:

A Heritage Month tribute to the Shifty Records music label, combining exhibitions, documentary screenings, panel discussions and, of course, concerts  to celebrate the Shifty story of musical activism in the struggle for democracy in South Africa.

There are a number of ways to get involved: 

Donate your Shifty swag to the archives

Treat yourself to something Shifty on Thundafund

Come along to Shifty September events



1 Anne Schumann. The Beat that Beat Apartheid: The Role of Music in the Resistance against Apartheid in South Africa. Stichproben. WienerZeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien Nr. 14/2008, 8. Jg., 17‐39

2 Carol A. Muller. 2008. Focus: Music of South Africa. Taylor and Francis