Dipping in and out of Louise Meintjes book Sound of Africa: making music Zulu in a South African studio.
Alton Ngubane and his band are recording a cassette of Inkatha Freedom Party songs with instrumental backing. In the first session in a small studio in town, Tom, the engineer, sets up the mikes, prepares the console for the backing tracks and programs a drum track.
Next he picks a channel on the console for the bass guitar. Bongani [the bass player] lugs the amp into the little booth. He starts to plug in.
No, says Tom, holding down the talkback button.
Tom calls Bongani back into the control room. The bass must go directly into the console. Much cleaner sound, he explains. Sorry, no half-assed sound is going out of this studio.
The band want the bass amped and miked. Period.
We’re dedicated to sound quality in this studio, Tom insists.
Look, I’m always open to suggestions, but I know it’s not gonna work, Tom says.
Ngubane lights up and takes a puff.
Tom bends over the console and sweeps his forearms over the faders, pulling them down to zero. He switches off the controls.
The band watches.
No one says anything.
They pick up their instruments.
That man doesn’t know our music, Bongani grumbles to me as we leave. He doesn’t even like it.