As a DJ/Producer from the south of Germany, Ralf Gum has made waves internationally and found residence in birth-place of the drum, Africa. He found gold in South Africa with his critically acclaimed album “Never Leaves You” which included the mega-hit "Take Me To Your Love" featuring Monique Bingham and so he has become a household name in the thriving South African House music scene. We caught up with Ralf ahead of his trip to Spain for the Vocal Booth Weekender, to chat about his journey as a DJ, settling in South Africa and his vision and mission with his label GOGO Music.
How long have you been in SA and what made you make the move? The first time I came to SA was through DJ Christos who had booked me for a tour and I was literally blown away when I got here. I knew there was a good music scene here as some of my friends had been here before, so I heard about it many times. My first experience of the what is going on was when someone fetched me from the airport. We turned on the radio and there was a song by Osunlade playing. I said to him “Nice mixtape!” and he
How has it inspired you as an artist being here? It didn’t change my sound too much, but it did revitalize my energy to keep doing what I'm doing, I got the feedback from the people and enough gigs to finance myself. Music sales don’t create a lot of revenues anymore, so performance is the main income stream. For me, being here came at the perfect time because I’d started becoming more popular since I’ve been here. I also did not want to travel too much to find gigs. There wasn’t a lot going on where I was in Germany, so I had to fly to gigs most of the time, whereas in South Africa I am able to drive to really good gigs. So being in SA enabled me to keep on doing what I'm doing. I've played many clubs and festivals in Europe, but one thing that really appealed to me was the raw energy that the township gigs have. It’s not about the glitz and glamour, it’s not about VIP, it’s all about the music. It’s much more a sonic experience than a visual experience. There’s nothing wrong with good lighting, for example, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the experience. My music has always been influenced by World Music, so in my case more Latin American than African when I started out, but I eventually started incorporating African grooves into my music, which I still do. Most importantly I try to not repeat myself. The last album, compared to the previous one, had a bit more minimal soulful influence i.e. not as focused on full-scale production. Subconsciously you are inspired by everything around you, so the move here might’ve changed my sound more than I'm aware of. I wouldn’t come here, listen to the local music and try to replicate it, but I'm sure it’s influenced me in the slightest of ways.
You’re performing in Spain this weekend at the Vocal Booth Festival, How are you feeling about this? I'm feeling great about it! Vocal Booth Festival has been around for a while and it’s finally my first time going there. Festivals bring together the real heads in Europe. The club scene has gone down in a lot of cities because of the rise of Festival culture, so Festivals are some of the only places to find proper music. I'm also looking forward to seeing some friends; Andy, the organizer is a friend of mine, so it’s like meeting the family in Europe. A lot of the artists stick around so they’ll arrive on Friday and leave on Monday which gives us time to chat properly. It’s always good to meet them.
You recently worked with Bra Hugh Masekela on an EP release pack for "In My City". What was the experience like, working with the Godfather of South African Jazz music? Once we were in the studio it was an amazing experience, he’s humble, focused and fast working artist. It wasn’t very easy to get to work with him as he’s a very busy man; he’s always out of the country, touring the world. I have to admit I was a bit nervous before we started working together and when he came to my studio I didn’t know what to expect. I had met him once before the session and we chatted briefly about what we wanted to do, but it wasn’t very clear at that point. So, I prepared myself well and once he was there it was just like two musicians coming together to do their thing. Obviously it was a great honour to work with someone of his calibre, he’s known as a legend around the world. Working with him was a dream come true! I’ve been listening to his music for about 20 years. A good friend of mine from my hometown in the South of Germany is an avid Jazz music collector and whenever I visited him he’d play me something new. One day he said he’d play me something from an African musician and it was Hugh Masekela. The tone of the trumpet fascinated me and the sound never left me. It’s like the dream has come true 20 years later; working with someone whose music you have admired for so many years.
What prompted you to start GOGO Music and where did the name come from? I wanted to have a platform to release my taste of music. If you release on other labels you can be combined with songs you don’t necessarily feel. I also wanted to have a label that really cares about artist development. It’s a bit different in this country; House Music is almost regarded as Pop Music. Whereas in Europe most labels would just sign one track and the track would be more important than the artist. If you had another track which they weren’t as keen on you’d have to find another label to release it because they often don’t believe in working with someone and developing their career properly. In terms of the name, I was just looking for something catchy. While thinking about it a small car, which was produced mainly in the 70s called GOGO Mobile, passed by my window and I thought “Aah GoGo Mobile, GOGO Music” It was a cool car and the name sounded catchy so I stuck with it. I wasn’t aware at the time that there’s a musical style from Washington DC which is also called “Gogo music” but I had already started the label so I couldn’t change it at that point.
What’s in the pipeline for GOGO music in the future? We’ve just started GOGO Music Nights, which brings the sound of our label, through our DJs, to the club. We started in Mafikeng and we’ve been to House 22 and Soweto. There’s one coming up in the East Rand this month and we’re planning to take it around the world in 2016. Next year will also be the 15 year anniversary of GOGO Music, so we are putting out a “15 years of GOGO Music” double mixed CD. Later in 2016 we’ll have an artist album coming out by local producer/DJ, Sir LSG. I’ve also started work on an album, so I'm planning that for release in 2017. Besides all that I'm always looking for new music to release on the label, for me it’s always about the
You recently launched the GOGO Music App, how is that going? It has been received well! I meet a lot of people at gigs who show me the app on their phones, so I know it’s out there.
You’ve been a victim of piracy over the years especially with your latest album “In My City”, do you think this App is a step to alter the environment in which people can interact with the music, to make the buying/streaming process more secure? As long we have digital formats we will always have this problem. It’s easy to share between people. If you can have something for free a percentage of the people will take advantage of it, which is, unfortunately, affecting us as musicians. What is lacking is the education to the general public about how it affects the industry. People don’t realise that them sharing the music online takes away from the income of the artist, label, producer etc. I have my doubts that we will stamp it out completely and it will probably always happen. I think streaming is a good way to decrease piracy; I'm quite “pro-streaming”. In general, I think streaming will becoming an important revenue stream in the future. Unfortunately, downloads have decreased in most online music stores. Once data and smartphones become more affordable to everyone, streaming will take over. So creating this app is an investment into the future, but for now it’s a good way to connect to more people. We promote the music and stream the radio show on the app and in the future there might be the possibility to sell our music via the app.
You’re quite active in the communities that you play in; you hosted the Annual GOGO Music Thanksgiving event in aid of the Sunnyside Orphanage as well as feeding schemes at various schools. What purpose does it serve for you personally? For me, it’s about giving back some of the love and opportunities I’ve received in the country. The country has supported me a lot and, therefore, I try to somehow give back in the form of raising money from events for the less privileged. People still don’t really mix here and if there was some way to get the races together it would help the country in general. I don’t think I'm in the position to make a big change but if I can make a small change as a white (German) person reaching black people, I hope I can change the perception of people. I would be happy if I could make the gaps between the races smaller, I think it’s necessary. I see a lot of parallel societies existing in this country, there’s a way to get people together and I believe such events do help.