He’s worked with a plethora of South African musicians over five decades and been on the fringes of Paul Simon’s Graceland. So as you can imagine, Ian Osrin is no stranger to the beats, melodies and unique music stylings of South Africa and its neighbouring lands. The founder behind the legendary Digital Cupboard Studios in Johannesburg, he’s now produced a Loop Pack inspired by his decades of experience with South African music, aptly named Zulu Porridge.
“In Zulu, the term mbaqanga means an everyday cornmeal porridge,” Ian Osrin explains, “Mbaqanga gave them a staple form of musical and spiritual sustenance; it was their “musical daily bread.”
We go behind the beats to find out more about the creator of these unique sounds, his legendary Johannesburg studio and the incredible musicians behind the music.
Please introduce yourself and tell us about where you are located and what you do?
I’m Ian Osrin, owner, founder and engineer at Digital Cupboard Studios which opened way back in 1988. It’s a recording facility based in Johannesburg, South Africa, a stone’s throw away from the famous Sophiatown area.
Digital Cupboard has worked with a huge list of celebrities but more importantly, has long well-established relationships with the finest session musicians in the country. We are able to match musicians to projects ensuring that our clients receive the best input into their work.
How did Digital Cupboard studios get started?
After working in the largest music studio facility in Johannesburg for five years, we started mainly as a reaction to the increasing affordability of equipment like the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, The Roland MC500 composer, and other digital innovations. Originally running an Otari 8-track and loads of digital peripherals, it eventually evolved into a fully-fledged project studio.
The studio has serviced the South African music industry for over 30 years and has recorded many of the most successful acts in the country, including Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Jabu Khanyile, Zonke, Simphiwe Dana, Mike Makhalamele, The Mahotella Queens, Mattafix as well as movie scores, “Catch a Fire“, “Mapantsula”, “Life above all” and numerous live location DVDs. A host of SAMA trophies the local equivalent of the Grammy Awards have been won by albums from the studio, including the first ever Producer of the Year and Album of the year awards.
Today the studio is a modern digital facility steeped in a long analogue tradition, the last album completed here was a magnificent collaboration between Simphiwe Dana and Salif Keita.
Tell us about the Zulu Porridge Loop Pack you’ve created for BandLab.
In Zulu, the term mbaqanga means an everyday cornmeal porridge. Mbaqanga aficionados were mostly plebeian, metropolitan African jazz enthusiasts. Many of them were not permitted to establish themselves in the city, but they were unable to sustain themselves in the rural country. Mbaqanga gave them a staple form of musical and spiritual sustenance; it was their “musical daily bread.
I’ve dug deep in my archives looking for analogue recordings of typical Mbaqanga phrases and loops. Sourced from original multitrack these loops represent some of the finest examples and players of the genre. The loops consist of simple 2 and 3 chord phrases with some very subtle variations within some of the loops. Consisting of the traditional drum kit, kick, rim and hi-hat occasionally a tom groove or conga accompaniment. The patterns are very straight forward but it is often the hi-hat that gives the loop the “feel”. The other instruments that are always featured are the distinctive driving bass lines, lyrical guitar and accordion phrases and strong Hammond B3 lines. I have also included the odd synth phrase which was typically introduced in the 80s.
I believe that when people are exposed to this music for the first time it will unleash a creative spirit which with luck, could produce another Grammy.
What do you hope people get out of this loop pack?
In 1983 I was on the periphery of the Paul Simon Graceland project. It fascinated me how he was able to take the simple rhythmic elements of our indigenous pop and convert it into a Grammy-winning pop album. I believe that when people are exposed to this music for the first time it will unleash a creative spirit which with luck, could produce another Grammy.
You’ve also just completed a remote track collaboration using BandLab, tell us about the new track Tjeka Kordiana and you created it?
Tjeka Koriana is a typical example of what I hope to inspire with my loop packs. In this case I used a seed of accordion and bass but from Sotho music another popular form of traditional sounds. I then invited a couple of renowned session musicians to have fun and experiment with the BandLab remote recording process. I was not specific about the equipment they could use and merely let them get on with it.
We recorded some material in home setups, some with phones and laptops. The Ukulele and Oudtar were provided by Greg Hajioki Georgiades, The congas by Ashish Joshi and the saxophones by McCoy Mrubata. I then took the work and expanded it with some loops and sample of my own. This track is really a lot of fun and we would welcome some contributions from some musicians elsewhere in the world! Fork away!
Where can people find out more about the studios and find you on BandLab?
You can find out more about Digital Cupboard’s work with BandLab here. It is still a work in progress there is a specific link to our developments in BandLab. We started The Digital Cupboard Playground on BandLab so people can meet our session musicians and contact any of us.