Joyful Noise in London - with Lucky Ranku and Pinise Saul

We spoke to music promoter Biyi Adepegba, who together with South African Barbara Pukwana, is the force behind Joyful Noise, formed in 1990 to present contemporary world black music to London and beyond – and we were fortunate enough to meet two legends – Lucky Ranku and Pinise Saul, behind Township Express, The South African Gospel Singers among others.

How did Joyful Noise begin?

It started around 89 when I was at University in London, I was doing projects – and one of them was around doing anti-apartheid campaigns and that sort of thing......I was a completely useless musician but I had the affinity to organise things.

Were you studying music?

No, economics at King’s College in London

So that’s where the business side comes from?

Probably, after graduation I was looking for a job – so after about a month I decided that while I was looking for a job I would start doing this – my hobby...

There came a point when I decided to turn my hobby into my career. Since then, since 1990, we’ve done so many different things – we’ve taken concerts and tours to 35 countries – in 2003 we started the London African Music Festival.

Everybody has a kind of music about what African music is supposed to be but what we were doing did not seem to fit into the parameters of what they expected...

We wanted to do what we wanted to do – and when people are not giving you something, the only thing you have left is to create your own. That’s how it all started in the first place, because I happened to know a lot of musicians who were not getting work. I said why bang your head against a wall, sending out info about what you do, trying to get gigs if people are not interested – rather create you own thing.

So we went ahead with some of the bands – for instance the South African Gospel Singers who were not getting that much work – and started booking venues.

Because of that we were able to develop our own audience who are very loyal and knowledgeable about what we do. We moved to a scene that’s unique, away from fads and fashions...

The Festival just grew and grew and we started booking artists who were doing interesting music – not artists who are big per se.

It has become a crucial landmark in London because it is unique.

What does it mean when people say African music?

Everyone means something slightly different – is it possible to define that – considering our vast continent.

African music should be allowed to be big but the problem is that the gatekeepers, those with financial interests in what is a big business, really push their own projects – and don’t include other artists or types of music.

Why should everybody say then that one artist represents a country or a continent i.e. the Voice of Africa or the voice of Nigeria or South Africa.

It puts undue pressure on the artist.

What are your hopes for the festival?

To keep doing it, that people keep coming and to involve youth and expand the audience...

Do you have an interest in new music i.e. kwaito?

We do follow the new stuff that is coming through. But again it’s about scale – when we have to bring a 10 piece band from SA for instance – just for one show – once a band starts touring then we will try and promote it. But persuading promoters to take new bands on board is difficult.

Is the visa situation into the UK starting to be a problem for artists?

It depends on the artist, if you have a major star like Yvonne Chaka Chaka then no problem. It’s when you have a new artist who has never been before that there can be a problem.

Your top tips for African music for the future (considering we can’t generalise about ‘African music’) where do you think it is heading?

You really can’t predict but I hope that everybody is true to themselves – the answer is the same as I gave 15 years ago. We were doing a tour with Miriam Makeba and asked her about her ongoing success and she said: ‘I make music but not for myself but for my people’ and I think if you make music that is true to yourself it will be true to other people too.

If you are sincere people will hear it and you will develop your own loyal audience.

As artists, whatever you do must be true.

Pinise Saul and Lucky Ranku are South Africans who left and went into exile during the apartheid years – a superb composer and singer, Pinise Saul often work with top guitarist Lucky Ranku on a number of projects including Township Express and The South African Gospel Singers.

Where did it all start?

PS I started singing in SA – as a teenager growing up in East London – in SA it starts from home, as children sometimes we used to sing together

LR It starts in the street really, when you are playing you learn a lot, to sing and play

When did you leave?

PS 1975 – I was in my 20s – I was with Ipi Tombi so started in France and then Britain, Canada and came back to the UK and went to the West End.

I joined a group called Jabula (Lucky was there) and Julian Bahula. After that great saxophonist Dudu Pukwana called me to do a recording – one tune in 1981 and I never left after that ...used to rehearse in the house (now Biyi’s house and office in north London).

LR Julian left in 1973 to come to the UK and I followed him in 1974 because the police were too much for me.

You joined the ANC choir? Over here for fundraising?

Both of us were part of it – people who were in exile based in London.

Both And after that we could forget about going home...

It must have been heartbreaking?

LR It was heartbreaking but especially for my family because they were harassed very badly. My mom was very old even then; she was born in 1901 – that hurt me the most! Knowing I couldn’t see her and that she was being harassed.

What music were you singing at that stage for the choir?

LR There were a lot of political songs, some from home and some composed as we went along.

Because of apartheid, was music always linked with politics?

LR It contributed a lot to our politics; wherever we went we had speakers from different organisations from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia – South Africans too.

When liberation came did you go back?

We went back.

Is it half-half home – the UK and SA?

Home is where your people are, we’ve got families here, grandchildren here but...

You write the compositions Pinise?

 PN oh yes, it’s natural to us – we had no music schools, nowadays our children and grandchildren are very luck because they can go and learn music to write it.

We pick it a group or even alone. You can be sitting there alone and then it comes and you give it to the group.

Sometimes Lucky will be sitting there playing his guitar and I am sitting reading the paper and I hear something in what he’s playing and I start to sing and the next thing it’s a tune!

We put it down...

How long have you two worked together then?

Both exclaim

PN Whoo-oo – forever...

LR absolutely

When you are onstage do you kind of know what the other one is going to be doing?

LR Well we play in the bands and as a duet. We know what the other one is doing – if I see her going one way then I know I must head the other way onstage.

When people come to the concert what kind of music are they expecting?

PS’s a whole range

LR Everything is on the plate

PS You can’t sit down on that chair, you have to stand up and dance.

You’ve made albums?

PS We’ve made about 2 or 3 albums, you can get the albums in the UK?

I was wondering about the following that you’ve got here?

LR and PS it’s a big following and not just in the UK. We’ve just got back from Dakar for instance – with the Allstars. (The African Jazz Allstars)

So you two are the common denominators in all the groups?

LR Yes, in all the groups...

Do you ever forget which band you’re appearing with when you go on stage?


LR After so many years, never – you dream about it, you sleep about it, you eat it...everything

So you’re writing different types of songs for each group. When you’re sitting listening to him playing do you know immediately what group the song will suit?

PS Of course, the minute he plays the introduction I know which one it will suit.

Because they are totally different...

What do you really want your audiences to do?

PS to forget all the troubles of the world and get up and dance...

Re the South African music scene since you’ve been able to go back. What do you think has changed?

PS In South Africa the music that we left is still there – there are new kinds of music like kwaito, American R&B...

LR Biyi was speaking the truth earlier; the youngsters do their own thing and create their own kwaito

PS Along the way as they grow up – the music of the country is still there, they can find it, they just don’t play it

Would you ever think about playing or singing with younger artists?

LR Yes

PS Yes of course

LR the music mustn’t be lost – you get more energy and vibes from them because they are interested and they want to learn! They are the best...and you should them – you don’t want them to feel restricted like ‘the old man says play here or like that’

PS They must feel free...

LR Then you will find the music is getting stronger and stronger.

The forthcoming concerts, what should people look forward to?

PS A really good night out. The UK audiences are really fine.

Check out the forthcoming dates and venues





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