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95 years of music revisited in Gallo Vault Sessions

South African label Gallo Music launches a new six-part series about African musical history. From the 1930s to present day, to explore the stories behind their massive catalogue. 

To celebrate its 95th anniversary, South African label Gallo Music commissioned a six-part podcast series to delve into their massive catalogue. It reflects on how socio-political culture shaped music as it is today, tackling head on the darker and insidious side of the recording industry. The series is narrated by Kineta Kunutu, researched, produced and written by artist and researcher Zara Julius at KONJO, a pan-African creative research and cultural storytelling agency. Bradley Williams, who worked on the project, answered PAM’s questions.

What was the impetus for the project?

We really wanted to tell the story of Gallo’s heritage catalogue and the rich music history to the current generation of fans of music from the continent.

The story of the past nine decades of music from Africa, especially Southern Africa, known only on a surface level; hasn’t been unpacked in modern times in the context of millennials and Gen Zs, and not from the recording label’s perspective. 

This reframing of Gallo’s history reveals new narratives of the origins of the sounds we love today; introducing new information of the incredible practices and artists of South Africa from inception in the early 1920s to the mid 90s. The podcast is intimate and entertaining with storytelling by people who were close to the process when the music was made.

Hugh Masekela
Why is it important to rediscover the vaults?

It’s important for a fan of music and culture to know the roots of the sound that inspired what we identify as modern South African music. Exploring the vaults sets us off on a journey of discovery of the original artists and sounds that have influenced and have been referenced in the current wave of African Music.

Gallo Music has been in operation for 95 years. With new owners as of 2020, the label is now in the hands of true custodians and patrons of African culture and music; with a genuine interest to invest in preserving the history and heritage of this significant label and its catalogue as it builds towards 100 years of Gallo Music in 2026, and beyond.

Through the vault project we discovered that only one third of the vast Gallo catalogue is available digitally for streaming, whilst the majority of Gallo’s heritage catalogue is kept in analogue form at a secret location in Johannesburg, including music from some of the most iconic names in South African music; ultimately showing the giant digitisation gap across the internet. So the vault’s significance is beyond just the label and Gallo’s history but the story of Southern African culture and music, and the stories of the people of Africa.

Miriam Makeba
Que peuvent apprendre les auditeurs de cette première saison ?

There’s so much historical value explored throughout Season 1. Each episode is thematically crafted; by era/period providing chronological perspectives of the historical moments that shaped the sound that grew into this multidimensional African musical lineage. 

Season 1 highlights key cultural practices and the impact of the socio-political and economical system on music, which greatly impacted how music was made through the Apartheid era. We trace the history of artists from various musical traditions and cultures: from isiZulu traditional folk music (isiCathamiya and Maskandi) to Mbaqanga (a music genre birthed in townships from diverse influences, as counterculture to the Marabi/Jazz norm), to Afrikaanse Boere Musiek; against the socio-political backdrop that birthed what we have come to know as South African music.

We hope that the listener will find interesting facts about their favourite legendary artists, learn more about their sound and its impact on culture and history, while discovering rare, previously unavailable music.

Don Laka
Do you have a favourite anecdote from any episode?

Discovering the originator and pioneer of African electronic music in Don Laka, a former composer and jazz musician, and how he was influenced by UK acid jazz group Soul II Soul. There is also the first episode that pretty much takes the listener through the 9 decades of Gallo in an hour and reveals some of the greatest names in African music as linked to Gallo including Hugh Masekela, Dorothy Masuka, Letta Mbulu, Mariam Makeba, Todd Matsikisha and more. Also the vast extent at which Reggae star Lucky Dube and Soul Brothers’ influence stretches, especially to Australia and South America.

The episodes are available here.