From Soshanguve to Berlin: Cornelius SA talks about his experience at Red Bull Music Academy
Long before he boarded a flight to a prominent global music industry event, Cornelius SA already exuded the calm down to earth assuredness of a veteran.
I remember telling my friends back in the days that ‘the guys you see on TV I’ll hang with them one day’…”
His attention to his craft and professionalism were rewarded when he recently was selected as one of only two South Africans to attend the 2018 edition of the prestigious Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA).
South African alumni of the RBMA programme include industry heavyweights such as Black Coffee, Culoe de Song and Jullian Gomes.
Now back home from Berlin and with his bags unpacked, Cornelius had a chat with us about this artist-defining experience and what it means for his blossoming career.
It’s quite a long way from Soshanguve to Berlin! What were the first thoughts to enter your mind when you were told that you would be one of only two South Africans who were selected to attend the 2018 Red Bull Music Academy?
Cornelius SA: “I’m lucky!”
Over 3 000 applications (including 59 other applicants around the world) went through the selection process and mine got chosen.
This made me realise how my music is appreciated in other parts of the globe and that my efforts do not go to waste.
I remember telling my friends back in the days that “the guys you see on TV I’ll hang with them one day”, “I’ll go overseas” and they’d laugh at me or make fun of what I had so much faith in.
But I’ve always had the mind-set that no one can challenge me better than myself…I followed my heart.
It was so funny to have came across Black Motion [themselves also from Soshanguve] at the airport, actually we took the same flight to Doha (Dubai) and the only thing they told me was “It’s not everyone that’s gets an opportunity to travel the world just to make music, especially coming from typical area’s where people don’t believe in dreams like Soshanguve”.
I felt God sent his angels to give courage, to shed the light…. it’s not easy travelling to a place you’ve never been to before on your own.
You got the news that you would be attending this year’s edition of RBMA months before actually getting on the plane to Germany. How did you prepare yourself for this once in a lifetime opportunity?
Cornelius SA: The preparation phase wasn’t as hectic as I thought it would be.
I made sure to prepare the essentials, like my hard drive, flash drives, headphones, laptop, shades [[laughs]], passport and my luggage bags of course.
One needs a Schengen Visa to be in Europe, so I had to apply for one before leaving the country.
I was crossing my fingers that I get it and within five days it was approved.
Authenticity is what separates a classy artist from one who follows trends and just enjoys their ‘15 minutes of fame.”
The public talks are a very important part of the RBMA programme. Which talks/lectures did you attend?
Cornelius SA: It’s not easy reflecting on my experience at the Red Bull Academy, till today I’m still absorbing everything.
Well I attended all lectures and rubbed shoulders with artists who have contributed so much to the music industry.
These include Nina Kraviz (I love her so much, I wish she reads this [laughs]), Damo Suzuki, Christian Rich, Jlin, Kevin Saunderson (Inner City) , Amadou and Maria, Objekt, Titica, Robert Henke, John Collins, Jannelle Monae and Brian Jackson.
Apologies if forgot to mention anyone.
That is quite a high-powered cast. What are some of the fascinating lessons you learned during these talks?
Cornelius SA: All lectures were approached from different angles but it was always about the music and how to become a better musician.
This is what caught my attention the most, “different views leading to one road”.
Nina Kraviz quoted the saying “If you want something, you just need to do something for it” but don’t make success your primary reason for doing art as art is not about that.
Damo Suzuki said, “Your energy is very important, any kind of energy, you must give to the people, you get the same energy back from them because music is a form of communication”.
So, music without communication doesn’t exist.
According to Jlin, “It’s so easy to be trendy. It’s hard as hell to be authentic though”.
Authenticity is what separates a classy artist from one who follows trends and just enjoys their “15 minutes of fame”.
You have really made some big strides as a producer…what new “tricks” did you pick up during the RBMA studio sessions?
Cornelius SA: There are a number new tricks that I learned from other participants, but the most important one is trusting the process and taking as much time as can be if you want your sound to get to that level.
Music is a process, if something is a process, that necessarily means “it takes time”.
You don’t just get in studio and boom; a track is complete.
Artists from 37 different countries participated over the five weeks of the programme. Tell us a bit about some of the people (preferably the crazy ones!) you connected with and the interesting things you discovered about music and life from them?
Cornelius SA: Before I went to Berlin I met Erika on Instagram and she introduced me to Benjamin, this cool, funny, bright young man from Sao Paula, Brazil who’s was also participating.
Everyone had that crazy character in them, but Benja was just too special, very young and energetic, always happy and creative. [[laughs]]
Everybody liked Benja. Oooh my gosh! [laughs]
It was just matter of knowing everybody and finding those you vibe with.
I worked in studio with Nick, Yakamoto, Svetla, Elizabeth, Akemi…and sometimes I’d go jam with Anna Vs June, Anxo, Maqueta in the live instrument/studio room.
It was fun playing the bass and sometimes keys, Anxo would do drums in the other room and Maqueta would do marimba and the sound that came out was so different from what we make individually.
It’s very important to collaborate and learn other strange formats of making sound.
Well everything was recorded on a phone, since there was so much to do in a day [laughs]
RBMA was another thing!
...at the same time RBMA is not all work and no play! Concerts and club nights are also part of the programme. What’s the vibe like in Berlin?
Cornelius SA: Berlin is open to anything.
The people are very open minded, always keen to learning new things and supportive.
It doesn’t matter if its up or down-tempo, mid or off, the passion for sound and noise is so real.
An off-key can mean so many things to somebody, so is distortion, noise and ambience.
Off all the bomb club nights, which one was the most enjoyable for you?
Cornelius SA: All parties were amazing.
It was fun listening to the music of friends I just met during the Academy and seeing some crazy approaches and presentations.
Anna vs. June played a very tricky set which made sense later when I got back home.
She’s sometimes traditional, sometimes experimental, ethereal and scary theatre sounds (wow).
I also enjoyed playing a closing set at Paloma “RBMR:For The Love Of Kotti” down stairs and Pearson Sound was taking care of things upstairs.
My sound was about showcasing African influenced dance music (Afro-House/Techno) which is currently one of the biggest sound’s in Berlin.
Half of my music was from South African producers including myself and some from artists I listen to.
Berlin is open to anything. The people are very open minded, always keen to learning new things and supportive.”
Talking of SA…it’s regarded as the current House Music capital of the world. How would you compare the scene to what you experienced in Berlin?
Cornelius SA: Well for me Berlin is world class in terms of the clubbing scene and dance music, from clubs to the food, record bars to sound systems and most importantly the response from the crowd.
If you’re a big artist, you’ll get the best response and feel the love and the energy flow and if you’re an aspiring artist you’ll get the same treatment and response.
In South Africa you’ll play a song of yours, people will sit back and watch…and you start wondering if your production is bad or something [laughs]
Black Coffee plays the same song, everybody will dance wild like they’ve known the song for ages. [laughs]
There’s so much we need to learn, it’s not always about the name, but the music and I feel people here in SA are slowly falling for the name and forgetting about the music. [laughs]
Our music is big in Europe, Chicago, Kenya, New York…because they focus on the music, they truly love the music, with body, heart and soul.
Coming to the production, DJing and the business side of things, what new methods have you started putting in place now that you are back eMzansi?
Cornelius SA: Not much yeah.
I’ve been very patient with myself from the very beginning, of my sound and what it’s becoming.
As far as I can tell I’m a respected artist worldwide and that’s the name I made for myself.
People don’t only appreciate your music but the person that you are when you are around them, the respect that you give (remember, you earn respect) , you also get back…
It’s not always about the music or the money but the person that you are and the character that you portray.
So, I’m just going with the flow, while finding myself…
I have a wide range of interests and I’m sure of what I what I want from this.
You truly have made quite some strides in a relatively short period of time. A lot of upcoming DJs and producers in SA aspire to take their craft to the next level and dream about rocking world stages. What’s your advise to them now that you have experienced the global stage?
Cornelius SA: Be you, do you, focus, have respect for others, seek advise, research, test yourself, be humble, learn from others, take your time (good things takes time)…
It’s not the audience that determines how far you can go, so forget about the numbers and focus on your craft.
The music is bigger than you can ever imagine.
The world is even bigger…so each and every sound that you make can reach out and touch somebody.
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