‘I’ve Got The Influence To Make Sure Our History Is Not Forgotten’: Q’s With Shimza

Julius Jooste
– Shimza
At Ultra South Africa in Cape Town.

Pollstar met up with South African DJ, producer and entrepreneur Ashley Raphala, better known by his artist name Shimza, via Zoom to talk about his upcoming live stream from Robben Island on Mandela Day, June 18.
Shimza will be the first artist to do a live stream from the historic island.
He’s built a successful business with his own company Shimuzic, which includes the annual One Man Show festival, which had to be canceled for the first time in 12 years due to the COVID-related lockdowns.
Shimza discussed the significance of Robben Island in context of South Africa’s history and his plans of conquering Europe, which have been put on hold for the time being.

Nick Bolton
– Shimza
The first artist to live stream from Robben Island, the prison where South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela spent the majority of his 27-year term.

Pollstar: What’s the live infrastructure like in South Africa?

Shimza: A lot of people that haven’t been to South Africa have this perception of how it is. We, the people that are exposed to the international markets, need to work towards making sure that people understand that we don’t live in a jungle.
We’ve got proper infrastructure, especially in Johannesburg, with small and big clubs, big festivals like Ultra South Africa. It’s just about where you place yourself in the market. 
Where I started, in the townships, we used to walk to taverns, small places, you call them bars, we call them taverns. Those places lack infrastructure, maybe just a couple of crates and people coming to have a good time.
But we have middle-class venues that have better sound and infrastructure, and the bigger clubs, which are quite dope, with all Funktion-One systems etc.
So, we do have the infrastructure for an artist to grow from the township to becoming a world superstar.
Are you happy with the number of international artists touring the market?
We have the biggest stars coming to South Africa to do concerts and stuff, but it’s not as frequent as we would love it to be, because, yes, it just doesn’t make financial sense for a promoter here in South Africa to pay for a Beyoncé or a Jay Z.
But even in the electronic space, it’s quite hard for us to bring over a Luciano or a Seth or whoever we want to bring, because the Rand is quite weak, and we don’t think we would get the return in investment, because of how much the fees are.
So, it is quite challenging to get people over here and play, but we have the likes of Ultra and Corona Sunset that can afford to bring these people this side, because they’ve got marketing budgets they can put into the events.
We try and work with big brands that make it possible for us to have Internationals come trough, but we also work with much more affordable artists to come through.
[South Africa] is very far, so people need to take a weekend to come through. They might be losing out on more gigs in Europe, where they can travel [from market to market] within hours.
What does your team look like? Do you surround yourself with agents and managers who negotiate on your behalf with promoters and venue operators, which is the model most artists in Europe and the U.S. go by?
My experience with the European market is that it’s quite different to what’s going on here.
If I have a festival, I’m the booker of the festival, because it’s mine. I can speak directly to the artists. But in Europe, some festivals have independent bookers that book for the festival, so the festival is the client of the booker, who books the artists.
It’s broken down into different layers, so the festival promoter can focus on [executing a proper event]. They’ve given the lineup to a booker that speaks to the agent that then speaks to the artist.
Julius Jooste
– Shimza
At Ultra South Africa in Cape Town.

Here in South Africa it’s direct. You can go from the artist directly to the festival owner with everything you ask for. Obviously, the bigger festivals have got people within their teams that run the artists, they sit down with the organizers, who’ll say, ‘this is the desired lineup, please make sure you get those artist.’

I think, I’ve learned so much from being around Europe and understanding how it goes. The whole, ‘if you play this festival on this stage you cannot play at this party at that place.’ It’s very segmented.
Here, in South Africa, you can have a massive hip hop star on stage, followed by an electronic house music DJ. It’s not a ‘you don’t belong here, you belong there’ type of thing, which I appreciate.
It’s a bit hard for a person coming from such an environment to adjust to the structures in Europe. What do you mean I can’t be on the same lineup as a Martin Garrix? And they’ll be like, ‘you don’t play what Martin Garrix plays, so if you are seen on a flyer with Martin Garrix it might be a bad look.’
How did you get your first international break outside of South Africa?
I won’t lie to you, man, I went from my place straight to Destino in Ibiza.
My international career started with an email that came into my personal email account. The booker for the venue google searched for me, found me, got my bookings email, sent the request, and we were there.
I am fully invested in my business, because I run this as a business. I don’t have an agency that makes calls for me. I’m the boss, and I have people working for me that do the work I want them to do. Bookings come into my company, and I have someone handling them and making sure the deal checks out.
But then, when I got to Europe, I found that working that way won’t work, because you need people that understand the market, and know the bookers for certain festival that you need to be a part of. 
That’s when I started working on creating an international team that would help me get to where I wanted to go. Because doing a gig in Ibiza and them coming back with no follow up means nothing. But, if you have the right team around you, based in Europe, that understand the market, a PR person, who understands your story, and where you want to go, and they’ve got the right contacts, and you’ve got the right bookers in the right places that are backing you, and the right agents that are speaking to the right bookers.
So, that whole system is something that I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, and slowly, slowly it’s getting there. We understand that we need to be on the right lineups, we need to play the right music for the right crowd. I’ve been learning over the past couple of years.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get to understand the process, rather than just find a well-oiled machine I’m just dumped into. I think it makes me work harder, because I understand that if we get it right, the returns will be dope.

Approaching Robben Island
– Approaching Robben Island
Shimza told Pollstar, “it’s very important, especially for myself, to keep preaching positivity.”

How did the idea for a live stream from Robben Island on Mandela Day come about?

I do my own festival in South Africa, my One Man Show in December has been going for about 11 years. Through that show I raised money for underprivileged kids from the township that I come from, where we buy school uniforms for them every year in Germany.
I then decided to branch out, to not have it just as a show from my township, but have a One Man Show in Soweto, a One Man Show in Paris, one in Portugal. Grow it into an International brand, where festivals can request a Shimza One Man Show special set at the festival. 
When it came to Covid, and my International plans for this year were cut, I had to think of how I can sustain myself in South Africa, and keep spreading the music, language and message. That said, because I could not do my One Man Shows now, I though of ways that would make sense for the type of life that we live in right, and also something that would spread a good message to the people that would be watching.
I thought about our history as South Africa, and where we come from. Robben Island is a heritage museum now, which was a prison years ago, where our struggle heroes were put away. Our first black president was jailed there for about 14 years of his 27 years of being in prison. When he left the island, he was the first black president, which is a very positive story.
Looking at the times we’re in right now, it’s very important, especially for myself, to keep preaching positivity, because a lot of people are having a very bad time right now. Merging that positivity, and educating the people about our history was a perfect fit for me: people are at home, I’ve got the influence to make sure our history is not forgotten. What more to have than an iconic DJ set, at an iconic venue that has such a strong history, on Mandela Day, July 18, and also to raise money for Covid-affected families in the Western Cape.
Since people can’t go out, it’s Mandela Day, lets use my influence to put a stream on MTV Base, to raise money for people, who have been badly affected by Covid. Mandela Day is mainly Mandela’s birthday, but he said he didn’t want it to be a public holiday. He just wanted people to spend 67 minuted doing something for their community, whether that going and painting a home, or giving food – whatever it is that you can do.
You said a lot of people involved in the social struggle were jailed on Robben Island. 
Yeah, people forget that Mandela wasn’t there alone. For me, to then go on the island, using my influence and music, opens a discussion. Who else was there, what was happening, what were they eating? More people will be interested in our history, which is something I’ll be happy to be a messenger for. Because I feel strongly about our history, and where we come from. I’m also learning about a lot of things.
Keeping people interested in our history, will also make other people in different parts of the world want to come to South Africa, to see this Robben Island, and then see the other beautiful places that we have in South Africa.

Will the money raised through the live stream on Robben Island be going strictly to Covid-related causes?
Yes. I’ve partnered with captain of our national rugby team, Siya Kolisi. He does a lot of work in his community as well. We’ll be taking the money to buy food parcels for people that need it in the townships. Some of the proceeds will go to the actual island, because since people can’t go out and visit museums and stuff, they’ve taken a knock, and they need a bit of assistance to pay salaries of the people that work there.
Aside from the live stream, what are you working on?
I’m working on a lot of music that we’ll be releasing quite soon. I have a label that I just started now called Kunye, which will be launching in a couple of weeks. I’ve got a TV show I fortunately worked on and conceptualized. It’s on our national TV right now, where different DJs come through every week to perform. People cannot go out, so they’ve got the entertainment on their TVs.
Hopefully, when the borders open, there will be time for us to still go out there in Europe and dish out what we would have done.