The Portfolio: Andrew Curnow

Spaza shop: The production team of the SPAZA album consisted of Dion Monti, Nosisi Ngakane, Andrew Curnow and Nhlanhla Mngadi (Kate Arthur)

Spaza shop: The production team of the SPAZA album consisted of Dion Monti, Nosisi Ngakane, Andrew Curnow and Nhlanhla Mngadi (Kate Arthur)

In the film Shwabada, by Mind Your Head, about jazz legend Ndikho Xaba, musicologist Dr Sazi Dlamini says: “There is no for­mal process as such. It is an experi­ment that relies on the sensitivity between the players.”

He was referring to the way in which he, Xaba and other people would improvise on stage together. The art of collective improvisation is about generosity of spirit and being sensi­tive to each other’s presence.

Dlamini’s quote sums up indie record label Mushroom Hour Half Hour’s approach to production and recording music.
For us, when producing an improvised album like SPAZA, the process starts in conceiving who we want to put together. This involves thinking about which musicians will complement each other on stage — musicians who might not necessarily play together usually, but who can create something interesting.

In this case, Nosisi Ngakane and I brought the musi­cians who were part of SPAZA together. We have a mobile, DIY recording set-up, so we prefer recording outside to avoid sound waves bouncing off the walls. With this in mind, we decided to record the session in the garden of the Spaza Art Gallery in Troyeville.

We invited the musicians and some close friends over. Chef Mpho Masango from Plump Kitchen made amazing food for everybody and we all broke bread together, drank some wine and hung out for a while. When they were ready, the musicians got on a small stage and produced the magic that is that album SPAZA — a totally improvised, live recording.

We recorded the performance with a PreSonus soundcard with eight audio inputs and a bunch of SM58 stage mics. Nothing fancy. We were alerted the day before to the news that there would be load-shedding in Troyeville, so we sourced a gen­erator to power the recording gear. We put the generator on the other side of the Spaza property, so that it wouldn’t be heard in the recordings.

Dion Monti, one of my Mushroom Hour business partners, then took the recordings and mixed them. He worked a miracle and made them sound almost like a studio recording.

Once he’d done that, we got together and went through the process of editing, rearranging and sequencing the recordings to create the album. This was fun as we really got to experiment with the multitrack recordings. That’s how we got to the final product that was sent off to be mastered.

My co-founder of Mushroom Hour, Nhlanhla Mngadi, was a vital presence during the recording from a production perspective. He is a master of conducting energy.

He was quoted in The Wire magazine as say­ing: “If composition is the arrangement of energy into cohesive form, improvisation is trusting the energy to lead, to find and make form in progression. The SPAZA is where we coalesce for out-jamming the jam we find ourselves in.”

SPAZA , an eponymous album, is the latest release from Mushroom Hour Half Hour. It can be streamed or downloaded on all digital platforms. Follow this link for a playlist

Andrew Curnow

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