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The Portfolio: Malcolm Nhleko

My clients, although slightly different from a production and engineering point of view, range from isicathamiya to maskandi and mbaqanga. But I also deal with hip-hop, R&B, soul and jazz. I started as a musician a long time ago and that’s how my passion for producing emerged. It developed to working behind the scenes, which is how I caught the engineering bug. 

In the ’90s, I was a bassist and a guitarist and I was already travelling the world playing music with Sharon Katz, who had a group called The Peace Train. I had already had my own groups at the time and had had that dose of what it is like to be an artist. But every time I saw a mixing desk, I was intrigued by the VU meters and faders. 

I decided to study sound engineering because I was already producing hip-hop, R&B and soul artists from a small bedroom studio in an outbuilding in Durban. Starting that small, I now own two fully fledged studios and have built studios for other sophisticated names like your Professors and your Tiras

It is wonderful that I was able to become a sound engineer who understands the musician in me — and, on the other hand, I was able to wear this hat of the producer who understood what sound I wanted to produce. 

The people involved in every sound I produce have won awards. That shows that when you have a vision and you have time and you spend that time making the vision a reality, you can basically conquer the world. 

I spent so much time engineering in my own bedroom while I was studying that I started to understand how studio engineering works. On the other hand, I had this passion to perform with the performers from behind the mixing desk. 

That took off to great heights. We travel the world and people come up to me and say, “Wow, how did you get that sound because I have been coming here forever and I’ve never heard anything in this venue sound like that.” 

When I do it live, I replicate what I’m able to do in the studio in two weeks in real time. It’s two different disciplines, but because of heartaches and suffering I’ve endured, I had to win both ways. 

The secret is being obedient and passionate about sound as a science. I love my ears because this is what pays me money. When we go somewhere where there is loud music, I try not to be there for a long time because my ears might get damaged. 

Even though I might work with loud dance music, I don’t consume it for long periods of time because I am not just a listener. The ears are actually my weapons. 

Malcolm Nhleko owns Maltre Productions; a concert production company, Maltre Studios, which does mixing and engineering; and other music-related companies.

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