Images by Russell Grant
Part shop, part venue, part basement from ‘That 70s Show’, Khaya Records has existed as a physical store since 2015. In its short life so far, Khaya Records has already set itself up as something of a beacon for up and coming artists throughout Durban’s disparate scene. The reason for this lies in the store’s slightly different approach to event nights, which centre the artist rather than the audience. Anyone with something to perform is welcome to do so at Khaya, and audiences are regularly told to STFU if they speak over the acts. It’s a model that seems to be working.
Khaya Records was opened by Paul Buttery (brother of acclaimed Durban guitarist, Guy Buttery), a man who has built a reputation in Durban as the go-to vinyl guy by trading records online. At around the same time as the store opened across the hall from Ike’s Books, a legendary secondhand bookstore, Paul hired Ryan van Rooyen (better known as DJ Fuego Heat, or simply Fuego) to mind the store a few days a week. Ryan himself has made a name for himself over the years as a DJ, event organiser, and general hustler. His role at Khaya has no doubt evolved, moving from store hand to being a proactive force in turning the space into something of a cultural hub, and fostering a growing scene amongst local musicians and artists.
In the past year, Khaya Records has hosted several open mic-styled events intended to provide a platform for artists who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to perform. More established artists have also found the space useful for experimenting with and showcasing work that might be considered too “out there” for other promoters.
After the success of a one-off acoustic performance at the shop, Paul and his team launched an on-going series. “We started off launching ‘Acoustic Night’, followed by ‘Binary Night’ which is for beat-makers and producers, and then ‘Lyric Night’ for poets, slam poets, spoken word artists and MCs, the whole idea being to give anyone with material the chance to perform. I prefer to focus on the artists and make sure they’re happy rather than provide something catered to the public”, Ryan tells me.
It is this artist-centric attitude, an attitude which focusses on giving performers opportunities to hone their craft, rather than putting on established acts who will draw numbers, that defines Khaya as a venue. These sorts of spaces are crucial, especially for Durban – a town which lacks venues that focus on giving developing talent a shot at the stage. It’s understandable why many venues are unable to do this. It’s risky putting on unknown acts who may not draw a crowd, especially when venues rely on that crowd to turn a profit in order to remain open. This is why Khaya is unique. It is not strictly a venue, and doesn’t rely on event attendance to make its money.
This approach to an artist-centric space has helped a number of musicians reach an audience, as well as place artists that wouldn’t otherwise have met into spaces where they can collaborate. One of them is Otarel, a Durban-based hip-hop artist who has graced Khaya Records on four occasions. She discovered the space while looking for a venue for one of her listening sessions, and ended up doing binary night and performing for the birthday of a friend. She tells me how the Khaya Records scene has reinvigorated her and brought her music to a willing audience. “The general hip hop scene in Durban can be quite divided, there’s the hip-hop that goes on during the day, and then there’s the broader music scene at night which involves acoustic sessions and jam sessions, which I was exposed to as a child, and Khaya definitely reconnected me with those people, as well as open me up to a new audience which is more open to my musical growth in hip-hop.”
Another artist who has been spotted on more than one occasion at Khaya is producer Sean Ross aka MISSU. He’s played two Binary Nights so far, which he says has given him a unique opportunity in the scene to reach new audiences and experiment with new work. “At Khaya there’s no pressure to play crowd pleasing songs, so you can play around with different stuff, or try out new songs,” Sean tells me. So far, he’s collaborated with a number of artists this year, and has some work in the pipeline with Otarel. “I can really credit Ryan with going out and actively looking for young new artists to put on… and I’ve definitely met new rappers and musicians through the events that Ryan has been putting on here.”
Khaya Records, although still relatively young, has injected new life into the Durban music scene. The musical landscape here has remained fairly segregated, despite several crossover spaces in the past such as Existing Consciousness, who featured both hip-hop artists and singers such as Apple Khumalo and Nkululeko Dlamini, as well as rock artists like Tyla Burnett from Black Math.
Other venues include The Winston, which has typically been seen as an alternative rock venue, whilst the BAT Centre (a community arts development and cultural centre located on the wharf) has always been the home of hip-hop and jazz. The Winston has become more integrated in the last few years, and to their credit has been hosting an array of diverse events featuring everything from Psytrance to Jazz, but being a venue with overheads and audiences to consider, has lacked a certain creative edge. There was a brief spell of promise at a venue called Brewhaus, a trendy bar located in the otherwise culturally stale suburb of Durban North. Sean Ross headed up the booking, and put on a host of new acts who were also gigging at Khaya records regularly. Sadly, Brewhaus has since closed.
Khaya Records, with its artist-centric approach, has proved to be an antidote to the lack of variety and creative malaise of other venues. There is no pressure to cover costs (acts are paid on a donation basis), and being a record store, there is no shortage of interesting people from all backgrounds coming through its doors to interact with one another. These interactions, as I have mentioned above, have given birth to some exciting and interesting new projects. These collaborations have spilled over into other venues, such as Sidebar, which hosts a monthly First Thursdays event, where many of the Khaya staples can be found with monthly slots on the bill.
In addition to Khaya, other venues like Ike’s and The Other Room (an “experimental art space”) have opened up, adding yet another layer of culture. With these three pillars in place, a trifecta of literature, music and art has been completed, which I believe will only serve to invigorate our creative scene(s) even more.
It may be early days, but I have high hopes for this special community.