Interview | Tom Elton [Head of Music Ballantine’s]

MyCityByNight chatted to Tom Elton, the Head of Music at Ballantine's to find out what goes on behind the scene #TrueMusic

MCBN: We can’t believe that it’s almost time for the finale of Boiler Room X Ballantine’s True Music Africa in the creative hub of Jozi. What a journey it’s been – have there been any moments along the way that stand out for you as particularly memorable?

There are so many incredible moments that stand out; True Music Africa has been the most amazing journey. But there are a few that immediately spring to mind. Coco Em, who was arguably one of the smaller names on our Kenya line-up, played the most unreal set and the crowd went absolutely wild for her. Since that moment and as a result of playing on our True Music platform, she has been booked to play Nyege Nyege festival in Uganda, which has always been a dream of hers. Stories like this are the reason we do what we do and nothing makes me happier.

I also have to mention K$ who got the party started in Cape Town at the start of our tour with the most amazing disco, soul and funk mashup. No one was expecting it but everyone loved it; the atmosphere was totally electric, and you could tell she was playing music straight from the heart, which totally epitomises True Music. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

MCBN: Are the any major differences between the music cultures you’ve experienced during the World tour and do you have a favourite? (You don’t HAVE to say it’s SA )

It’s honestly impossible to play favourites when you do what I do because all of the artists we work with are absolutely incredible. In terms of the differences though, Teto Preto brought this unique energy, performance and sound to one of our shows in Sao Paulo last month that I’d never heard before. His performance was free, real and full of passion. Jad Taleb, who represented the local Lebanese sound at our show in Beirut earlier this year also stands out as unlike anything I’ve heard before. His style was loud, proud and rthymically on point – and the crowd couldn’t get enough.

Within Africa, the music genres we’ve showcased have been really different; from hip hop in Cape town to Nairobi nu-wave in Kenya and now house and gqom in Johannesburg; each city brings are really diverse scene which has been best part of this tour. It’s interesting though, despite the genre’s being different the artists we’ve worked with on this tour have all had a huge amount in common; they’re all original self-starters who share a hustle mentality and are epically talented – this is what True Music is all about.

MCBN: Why did Ballantine’s as a brand decide to partner for Boiler Room to put together something like True Music Africa?

Before we started our Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music Africa tour, we’d taken our True Music platform to South Africa twice already and each time was so epic – the artists were amazing and the fans loved it. So it was such a natural next step to explore the music scene across the continent with a dedicated tour. The underground music scenes are so rich in these countries. There is so much going on; from hip hop in Cape Town to the afro-pop scene in Douala and Nairobi nu-wave. We wanted to support the artists that are really fresh and exciting in each of those scenes, and together with Boiler Room we curated a tour that aimed to tell the stories of these self-starters and their entrepreneurial spirit – and throw some awesome parties along the way!

MCBN: What role do you think primarily electronic media houses like ourselves have to play in music and getting Africa’s sound out there for the rest of World to enjoy?

For us, True Music Africa was all about giving a platform to some of the freshest talent the continent has to offer and giving them a global stage to reach the rest of the world. Our shows in Cape Town, Douala and Nairobi have reached more than 10 million people around the world who have tuned into our live streams which is an incredible result we’re really proud of. This is what it’s all about, sharing this incredible music scene and the inspiring artists behind it with the rest of the world.

MCBN: What can we expect from the brand in terms of future forays into electronic music? Are there plans for longer lasting connections with up

Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music Africa has been an absolutely amazing journey for us and for Boiler Room. It’s our first cross-continent tour and every show has been absolutely incredible. To culminate here in Johannesburg, one of the first cities we ever toured with True Music is a really nice touch. I can’t reveal too much about what’s to come but let’s just say Africa has a really special place in our hearts and we’ve built a really strong foundation here.

For us, it’s not just about working with artists to put on amazing events, it’s about focusing on what we give back to the music community; from new music tracks, to a place to share ideas with our True Music Forum, to backing music projects across the globe that might need that kind of support. So, watch this space!

MCBN: We know why we love Jozi so much – how did you decide on the City Of Gold for the destination for the finale and what can we expect?

Johannesburg was one of the first cities we ever visit with our True Music tour, back in 2016, so it was always our intention to finish our first ever True Music Africa tour here, where it all began. In terms of what you can expect from the show tonight, get ready for a night of epic performances from some of the most incredible house and gqom artists in Johannesburg. And plenty of Ballantine’s cocktails, of course!

MCBN: The addition of the first ever True Music Africa Forum adds a new dimension to the Tour. What is the thinking behind hosting a forum and who do you feel stands to benefit most from attending?

The True Music Forum is something we’re really passionate about. It’s all about creating a space for the music community to learn, exchange and build new ideas through panel discussions, a keynote conversation and performances from the industries best and brightest. The Johannesburg event marks the True Music Forum – the previous times these have been in Europe – so it was beyond exciting to do something in Africa to bring together all these brilliant, creative people together to network, talk about killer topics and progressing conversation and ideas.

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