Collaboration leads to inspiration – that’s the message that emerged loud and clear during a pioneering “writers’ camp” for Afrikaans composers and lyricists, held in Johannesburg on 15 and 16 October 2013.

The two-day songwriting workshop was the brainchild of SAMRO Board member Joe Niemand, himself a successful singer-songwriter. The idea arose from a recent discussion he had with SAMRO CEO Sipho Dlamini, who shares Niemand’s passion to see South African writers succeed by, inter alia, fostering a culture of co-operation. 

This songwriters’ retreat was held in the Apprentice Apartment atop the magnificent National Bank House in Market Street in the CBD. The building is part of a portfolio managed by property developer Urban Ocean, which is successfully reinventing the culture of inner-city living and working. 

Ten SAMRO author and composer members joined their peers for writing sessions and discussion groups about the benefits of co-writing and the challenges that writers face in a changing music industry. The striking penthouse, with its spacious interior and a 40m-long balcony that affords spectacular views out over the city, served as the perfect space for creative brainstorming. 

This pilot songwriting project was a great success and there are plans to fine-tune the concept and repeat it in future, with different groups of music authors working in various styles, genres and languages.

“The aim of the writers’ camp was to foster a culture of co-writing,” Niemand explains. “Internationally the vast majority of hits are written by multiple writers, while locally writers tend to work alone.

“The idea is that it benefits everyone to own 20% of a hit song rather than 100% of a mediocre one. Two or three heads are generally better than one and when writers work together, they are much more prolific as well,” Niemand points out.

Songwriter Jouba Jordaan of the band Kaleidoskoop confesses to being initially sceptical of the idea of co-writing a song, but was pleasantly surprised to discover fresh inspiration during the collaborative process. He relates that he met new, like-minded friends who enjoyed feeding off each other’s creativity.


Fellow singer-songwriter Christelle Combrink agrees that it “lifts your personal standard of writing by collaborating” and expressed the hope that the culture of working together on songs becomes embedded, to benefit the standard of South African music in general. “Apart from having so much fun doing what we love to do, I again realised how great it is to collaborate creatively across different genres and styles of writing.

“It was awesome to meet new people; I met people I have a great musical connection with and will definitely write with them in the future.”

Niemand was pleased with the response to the initiative. “We have to find ways of getting writers to write more and for us to raise our game. The world has become a small place and it is my dream to see our writers export their songs to foreign markets rather than us always importing overseas songs.”

He says he hopes that through the initiative, new writing partnerships will be formed and that hit songs emanate from these meetings of creative minds.

“We face many challenges in this industry as music revenue streams are changing, but one thing is still true and will remain so: it’s all about the song,” says Niemand.

Combrink echoes this sentiment: “I believe we don’t have less talent than people in America… we just lack the know-how and there hasn’t been a platform to work from. If we give the listeners better music to listen to, they will quickly learn to love it and it will give artists the space to play the kind of music they really want to play. Everyone benefits!”

The fact that the writers’ retreat took place in an 800m2 penthouse apartment symbolises the rejuvenation of the Johannesburg CBD – due in no small part to the enthusiasm of musicians, photographers, design agencies and other creatives for making use of such iconic buildings and rooftops for similar projects and to rent as office space. 

Says Urban Ocean CEO Herman Schoeman: “We see the value in attracting creative companies and individuals back to the city, as we find that creatives value the aesthetics of heritage buildings, but over and above that we find that creatives are more open to see the potential of the buildings.

“Many previously derelict precincts in world cities that are now seen as trendy were turned around by the influx and contributions of creative individuals that moved their offices or residences into those areas.”

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