Time out with Ralf Gum

German deep house legend Ralf Gum talks his new album In My City and why South Africa needs to start exporting more of its music to the global market

Ralf Gum is proof that a passion turned into a career almost always leads to true fulfilment. He started collecting records from all over the world at age 19. As his collection grew, so did his passion for deejaying.

He launched GOGO Music in 2001, a record label based in Germany. Never one to succumb to the pressures of making dance house music, Gum’s musical offerings always have a soulful and timeless edge. His latest 10-track album, In My City, featuring the likes of Hugh Masekela, Omar and Dele Sosimi among others, is no exception. Gum says he loves a challenge, and this is why his albums always feature artists who are at the top of their game.

You’ve worked throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, America and South Africa. What made you settle in South Africa?
I came to South Africa for the first time in 2008. I then came back four times in 2009 and my wife would tag along on some of the trips. I’d played all over the world before, but felt a special energy each time I came to South Africa. Luckily my wife felt it too and we relocated three years ago. Our decision to move was a combination of factors: the sun changed our moods (chuckles), we felt at home, we loved the people, and the fact that there’s a massive fan base of house music was another plus.

Explain your decision to collaborate with so many artists on your latest album In My City?
Lyrics are the lifeline of a track; they get the message across. I featured the legendary Hugh Masekela, longtime friend and collaborator Monique Bingham, the late Fela Kuti’s musical director Dele Sosimi and UK soul artist Omar among many other interesting musicians.

How did you manage to get Hugh Masekela in studio?
In my 20s, a friend who collected jazz music from all over the world introduced me to Hugh Masekela, and I’ve loved him since. I can tell a quintessential Hugh horn from afar; he has a very distinct sound. I first made him listen to the instrumentals of the track I wanted to feature him on. He loved it, and to quote him: “I’m a musician, let’s do this. I don’t care if it’s house music or kwaito.” As you can imagine, he’s a very busy man, so I only had one afternoon with him. It was an absolute honour to get this chance to create music with a legend.

How are you running your record label in Germany while based in South Africa?
I had to leave the company behind in Germany because I’m here on a work permit. I release a lot of local talent, so I’ve had to change the structure of the company a bit. I now mostly focus on exporting South African talent to the world. The aim here is to raise awareness of South African house music globally.

How is the world receiving South African house music?
There’s a lot of interest, but there’s still a lack of information about the South African music scene and we’re lagging behind when it comes to exporting local music. Releasing internationally holds huge financial potential and this is an area local musicians should definitely look into.

How did you help launch Black Coffee’s international career?
Black Coffee was working with Christos Katsaitis when I met him. We played together at one gig and had a discussion about his single Turn Me On featuring house vocalist Bucie. I had the track remixed by Raw Artistic Soul and we sold it on Trax Source. Trax Source is like an iTunes but sells mostly underground music. The track occupied the number one spot for three weeks.

Other than the great line up of artists that you collaborated with, what else can we expect from In My City?
You’ll find 10 tracks of deep and soulful house music. The album is a reflection of my various tastes and musical influences. I hope the songs tell a story.

Is there a lot of money to be made in South African house music?
To date, South Africa has the biggest market of house music consumers. The expectations of people looking in from the outside may be unrealistic. Piracy is a huge problem, so performances are where the money is made. Album productions like mine don’t come cheap. I need to pay for the musicians featured on my album.

Who is Ralf Gum when he’s not behind the decks? Running a label is a lot of work so I don’t have time for hobbies any more. I spend whatever spare time I have helping my wife out with our two kids aged, 27 months and 15 months. We prefer to raise the kids ourselves, so we don’t have any live-in help.