MUSIC producers are among the entertainment world’s unsung heroes despite the invaluable role they play in churning out hit songs.
The credit for hit bangers mainly goes to the lead vocalists who, more often than not, would only have played a peripheral in the conception and production of the final product.
However, limited recognition, poor music sales, unpaid royalties and the absence of venues for music shows have not dampened accomplished producer Salem Nikelo’s resolve to continue producing music.
Salem is behind some of the hits churned out by Lesotho’s most prolific artists such as Stlofa, Lele Khesue, Sent?o, Medupe, Paul LeoaKe and Majisto among others.
In an interview with Xpress People at his Lower Thamae studios, which also doubles as his home, Salem said music production was an underappreciated and mostly thankless task.
“As producers, we are responsible for bringing all the elements of a song together such as the instrumentation, technical and vocal arrangement,” he said.
“However, when the song is released, the only person who gets the credit is the one on the vocals.”
Music producers, Salem said, needed to also be acknowledged at awards shows and not just the singers.
“I believe the best way to address this problem of limited recognition is to have categories for producers at awards shows which we can use as reference point for the work we do and also gain popularity,” he said.
Born in Qwa Qwa in the Free State Province of South Africa, Salem’s musical journey began as a keyboard player at his church in 1993. Four years down the line, he moved to Bloemfontein where he mastered his keyboard-playing skills. Salem eventually moved to Lesotho in 2000 and where his music production journey began.
“I had initially planned to study Electrical Engineering but failed to pass mathematics during my matric. I then pursued a BCom (Bachelor of Commerce) degree instead at Vista University in Bloemfontein in 1997,” he said.
“I dropped out after only finishing the first year because I never liked the course and sought to learn more about music from a band in Bloemfontein. In 2000, I was offered a job by Len Makhoane whose church had a studio here in Maseru.
Salem added: “Upon my arrival in Maseru, Ntate Makhoane taught me how to produce and manage a studio, and it was only in 2004 that I produced for the first time with Kubake Gospel group from Mohale’s Hoek.
“While the group never got popular, I was pleased by the opportunity to begin my journey. The following year, I produced Stlofa’s Kea ‘Matla which became very popular and since then many artists came to work with me.”
He parted ways with Makhoane in 2008 to form Salem Studios. Over time, he learnt to be a true master of his craft.
“Music production is quite simple as long as one is prepared to be patient. You have to be able to listen and effectively decode what the musician wants, mostly the foundation of the beat such as bass line, drums and keyboards as well as other elements to spice up the song.
“I often advice the artists when they come to record on how the song can sound better. But the customer is always right and the artist makes the final decision on how he or she wants the song to be. It can either be computer generated beats or live instruments and that is where I often play the keyboard.”
Salem said he takes pride in his work and values quality over quantity.
“My secret has always been never to put money before work. I always give each artist enough time in the studio until he or she is satisfied with the work I have done. This is regardless of how many musicians are queueing up to record as well,” he said.
Among the musical genres he produces include gospel, jazz, RnB, Hip Hop and mokorotlo. Salem said famo is the only genre he is yet to foray into, adding he is yet to find an artist who wants him to produce it.
Besides producing, Salem works with local gospel ensemble, Tehillah Africa, as a keyboard player. He also intends to venture into other pursuits to grow the Salem Studios label.
“I am now into video production for the purpose of growing my company. My dream is for Salem Studios to flourish to a level where it can compete with international music companies such as Sony BMG and Universal Records.”
He said slowly but surely, the music industry was developing.
“The local music industry is growing with us producers upgrading our equipment to ensure that we produce quality music.
“My dream is to also see local musicians earning royalties for their music every time they get airplay on local radio stations such as in South Africa where the likes of Lele, Stlofa and Sent?o have benefitted through their music which I am proud to have produced,” Salem added.