Feature Opinion

Spotlight On: Ballantine’s X Boiler Room True Music Platform in Africa

November saw Ballantine’s and Boiler Room’s first True Music event in Cape Town which forms part of a larger campaign that aims to spotlight African musicians who are truly unique in every aspect of their artistry.

I’ve been closely following both brands’ True Music journeys, from Johannesburg to Madrid and back, and was keen to find out from Tom Elton (Head of Music at Ballantine’s) and Steven Appleyard (Boiler Room’s Chief Business Development Officer) the secret to their fruitful partnership.

Tecla Ciolfi: How did the partnership between Ballantine’s and Boiler Room come about?

Tom Elton: Our Boiler Room partnership began four years ago when we were looking for a partner to help us connect with music fans around the world. We were looking for a team we could truly collaborate with as we wanted something long term that we could really sink our teeth into – the last thing we wanted was a badging sponsorship.

Boiler Room is totally unique. They’re credible, authentic and no one comes close to matching what they do on a global scale.

150 artists and 20 events later, our partnership has just exploded and to date, we’ve reached over 65 million people worldwide.

Steven Appleyard: A shared desire to spotlight exciting music scenes and artists from around the world, but on a scale and in a way that neither of us would have been able to achieve in isolation. Four years later and that’s still the core of our mission.

TC: You’ve worked on several projects together now and I get a good sense of camaraderie, what do you think the secret is to your solid working relationship?

TE: I think it’s down to the fact that we both have the same end goal. We just want to connect with music fans around the world and give them the most unique, money can’t buy experiences – it’s as simple as that. We’ve also had a good laugh and enjoyed a few Ballantine’s together over the years!

SA: Our 20th event together is coming up in February next year, so ‘several’ is a bit of an understatement [laughs]. There’s no real secret to our working relationship, other than constantly challenging each other to evolve and develop the partnership in new and exciting ways, which how we manage to keep it fresh and exciting four years down the line. There aren’t many partnerships like ours that have lasted this long, so we must be doing something right!

TC: I feel like the spotlight of the artistic world is on Africa at the moment and it’s just the beginning, do you see your expansion into Africa as an ongoing programme?

TE: ur journey in Africa has been incredible so far. Starting all the way back with our first South Africa event in 2015 and most recently our amazing party in Cape Town last week to kick off True Music Africa.

Next up on our True Music Africa tour we’re visiting Douala and then Nairobi which will be a first for us as well as Boiler Room and is hugely exciting. The underground music scenes are so rich in these cities and there’s so much going on – we can’t wait.

SA: Africa and African-influenced music is having a big moment on the global stage, but it’s been a sound that Boiler Room has cared passionately about for years. For various practical reasons we haven’t been to as many African countries as we’d have liked, but that’s something we’re working hard to change over the coming months and years, and Ballantine’s are playing a key role in helping us achieve that.

TC: With a huge global team, how important is curation to you, for example choosing artist for the True Music Africa programme? Do you play an active role in curation?

TE: Hugely important. Curating the line-up is a completely collaborative process between ourselves and Boiler Room, as is everything we do together. We’re both hugely involved in deciding every single detail on the project because we’re so passionate about what it stands for. I think this is what makes it a very special partnership.

SA: Curation is the core of what Boiler Room is about and something we take very seriously. We have an audience that look to us as an informed voice in music, and way to discover new artists that they might not otherwise be aware of. We have a dedicated music team at BR who lead on curation of all of our shows, but they always tap up an extensive network of contacts in the countries we visit to make sure the artists we’re excited about also resonate with the local audience. It’s a collaborative effort.

Everyone at BR is a big music fan, so we all play an active role in suggesting artists, but ultimately leave it to the experts on our music team to make the final call.

TC: I’m the most excited about the True Music Forum that you’ll be hosting in Africa next year. What do you hope people who attend take away from the forum?

TE: We’ve had two previous forums but both have been in Europe; this will be our first in Africa and we’re beyond excited. We want to bring together all these brilliant, creative people from the international music community to network, discuss killer topics and build new ideas.

We want to spark conversation about the incredible music scene across Africa and the self-starter artists who are committed to creating their sound, style and scene exactly how they want to.

SA: The True Music Forum is a space for the music community to learn, exchange and build new ideas through panel discussions and workshops. We want it to inspire the next generation of young people who will be responsible for bringing African music to the world. Regardless of whether you want to be an musician, DJ, journalist, club promoter, or pursue a career in any other aspect of the industry, we want this day to encourage people in the next step of their journey within music.

TC:. Traveling to different countries obviously affords you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the musical climate of the place – what’s your interpretation of the scene in Africa but more closely South Africa?

TE: The reason we wanted to take our True Music platform to Africa is that it’s a continent where musicians are often self-starters, sharing a hustle mentality to create music they are so passionate about.

There’s nowhere else quite like it and we’re excited for True Music Africa to tell the story of this varied music scene. We kicked off in Cape Town showcasing the city’s most forward-thinking artists in hip hop and gqom and we’re excited to reveal the genres and line ups we will shine a light on in Cameroon, Kenya and South Africa again, when we go to Johannesburg.

SA: South Africa lives and breathes music unlike anywhere else I’ve been in the world, and I’m sure that’s reflected across the continent. Whether you’re in a taxi or a nightclub, everyone talks with huge passion about music, and there is immense pride in the local scene and local artists. The vibe at the parties I’ve been to in SA are also unmatched – people love to dance and that’s what really brings the music to life.

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Read our exclusive interview with #TrueMusic performer Youngsta.