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 History's song muted

History's song muted

June 15, 2008 Edition 1
Fred Kockott
courtesy of the Sunday Tribune, 15 June 2008

'It's taken an academic bureaucracy three years to do what the former apartheid security establishment failed to achieve in 40 years - put us out of business," complains David Marks, renowned composer, sound engineer and driving force behind the 3rd Ear Hidden Years Music Archive.
The archive comprises about 175 000 items - sound recordings from cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, records, posters, press cuttings . . . the works.
Its significance has been recognised the world over, and three years ago the University of KwaZulu-Natal was given R4 million by the National Research Foundation to preserve it, catalogue it, and make it accessible.
However, despite such support, the archive - an eclectic mix of political, commercial, traditional, contemporary and community recordings, mostly from the apartheid era - remains an uncatalogued clutter at 110 Sir Duncan Road in Durban, and the company, 3rd Ear Music, deeply in debt.
At any given moment, this entire historic record could go up in smoke.
Of real concern to Marks and his wife, Fran, is the steady deterioration of analogue tapes, records, and other obsolete media on which much of the material is stored. It was these concerns that were used to secure funding in the first place.
"I'm 64 already and suddenly I note, as does Fran, to her horror, that all we have to show after 45 years in music is a bunch of decomposing oxidised magnetic tapes, vinegar-smelling black and white negatives, yellow posters and cockroach-eaten Rand Daily Mails," said Marks.
The issue of fading memories is also on their minds as many people whose experiences are central to this archive begin to pass away, their stories unrecorded.
Exactly what went wrong is a question the University of KwaZulu-Natal has battled to answer over the past two weeks.
This followed Marks's complaint that no project reports, complete with expenditure statements, had been generated by the project management team appointed by UKZN and the National Research Foundation; or, if they had, they had not been given to him.
Finally, this week UKZN's legal adviser to the university's research office, Chris Schembri, in effect, blamed Marks for non-delivery.
"The project could not be successfully undertaken without Mr Marks's full and complete co-operation, and extensive efforts were required on his part to achieve this," his statement reads.
Schembri said about a year after funding had been awarded he had been called in to intervene in a dispute between Marks and the project management team over exactly what was expected to be accomplished, who would do what, by when, and probably most importantly, how Marks and his wife would get paid.

It seems parties to the original funding agreement had not done their homework properly in planning how this task would be accomplished. "It just didn't work. There were differing expectations," said Schembri.
UKZN also advertised scholarships to people interested in using the hidden music archive for research purposes. But such research students mostly ended up moving boxes and stuff, said Schembri.
The dispute finally culminated in Marks resigning from the project committee and instituting legal action against UKZN for the funds to enable him to do the work.
"But the funding agreement did not allow for a salary," said Schembri. "We could only disburse the funds against production, and production was not happening."
He said an agreement was finally reached resulting in Marks getting paid a settlement amount of R400 000 for the completion of the five "pilot projects" - a far cry from the original expectation that the entire 3rd Ear music archive would have been catalogued by now and relevant selected materials would be available online.
Schembri said Marks had also received payments for expenses incurred in storing the archive, including an amount of R15 000 a month which Marks used to rent premises - 110 Sir Duncan Road - where the project was to be completed.
"There was in total about R700 000 that went to Marks over the course of the project," said Schembri. "The balance of the money is still sitting in an account somewhere. It has not been disbursed elsewhere."
He said, from the UKZN's side, the project finished at the end of March.
"A final report has gone to the National Research Foundation, and the financials accepted," said Schrembi.
But Marks has not yet seen such report, nor has it been provided to the Sunday Tribune, either by UKZN or the National Research Foundation.
Marks said he was also concerned that after he had resigned, UKZN had continued with the project under a new name, the South African Music Archive Project (Samap), which he considered a breach of the funding agreement.
"The funding was received for Hidden Years. Are they using these funds for other projects now?" asked Marks. "People have to know what went wrong with our project and where the rest of that R4 million is."
Marks and his wife were now looking for a home for the archive elsewhere, possibly abroad, which would be a huge indictment of South Africa's institutional capacity to record its past.

Archive of one man's passion for SA music

June 15, 2008 Edition 1
Fred Kockott
courtesy of the Sunday Tribune, 15 June 2008

The house that Master Jack built - can it be saved?
That's the question Dave Marks is asking following the aborted joint project with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to preserve an astonishing collection of "hidden" South African music, dating back to the early 1960s, and now reckoned to be of priceless worth to future generations and historians worldwide.
The 3rd Ear Hidden Years Music Archive is often referred to as the House that Master Jack Built. It was royalties from the song, Master Jack - composed by Marks and made famous by Four Jacks and a Jill - that largely enabled Marks to pursue his passion for promoting, producing and preserving live music in South Africa.
Master Jack was inspired by Marks's experiences in South Africa's gold mines in the mid 1960s, as were several other songs he composed, including Mountains of Men, Mr Nico and Hey Mister.
The song was a hit wordwide, making it to the top 18 in the United States in 1968 and was recently voted the most popular South African song of all time by Sunday Times readers.
But while Master Jack is going through a revival of sorts, also in the United States, the future of the 3rd Ear Hidden Years Music Archive is uncertain.
"It's absolutely absurd that we can't get this together in South Africa," said Marks, referring to the failed R4 million project with UKZN.
As a 19-year-old miner, Marks had started recording music events everywhere he went, using a tape recorder given to him by mine management for Marks to produce "fanagalo" instructions for foreign miners.
Marks was soon recording music in mine hostels, and the music of Des Lindberg and the Tracey brothers, Paul and Andrew, at gigs at The Troubador, in Doornfontein, also taking photographs and collecting programmes and posters.

David Marks response:

Dear Me,

Archive Master Tape ShelvesSAfricans, by and large are - in a cute colloquial sort of way - a sorry lot... or so we keep saying. Sorry - if we need to get somebody's attention; sorry if somebody else drops something or hurts themselves; sorry when we mean 'beg your pardon' or when we don't hear too well. Sorry is up there with "just now" and "ag shame".

Well, here I am saying sorry - for bringing this Hidden Years Music Archive issue up again, all over our collective Takkies (Sneakers, to our foreign friends). Please bare with me. Take off your Takkies and relax. I'm trying every trick in the book - not-so-serious, sorry and otherwise - to save 3rd Ear's Hidden Years Music Archive.

So why am I sorry again? Life says Bill Gates can be cruel. Get over it he advises. Well, he can afford to say so... and besides, he's wrong. Life is wonderful; it's people who can be cruel. Not all of them, but a fair amount. And they seldom say sorry.
In reality this HYMAP archive is not my personal belonging - it belongs to South Africa. 3rd Ear's Music friends have, over the past 40 odd years, been amazing in helping us get this far along - our Music Safari. And it's not over yet. Not by a long shot! However, 3rd Ear Music can not afford to carry this 'hidden treasure' around on it's own.

Jumping Into The Mainstream Music Media?

I'm trying to find creative ways of keeping 3rd Ear alive - as we did do, on our own, for over 3 decades, pre-1994 - I decided to throw myself back into the mainstream media again. Help! Save me - we need another benefit concert or two, or some form of media campaign? But this time it's for living, not decomposing music and musicians.

We have had a few good responses to the Sunday Tribune article by Fred Kockott (History's Song Muted - 15th June 2008 see it @ History's song muted >>) . But as for the rest of the SAfrican media, the Hidden Years Story has been avoided like the plague that some say it is.... I mean what's a missing mere R4 Million in the arts, when there's so much else going down SAfrica's holey pockets these days?
As we often say, with a little tinge of guilt - there are far more important social issues to tackle at this time, than to try and save a PPPP* collection of magnetic media and analogue artefacts. But still, I can't help imagine where in the world we would be if news editors refused to mention Zimbabwe, Polokwane or the Springboks, just because some opposition news-paper or radio mentioned it first?

And besides, I wouldn't want anybody to say sorry when all is said and done.... know wha' I mean... nudge, nudge? We either have to get some form of financial aid, urgently - be it further entitlement funding (which is all the rage in South Africa) - or some form of bridging finance, through a really adventurous speculative Intellectual Property prospector, dealer or developer. And for that I'm not sorry.

I'm not sorry that we just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time - with our fingers on the record button - but I am sorry to say that if we don't get some form of assistance, rather urgently, then we will have to unpack and be on our way.

There's no doubt that this HYMAProject will get further funding, but it is taking an awful long time... and I do understand, that until we get some form of closure, a (forensic?) audit into what happened with our NRF grant - those missing millions? - and a report and budget from the UkZN and DISA, we aren't going anywhere. 

And so saying, I am really so sorry, but here, below, is a re-edited copy of my response to the UkZN's response on why they believe the HYMAProject failed - without even saying sorry? (There must be a hidden agenda here.)

No, seriously, the good news for potential investors and bridging financiers is that we still have the Hidden Years Music Archive collection, and 3rd Ear Music Publishing; and I will keep on saving and digitising what I can, when I can, and where I can - that is, by trying to find a few more spare Gigabytes on one of the 15 packed 160 / 300 Gig Hard-Drives - a sort of Rubic's Cube manuvour - and that the many good songs 3rd Ear Music owns will, one way or another, be heard and whistled in this world one day. If only the right (?) people listened?

Whatever - we still have no explanation, budget or a report from the UkZN, DISA or the NRF on why and how this HYMAProject failed. Oh, well, what's another few Mill here or there, between comrades? Shame. Somebody's not sorry! (*PPPP = Previously Privileged Pale People)

David Marks' responds to the UkZN re: Sunday Tribune - History's Song Muted (15th June 2008):
UkZN attorney (Chris Schembri) didn't say much about the 'missing millions', awarded by the National Research Foundation to 3rd Ear Music's Hidden Years Archive Project (HYMAProject). Like many others on the HYMAProject committee, peer reviewers, students and researchers... and the NRF, Chris Schembri has obviously been misled. By who and why? That's precisely why we need a forensic audit and an official enquiry to establish the truth of what happened, and how the NRF grant was used (or misused).

To imply that "my full and complete co-operation" was not forthcoming, is with respect to Chris Schembri, not the truth at all. He has been a gentleman throughout, trying to resolve this matter, and he obviously has to cover for or defend the UkZN. I suppose it's easy for me, given the distance of hindsight, to see now, but not how, Mr. Schembri and the NRF were being misled.

The fact that 3rd Ear Music's so-called 'collaboration' with the UkZN ended with a settlement (that we could not afford to refuse) in March 2008, does not absolve us from finding out what happened and why we basically wasted 4 years and 4 million? Where did it all go?

Time has no manners - so without an audit and enquiry, we are going to struggle to raise funds (and / or investors) for this HY archive. And besides, the academics and researchers who endorsed this NRF grant and budget, way back in November 2004, are not happy that nothing but 5 pilot programmes have been completed in 3 years; and these pilots were digitised with my own and borrowed equipment, at great expense. None of the budgeted NRF equipment or staff were used.
We eventually did get a R400,000 settlement for 3 years work; but only after we took a legal approach. 3rd Ear Music's budget has been just over R500,000 a year. Ag shame and sorry aren't going to get us out of that hole.... which some say is a fiscal black hole... I say it's all part of a foundation on which we can still build and develop a lucrative Intellectual Property asset, one fine day. Time will tell.

The impression that the UkZN attorney creates, is that the NRF grant belonged to the University of UkZN, to do with as they please? Please note - the UkZN did not approach the NRF for funds, the NRF approached me, personally, after hearing Richard Haslop play some Hidden Years stuff, and talking to me on his now defunct Roots to Fruits Radio Show, on SAfm, one Sunday afternoon in June 2004.

The NRF then offered 3rd Ear Music the funds to catalogue, save and digitise this 40 year music collection - and nobody else. Part of the conditions of grant were for me to find a reputable research partner; and being in Durban, the UkZN were the natural - but not my only and first - choice. (You may recall that we were about to move to Nebo in July 2004, where our dear departed friend Dr Theo Coetzee had offered to help fund the HYMAProject - and in 1996 I discussed the possibility, with another friend, Dr Andrew Tracey, director of the ILAM, about taking the HYMAProject to Rhodes. So the UkZN was not our only option. There were others as well.)

The cataloguing and saving could have been easily done with the promised funds, equipment, staff and a little pro-active management. But this needed the "full and complete co-operation" of the UkZN and Digital Innovation SA (DISA) who were supposed to have managed and administered our HYMAProject (and the NRF funds). DISA in turn, was managed (?) by Dr Dale Peters. (Who has since resigned and now works in a archive in Germany). They were paid a staggering R1.6 Million for this service. For what? For students to carry boxes as Chris Schembri seems to think?

At least if the students did move or pick up a box or two, something would have got done; I certainly wouldn't have had such a chronic backache to go with the headache. Instead, what those poor students did, after 3 weeks of training (up at the UkZN), and for about a month (or less) at my 3rd Ear archive in 2006 (when they did, if ever come to work), was to busy themselves, on Dr Peters' instructions, to catalogue my 78 RPM discs.

At the time I was a little surprised, but I thought that this is how it's done in academia. I was very happy that my precious (and apparently valuable 78 Shellac discs) were being catalogued; but I had to ask - what did Doris Day, Elvis and Bing Crosby 78's have to do with the NRF awarding us R4 Million? These American stars had nothing to do with SAfrican music in the apartheid years, or with my 40 year ageing SAfrican music archive tapes, photos, posters and programs.

Tribal Blues Wits - Fran holds the Marketing - July 1971And speaking of "extensive efforts required" - which Chris Schembri rightly said was needed to make the HYMAProject  work - as soon as the NRF grants were paid out to these students (about 3 weeks into them having been "deployed" in the archive) all but 2 of the 16 were never seen of again.
Without the equipment, staff and researchers, how could the project have been completed successfully? The R700,000 that Mr. Schembri claims was paid out, is a huge amount of money, but this is a deviously misleading statement when taken out of context. For 3 and a half years of work? And why was it paid out if nothing was being done?

Finally - I could feel the wheels of this HYMAProject rumbling and coming off, in early 2005. But, I still trusted those whose job it was to administer the funds and manage the project (for R1.6 Million?); quote 'think of the cookie jar' Marks, I was jokingly told at a meeting, when all we had to eat at home were crumbs.

Hang in there with us and you will eventually get paid I was assured. I panicked a bit, but then went back into overdrive and overdraught, after 18 months of nothing, and undertook to digitise and save what tapes I could with my own, borrowed and bought digital equipment - in the hopes that we could fulfil the NRF's grant award mandate, and that somebody up there - intellectuals and academics with a heart? - would see reason and come to our rescue.

Beating the bell or saved by the cavalry? Time and debts rolled on, and still we did not get the promised cooperation or equipment and staff. And Dr Dale Peters went ahead - apparently with the approval of our HYMAP committee (from which I had resigned in protest) - to start another archive project: The South African Music Archive Project (SAMAP) - with our NRF grant? Is that legal?

And incidentally, I only decided to bring in an attorney in late 2005, when for more than 18 months I tried, in vain, to meet with or talk to the UkZN legal department. This endevour is well minuted - as is most of my sorrowful whining and moaning. Chris Schembri did try and come to the rescue, but only attended his first HYMAP meeting in February of 2006. The chairman of the committee attended his first meeting a year after my application to the NRF. And only 2 of the HYMAP committee members had ever visited or seen 3rd Ear's Hidden Years Archive.

At no time, in the 2 years that I was on the HYMAP committee, were any of the meetings attend by all the members. In fact some of them never attended a meeting at all, and seldom, if ever, did we have a quorum. And this is how a R4 Million investment in Intellectual Property is developed and looked after?

Surely the NRF and the UkZN would want an enquiry and a forensic audit? Or are they simply going to write-off a few more million again without saying sorry?

David Marks
3rd Ear Music / HYMAProject, Durban.


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