9. Dec, 2021
Studio at the Constitutional Hill
The Constitution Hill precinct is one of South Africa’s most visceral historical, present, and future touchpoints. Originally a site of exclusion, struggle and oppression, it is today more hopeful and inclusive, a place to look to when locating our heritage and endeavouring to be better versions of ourselves as South Africans. This year marks 25 years since the flame of a democratic Constitution was lit.
The studios stand on what was a high-security prison built in 1893 and later abandoned until the Constitutional Court relocated there, officially opening in 2004.
Walking into the main part of Flame Studios feels like exploring catacombs filled with vibrance and colour. Some of it is still being developed as sites for art exhibitions and similar events. The structural integrity remains carefully preserved and respected so as not to tarnish its cultural heritage.
Flame Studios is based at Constitution Hill’s Old Fort and forms part of the fort as well as the ramparts. Lance McCormack, the director of Flame Studios, in the courtyard adjoining the two studio spaces explains how the sound of the birds chirping on the rampart’s barbed wire lends itself to the acoustics of the courtyard and how those very birds were the inspiration for the graffiti image of popular South African songbird Zolani Mahola on one of the walls.
McCormack, who was a recording executive for decades before becoming the director of Flame Studios, says the studios are a fusion of creativity, art and the Constitution, and music was a natural fit. Thursday was meant to be Constitution Hill’s official commemorative ceremony of the 25th anniversary of signing the Constitution but the events have been postponed because of the Covid-19 fourth wave.
The interview officially gets underway in the Blue Room, with its suede-blue overhead panels floating above and blue accents peppering the room. The graphic designing of the four studios is the collaborative, imaginative work of South African designers including the Urbanative, Mash. T Design Studio, Pedersen + Lennard, Dokter and Misses, Siyanda Mbele and Naturalis. The sound-wave patterns on all the walls were designed by Glorinah Mabaso.
The studio has four very colourful and distinctive spaces: the Blue Room is a rehearsal and events space; the Red Room is the main recording room complete with musical instruments; the Control Room is where all the recording rooms are controlled and monitored, and the very cool and relaxing Green Room is a lounge area where one can have a beer and, if inspirations strikes, can also be used for recording.
McCormack says it is a privilege to be part of the project to “re-energise” and “reimagine” the historic space in a creative and musical way that provides a space for the intersection and coming together of people from different vantage points who may not otherwise have had an interest or opportunity to engage with our country’s history and constitutional values.
He tells Maverick Citizen that Flame Studios has been graced by South African greats like Vusi Mahlasela, contemporary African jazz singer Thandiswa Mazwai and hip-hop artist Tumi Molekane, as well as Zambian-born, Australia-based Sampa the Great and the team of Grammy-winning singer and pianist Alicia Keys.
Director of Flame Studios Lance McCormack shows Maverick Citizen on 7 December 2021 photos of all the people who have graced the Constitution Hill recording studios. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)
The Blue room is a rehearsal space but also serves as a multipurpose space that can be used for events. (Photo: Flame Studios website)
The green room serves as a lounge area that can also be used for recording. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)
McCormack says the studios are world-class and, as a non-profit, they offer their services mainly to developing and up-and-coming artists. The focus is on furthering the ethos of the Constitution in a creative and artistic way.
Students at the neighbouring National School of the Arts are allowed to record at the studios. They also work with the Wits School of the Arts and Hillbrow Outreach Foundation and have an interprovincial partnership with Bridges for Music, based in Cape Town, called Bridge Fire, an accelerator programme that aims to grow and showcase new talent.
McCormack says, “I feel just lucky and privileged to be able to be here… We’re very clear that this is going to become a developmental studio.” It will also be home to a music academy for about 20 students.
“It’s really exciting to be part of a renaissance, something positive… you know, the Constitution has actually done its job,” says McCormack.