African Music Store plays its last song

Trevor Rosenfield is sad to see The African Music Store close down.

It is the end of an era as The African Music Store in Long Street is shutting shop after 20 years.

And although closing the store was a sad decision for owners Trevor Rosenfield, Helen Rose-Innes and Mark Charnas, the trio agreed that this was most practical.

Mr Rosenfield said the store had simply become unprofitable.

“The digital age has consumed the way people listen to music. The young people, who were our customers, don’t buy music CDs anymore.”

He said The African Music Store was opened in Long Street in 1997.

“We had a travel shop at the top of Long Street called One World, and at the shop we sold a number of CDs. They sold so well that we decided to open a standalone store specialising in solely African music.

“People laughed at us and thought we weren’t going to make it.”

He said they started the shop with just 200 CDs.

“We grew to about 4 000 CDs from all over Africa with different genres – gospel, jazz, hip hop and African house, which has become popular over the last few years. We grew and found our niche, being the only music store that specialised in African music.”

He said one of the things that also made the store different was that they also supported independent artists who were turned away from the big recording companies.

“We had Freshlyground in our store before they were even a group. We always supported local artists, and some have become international artists, just like Freshlyground.”

After Mr Rosenfield saw the shop was not making money anymore, he decided to go into property part-time. He said now it will be his full-time job. “It was a sad and emotional decision, but we couldn’t lose any more money. The shop was great in its time, but we cannot compete with the likes of Apple Music.”

Ms Rose-Innes said closing the store was a sad decision to make, but it was out of their control. “It is the end of an era. People knew us and knew where to come. We had many guides and lots of local music.”

She said she had a stationery business that she would continue to pursue after the shop is closed.

Mr Rosenfield said when they first opened The African Music Store, there were few tourist-orientated stores in Long Street.

“Then it had a boom period, and property owners moved in and rent skyrocketed, and a lot of the small independent traders moved out because they could no longer afford the rent. They were replaced by fast food franchises and corner cafes.”

He feels Long Street has lost its character as a result of this. “I feel that property owners didn’t look after the street. Long Street is not as exciting anymore.”

Among his fondest memories of the store are the live shows they hosted. “We had gathered a small crowd who would come in and watch the bands, but I think that African music is somewhat a hit and miss in Cape Town. People don’t really support African music but the artists appreciated the platform.”

He said he also remembers Lenny Kravitz coming into the store and spending some thousands of rands there. “We had many famous people walk through the store, from Abdullah Ibrahim to Lucky Dube. We were always complimented by tourists for creating a space that gave a touch of Africa to Cape Town.”

The manager of The African Music Store, Khayaletu Nkwenteni, is particularly distraught that the shop is closing.

Mr Nkwenteni had been a car guard outside the store when he was approached by the owners eight years ago to come and assist them after the then manager resigned.

He said he has learnt so much over the years, including how to work with regular people and famous artists.

“I learnt about music, people and life in general. It was a great environment to work in.”

He said he was disappointed that the store was closing. “Jobs are scarce and when the shop closes, I will no longer have a job. I have children to feed and bills to pay. I don’t know what I am going to do yet, but my dream is to stay on the music scene. There is no African music store in Cape Town, so my dream is to open my own small music store.”

So what is on the cards for the space after The African Music Store closes its doors?

Mr Rosenfield said they have had many proposals, but decided to rent the space to a tenant who specialises in African bags and clothing. “Despite The African Music Store closing down, we decided to keep the feel of the space and promote small businesses in Long Street.”

Ms Rose-Innes said the other partner, Mark, will take some of the stock and will still sell a small selection of local music at his partner’s store, Fashion Silueta in Lower Main Road, Observatory.

“Other than that, the community is welcome to come buy the remaining stock at the closing down sale, which will run until Monday March 27.”