The vibrant energy of the night intensifies as fun seekers enter the northern suburb’s 011 Club. Up on the club stage singer Bongi Diamond emerges from a smoky entrance, the crowd goes wild with excitement. Back in the township, ladies are getting their hair done at the salon with bubbly stylist Jamaica, as they catch up on the latest entertainment news and listen to their favourite radio station 9-Nine FM; they too will be joining the party scene soon, however in their local Diepkloof club, Kilowatt.
Rhythm City brings both worlds together under one roof at Sasani Studios in Highlands North. The week-day soapie is set against the backdrop of the South African music industry with the behind-the-scenes highs and lows taking centre stage.
It was on 9 July 2007 when the show was first introduced on e.tv on a three-month contract. “It was a time of rapid growth of new companies in the music industry and we thought the universe was rich for exploring the passionate people and relationships that we were witnessing in real life,” says Quizzical Pictures managing director and Rhythm City executive producer, Harriet Gavshon.
Since then the popular soapie has soared and endured to tell some of Mzansi’s most loved tales. This July, the series celebrated a decade on the small screen with an exclusive birthday brunch at Sasani Studios.
At the event, Rhythm City stars Mduduzi Mabaso (Suffocate), Mpho Molepo (Fats), Jamie Bartlett (David Genaro) and Sethlabi Taunyane (Kop) were honoured for their contribution to the iconic show. A special mention was made of female actress Teboho Khalo (Puleng) who could not make it to the event. The four actors and actress have been with the show since it started ten years ago and were given special recognition and certificates as a token of appreciation.
Apart from the five cast members, 35 production crew members have also been with the show since its inception. Through the years, writers have come and gone, while others have risen in positions shares Gavshon. “There have been a few head writers – Neil McCarthy who was one of the original creators with Rolie Nikiwe was head writer for some time.”
“Neil McCarthy has just stepped down but he has been replaced by Zeli Zulu Rodgers who has been on the writing team from the beginning. Other people like Darryl Bristow Bovey and Craig Freimond who are also on the writing team have been on the show for ten years.”
“Our present creative director Eric Mogale has also been there from the beginning – and started as the floor manager,” she adds.
Rhythm City has won several awards through the years including Best Soap, Best Soap Director and Best Writing Team at the 2016 South Africa Film and TV Awards (SAFTAs).
“Every day one and a half episodes are filmed, one episode is edited, one is final mixed and one is delivered. Five scripts come out a week,” shares Gavshon. Currently the production is two months ahead with shooting, while the writers are already scripting the festive season storylines. “The show has a mix of serious social issues plus wonderful music, fashion and lots of drama. The team works hard to keep it fresh and exciting.”
Through the years Rhythm City has incorporated real life musicians into fictional roles, thereby giving a priceless platform to local artists. KB Motsilanyane, Thembi Seete and Kelly Khumalo are just some of the musicians that have tackled issues such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and depression through their roles on the show, reflecting some of the real stories that affect many of our celebrities behind the fame.
In an attempt to further elevate the local creative community, the series has been known to showcase aspiring talents: “Rhythm City was Amo Chidi’s first acting role, although she was known as a singer; Lungile Radu who played Sbu Vilikazi had never acted before although he was a presenter; Dumisani Masilela who plays Sfiso was a professional soccer player and an Idols finalist but had never acted before Rhythm City,” highlights Gavshon.
Apart from the musical scene, the local soapie also has roots in the township where current societal issues are exposed. “The writers and key creatives are all active members of our communities so obviously they are aware of the social issues around us. Quizzical Pictures has a long history in producing social impact drama so we try to be keyed into issues in our society. Once we decide on exploring an issue we will often work with an organisation that is involved in these issues or get researchers working on ideas drawn from actual case studies. We have been known to convene focus groups too,” says Gavshon.
Currently the team is working with a men’s health and empowerment organisation called Brothers 4 Life regarding a rape story told from the viewpoint of a young man. Actress and acting coach Ferry Jele usually helps cast members when they need to portray such emotional and sensitive scenes. Counselling is also provided to the actors.
Upon reflecting on some of the narratives that have moved her thus far, Gavshon says: “The issues that speak deeply into our society’s challenges are always so compelling; the partner abuse story was chilling and very resonant, the nyaope story was very current and handled extremely well, Mampho’s coming to terms with her HIV positive status was important as well as the many trials that Mapula and Sabelo and the children face living without parents in an informal settlement. But again, in ten years there have been many stories and hopefully many more.”
“We have some truly great storylines coming up. Thank you for all your support, we hope you keep watching us for the next years!” she concludes.