Coke Studio Africa: The post-production beast

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This reality music show is a brief that you take on with much consideration. Coke Studio Africa is Africa’s biggest music collaboration project to date and it has seen a wonderful mix of African nationalities coming together to create a truly African collaboration between recording artists and producers.  However behind the scenes there has also been great synergy between the Kenyan and the South African television crews.

Over the course of three months, the producers from Blue Moon, Mashoba Media and Good Noise (the three companies tasked with the production by Coca-Cola), as well as the Kenyan Production partner Nusu Nusu, assembled in Nairobi, over sixty-five artists from seventeen countries, speaking ten different languages between them, into three recording studios and one television studio. There, the artists were split into pairs and asked to collaborate over the course of a week: each pair conceptualising, creating, composing and, in collaboration with an assigned producer, performing and recording four to five songs.

Over one hundred songs were written and performed over the three months. The shoot captured this collaborative process, as well as the live in-studio performance of each song with a young studio audience and live band.

“The exciting thing about this project, beyond its awesome scale, is the incredible diversity of talent involved. The African music and entertainment space is still very disparate, and although we are sharing and learning more about each other every day, individual countries still have unique tastes and approaches to music and content creation. One of the objectives of this project was to address that divide,’’ comments Tim Horwood, executive creative director of Mashoba Media.

The material is then wrangled on set and a safety copy is made before being sent on drives to Bladeworks in Johannesburg. Once the material arrives at Blade, the data team ingests the copy onto an Isis. From there the team of editors, on 14 Avid edit suites, cut content for ten regions, over thirty countries and forty broadcasters.

Blade producer Anika Dohne comments: “The extreme scale of the productions is a big challenge in itself. There are so many elements that need to come together in order to make the show work – often from a variety of third parties. From editing, music track mastering, dubbing, graphics, packaging, final mix and delivery. If there are any delays everything comes to a standstill.”

While the production has a matrix system, where each episode is made up of elements of other episodes, the fact that each country has a different language and therefore different titles makes almost every episode unique. Amharic, Portuguese, Swahili, French and English are all dubbed and titled for their particular broadcasters.

Blade head of Data, Andries De Jager, has this to say around the broadcast delivery: “We have automated the workflow as much as we can up to the point where manual checks are necessary to ensure correct deliveries. Some countries require NTSC content which causes a bit of a set back as all content is created in PAL. We have set up FTP portals with our ISP for all able broadcasters as a method of delivery, but some countries don’t have the necessary bandwidth to get their high-quality formats soon enough. Keeping track of the variables that this project demands, is quite something.”

Final mix was always in the starting position on a hot standby waiting for the barrage of episodes to come online from dubbing and offline approval.

According to Carol Jenkins, post-production producer, Coke Studio, ten hours of final, off-lined content had to be translated from Portuguese, French, Malagasy, Shona, Kinyarwanda, Zulu, Amharic and Swahili and then dubbed back into five different languages for broadcast. A process that took just over three months. Individual offline segments were sent to Ear Candy in Randburg to transcribe and dub as per the schedules. However, all the Ethiopian content was sent to Zeleman TV in Addis Ababa for translations and dubbing and then sent to Bladeworks for final mix and delivery.

“Making sense of all of it was a challenge. Deadlines were tight and the studio audio did present a few technical challenges. However, the primary focus was undeniably the amazing music. We found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the showcase of talent and the final products these amazing artist and producers developed. Despite the challenges and tight deadlines; the support from the hard-working edit team and outstanding infrastructure, efficiency and professionalism from the technical teams really helped streamline the Avid  and ISIS workflow,”  says  Anthony Croft, final mix resonance, The Art of Sound.

The Coke Studio Africa team were fortunate to recruit seasoned reality editors under the watch of Andrew Dixon. Dieter Strydom and Neil Gow did the online for all 136 episodes using the Avid Symphony.

Arti Gopal, Bruce Nkomo and Kuti Rasikhuthuma were the Avid editors assigned to cutting the reality segments of the show. Masi Mtshali cut the multi-cam music performances to duration. Cameras were switched to a line cut as a reference to how series director, Eugene Naidoo, interpreted the cut. All cameras were recorded separately. All the separate music tracks were recorded on a multi-track and sent to Thatch Music to be mixed. The mix was then sent back to Andrew Dixon, the head editor, who made sure that what was being heard in the mixed track was in fact being seen in the edit. Andrew also polished the reality segments to make sure that the story carried through into the performance.

Another team of editors that included Portia Khumalo, Siraaj Cassiem, Fanuel Khuphe and Dan Modiseng were hired as packaging editors. They were each tasked to package different African regions’ episodes to 45-minute durations and in the correct dubbed language for the broadcasters in their region.

Charles Dladla edited all television promos for all regions while assistant editors, Eunice Mbongo and Nomsa Ntlemeza, had the mammoth task of administering the 40 terabytes of data on the Isis.

In Kenya, two editors worked off the backup servers to deliver on the web content around the series. “Working between Nairobi and South Africa for the past two years with such a massive team of people having to be moved in one direction, towards one goal has made this project both the most challenging and the most rewarding that I have worked on in my twenty years at Blue Moon. A project like this is only made possible by having an amazingly talented team of individuals and a committed group of suppliers who are always ready to go above and beyond their dedication to produce excellence,” comments Deana Heslop-Mthembu.

“This year Coke Studio merged Coke Studio South Africa with Coke Studio Africa, automatically bringing together more professionals drawn from South Africa, Kenya and other countries in the field of production on the project. We are happy to showcase to Africa what our dedicated team of professionals has achieved – it’s hectic but they have excelled! In addition, the show is also packaged into a radio format by Radio Express, exposing lovers of radio to emerging African sounds, with a focus on diversity and providing exposure to new and upcoming artists,” says Monali Shah, head of Content Excellence, Coca Cola Africa Ltd.

All in All, Coke Studio Africa is a truly epic yet rewarding production that will hopefully continue to grow year on year.

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