AFABW Interview with 2x Grammy-Winning Record Producer, Robin Hogarth

RobinHogarth500Robin Hogarth has been the Director of the St. Hill International Arts Festival in England since 1997, and the Executive Producer of the South African Arts Festival, in Johannesburg, since 2000. The purpose of these arts festivals is to help rehabilitate art ability, and to help forward the dream of a brighter future through the arts. Robin has also been a record producer for over 20 years, specializing in indigenous South African music, world music, and music for film and television. Robin was born in England, and resides in Johannesburg, South Africa as well as outside of London. Robin was interviewed, via email, from his studio in Johannesburg, South Africa in March 2004, by Artists For A Better World (AFABW) President, George Alger.

AFABW: What role do you believe the artist has in the world today?

Robin: The artist plays a crucial role, I believe. The truth of it is, as L Ron Hubbard says, “A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists.” Think about that. Is it really true? Sometimes one has the image of an artist alone in an ivory tower or garret, feverishly creating his art on a very self-absorbed basis. And certainly there is the element of very individualistic creation in great art. But the truth is, I believe, that art contains the crucial element of quality of communication—does it reach people? And great art does and always has. So now you move into the area of the impact it has on others, and we know this can be huge. Britney Spears bares her belly button, and a world of young girls do the same. On a more spiritual level, the Beatles get interested in Eastern philosophy, and there is sudden wide interest in this area.

The artist can have an almost infinite influence on people. Fashions, ideas, philosophy, etc. An artist pro drugs will have an influence in this direction on his audience. An artist believing and singing about spiritual values will have a similar influence.

So, yes, I believe the artist’s role is crucial to the making of a better world. I believe he can have a great influence for good in the way people approach their daily lives, and can have impact on the broader ills of man such as war, financial hardship, poverty and so on. And all of this on an aesthetic level—by dreaming the dream of what could be. I do not believe in censorship of the arts, but I do believe any artist needs vitally to take these factors into consideration in what they do.

AFABW: You have been helping to create arts festivals every year since 1995. Why do you volunteer so much time to helping artists?

Robin: We as professional artists need to have practical ways to better conditions. I believe we can do this by helping to nurture the artist in every one of us. This can be done by the professional helping others achieve their artistic dreams, something that these festivals make a priority. In line with this, professionals themselves can improve and broaden the scope of what they are doing, as well. And at the end of the day I believe we, as artists, can, and indeed, must help create a culture (within groups, nationally and globally) of which all can be proud.

AFABW: What inspired you to get started as an artist?

Robin: I just always had this passion for music—helped by the fact that both my parents played instruments, so I was always surrounded by it and participated at an early age. I started in choirs at age 8, then piano study at 11.

AFABW: Could you mention some of the benefits an artist might gain from participation in an art association or art group?

Robin: There is always something to learn, and I think that is part of the role of a great artist—to keep on with the adventure of new territory, which always means learning. And that is one benefit in the interaction of artists. But beyond that, I believe that artists, while individually creating, need to work together in areas that promote artists, protect their rights, and forward mutually held aims. And through this we will create a safer, more aesthetic environment, which is to the benefit of all.

AFABW: Why would you recommend that an artist participate in an Arts Festival?

Robin: I’d point out that the arts festivals I’m involved with, and indeed many activities of Artists for a Better World, do not just involve showcasing artists. They put emphasis on hands-on artistic production. And I believe that is a key. I have found it incredibly rewarding to work with others, and to feel that I have helped others in a very meaningful way. I think I have probably read at least one testimonial from every arts festival attendee (probably thousands in all) where I have been an organiser—without fail they talk of what rehabilitating their own art ability has done for them, and these successes are often life changing on an individual basis. Any artist should be part of this type of activity I believe, and this involvement will put a zing in your step and a gleam in your eye (whether professional or beginner)!

AFABW: You just held another South African Arts Festival earlier this month [March 2004]. How did that go?

Robin: This years South African Arts Festival was the biggest ever and we are now reaching to a number of other African areas. A major feature of the Festival is the number of artistic activities and groups planned for the future throughout Africa. Those attending included artists from Kenya and Nigeria, with artist activities being launched in Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Africa is the second largest continent on the planet, with 54 countries, over 800 million people, and over 800 main languages. So prospects are almost infinite!

The Festival ran over two and a half days, with stellar concerts, shows, theatrical events and two days of very productive workshops. I was personally extremely pleased with the festival, being able myself to help produce and perform, as well as to help look to the long range bright future ahead of us!

AFABW: Is there any one aspect of your life—music, charitable causes—that makes you the proudest?

Robin: In my earlier years I would say I tended to be pretty selfish as an artist. Now I try to balance that, and give as much as I get. And I’m achieving that to a far greater degree, which when I look over it makes me pretty happy.

AFABW: Any advice you have for artists, of any genre, who wish to create a better world through aesthetics?

Robin: I guess I would say that this is a very worthy and important goal to have! So pour coal on it, don’t allow others to tell you different about what you’re trying to do, and keep yourself creative and cheerful about what you do. Don’t believe for one minute that you have to compromise to be a wonderful and effective artist, whatever comes up. And learn every day so you can be increasingly even more effective in what you do. I would also add that any artist can expand their personal and artistic zones by going into a Celebrity Centre, or for that matter, any Church of Scientology, and asking about the different studies that are available to improve any area you feel could benefit. There is practical information on every zone of interest to an artist—you’ll never look back!

AFABW: Robin, you have been the composer and/or producer for many dozens of records, TV shows and films in England and South Africa. What do you attribute to your success?

Robin: I like continually to think of new ideas and projects, sometimes as outrageous as you like. I find I am enthusiastic about these ideas, and within the bounds of what a particular company or producer is interested in, this enthuses others. It’s a joy to be working on something new and creative on a pretty continuous basis.

AFABW: International interest in World Music* has been expanding, as evidenced by the growth of record sales over the past years by artists like Deep Forest, Enigma, Adiemus, Enya, as well as interest in world music by such artists as Peter Gabriel and Sting. It seems a lot people are catching on to your long-time passion in this genre. What do you see for the future of World Music?

Robin: World music has become something of a catch all phrase for anything that has some “ethnic” flavour and in a way has become broader and broader as years go by. As technology has spread over the planet, as recording has become easier to do in even the remotest areas, so the many different styles and the richness of widespread cultures has become more accessible. With this have been a staggering number of projects mixing different styles and so on. So I see this as an area that will keep mushrooming, creating sub areas and styles of new ethnically flavoured music for an infinite potential for the future.

AFABW: The record industry as a whole has been going through changes as a result of worldwide interest in online music. Any comments on the future of the record industry?

Robin: The record industry definitely has to change—and is doing so—to provide what its potential customer needs and wants. Free music leads to no exchange with the artists and composers, and that is self defeating—it can only stifle creativity for the future. So it’s a case of providing exciting music viably and accessibly to all people, and I think a way will be found to do that. In the meantime any record company not prepared to meet the challenge, which is also one of nurturing new talent and creativity, will go the way of the dinosaur.

AFABW: How do you view the role of a record producer in relation to that of a musician or composer?

Robin: This is a very good question! A record producer by definition is producing the record, but of course it is the artist who is creating the music. In the real world there are many different producers with as many styles of producing. Some producers will be very hands on, others very laissez faire. Some producers are criticized because they alter the work of the artist, others because they do little to enhance things. My view is that a good producer understands what an artist is trying to communicate, and brings his expertise to bear in order to enhance that, without perverting, criticizing or altering what the artist is trying to put across. In this spirit he should work closely with the artist who should be very happy with the production. In order to do this the producer has to know a lot about the target audience and what is being attempted, and have great communication and creative skills himself.

AFABW: Any parting words?

Robin: I love what I do and any artist or other professional in the field generally does too. It’s a wonderful world. Like any art, you are your own master and can create as widely, beautifully, wildly, massively, delicately as you wish, and in any way you wish. It is your universe to create, and with dedication to your craft it can be an amazing universe you can bring to others who hopefully can enjoy it as much as you do.

AFABW: Robin, thank you very much!

* World Music – Music from cultures other than those of Western Europe and English-speaking North America, especially popular music from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. (American Heritage Dictionary)