Soul Candi – A lesson in Building an Independent Business

Soul Candi a lesson in building a business
Image Credit: Soul Candi

During the late 90s in South Africa, House music was starting to emerge as a major force after the dominance of kwaito.

House Afrika Records played a pivotal role in introducing and breaking house music to the mainstream with the super successful Fresh House Flava compilation series.

That opened up the flood gates and more competitors entered the market in order to get a slice of the pie.

And one of those competitors was Soul Candi Records.

Soul Candi used to operate as a pure independent label for over a decade but they have since changed their business model.

Who Started Soul Candi?

Soul Candi was originally founded in 2001 by Harael Salkow and DJ Mbuso as a record shop

I believe Sugertraxx was the trading name at the time.

In 2003, Soul Candi the record label was born and compiled Soul Candi Sessions Vol 1 as the first release.

But to release that album the owners approached the now-defunct Sheer Music for distribution.  

Sheer Music Group was probably the biggest Independent label in South Africa at the time by market share.

Soul Candi Sessions One was an instant success and after that release, the label went on to do great things in the music industry.

It’s okay to start small

There’s nothing wrong with starting right at the bottom of the food chain and working your way up. And sometimes in business (and life), it’s just not possible to do the thing that you’ve always dreamt immediately.

In the case of Soul Candi, they started selling imported Vinyl’s and reselling them to DJ’s and music enthusiasts. The business was still small but the owners were learning about the retail side of the business.

Because they were dealing with the end-user on a day to day basis, the retail side of the business laid a solid foundation for the label business.  

So what’s the take away here for the modern-day entrepreneur or artist? I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you want to start a label but you do not have enough funds to do so.

Instead, you could buy and resell music instruments and accessories on a small scale and build on that. When you get some traction in the form of sales, you can keep the momentum going and diversify into a related business.

Timing is everything

In 2001 kwaito music was at its peak but dance music was now at the forefront. Many youngsters (including myself) at the time were toying around with the idea of being a house DJ.

 It made sense if you didn’t have the talent to sing or write, Deejaying was the “easier” path if you had the aspiration of breaking into the music industry. And as a result, the demand for house music grew.

Soul Candi understood this market well and was able to capitalize on a growing DJ trend.  And by virtue of being an early entrant in the market made room to grow their business. 

Create a value chain

I mentioned earlier that Soul Candi started off as a record shop but let’s look at their timeline over a ten year period, dating back to 2001. 

2001 – Sugartraxx the record shop opens for business

2003 – Soul Candi the label is officially launched and pens a P&D (Pressing & Distribution) deal with Sheer Music

2004 – The Soul Candi Institute of Music is launched with the help of Ryan Murgatroyd of Crazy White Boy Fame

2007 – Soul Candi Launches on-demand music service

2008 – Soul Candi Digital Distribution is launched

2009 – F! Records, the subsidiary label is born

2010 – Soul Candi Pressing & Distribution Service is born (They were in charge of their own distribution network and providing these services for other labels.

2011 – Spring Fiesta And MESH SA (Music & Entertainment Solutions Hub) is created 

As you can see from the above timeline, Soul Candi started from humble beginnings but managed to create a supply or value chain within a short space of time.

In South Africa, that’s unheard of. Most small labels are marketed and distributed by major record companies (Universal, Sony, etc.), while they focus on making the music. That’s it.     

That’s understandable though because creating a value chain is not for everyone. It’s risky and requires large amounts of financial and human capital.  

Build a brand

You can’t be all things to all people and trying to please everyone will not take you anywhere. When you’re trying to build a brand, people have to know what you stand for.

It’s possible to fake it and still succeed but people will eventually catch on. You can’t fool everyone.

Soul Candi was known (still is) for dance music and most of their complications and albums resonated mostly with the black South African youth and aspiring DJ’s.

On the timeline above, I mentioned F! Records.

F! Records was a subsidiary of Soul Candi.  But the division was created in order to release the techno stuff, which catered to a totally different market.  Remember the Bump Series?

Releasing the Bump stuff and a Candi Roots project on the same label would have been a disaster.

As a fan or keen follower, you knew what to expect from Soul Candi.

Being a brand has nothing to do with printing T-shirts, merchandise or logo. But it’s about the message that you are trying to convey and giving your fans what you promised them in the first place.

Build a Good Team 

Of course, you can’t do it all alone and you shouldn’t.  No man is an Island.

Soul Candi was in a league of its own but the co-founder Harael Salkow refused to take the credit and glory.

In fact, in an interview with IDM Mag, he was asked what the secret to Soul Candi’s success was and he credited his staff and team for the massive growth.

You might have ideas and the skills but alliances can be your greatest asset. Sometimes you still need people with complementary skills to execute your ideas.


Soul Candi played a key role in the South African music industry landscape. Even though the label side of the business is no longer active, their legacy cannot be erased from the history books.

I hope this article has given a better insight and perspective about business and the industry. What was your favourite Soul Candi album? Share your thoughts, opinion on the comments box below.

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