Qwest TV, a streaming video-on-demand service, co-founded and curated by the legendary Quincy Jones is now available in SA. More than 1,300 music resources are available via a premium subscription, available any time via any device.
Among Jones’s achievements are 80 Grammy nominations and producing the biggest selling album ever, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. He trained under the legendary French classical music teacher Nadia Boulanger, whose alumni include Phillip Glass and Leonard Bernstein. He has also been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
This prestigious and genre-bending background, coupled with ground-breaking innovation and the tearing down of barriers is encapsulated in Qwest TV. The platform aims to reinvigorate and revolutionise music streaming, with the emphasis on jazz, classical and African genres. Jones and co-founder Réza Ackbaraly, the French producer, released the service via a kick-starter campaign in 2017 and it now boasts 8.5-million monthly users.
I was brought up in a very musical household; my dad was in the music industry and absolutely enamoured with the culture of all performances, more often than not drifting into the elitist pretentiousness of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity protagonist. I was spurned for shuffling music on my low-fidelity streaming devices and lord forgive me if I brought up the rampant piracy of the mid-2000s.
However, in his passionate lectures about folk icons, lost recordings and secret concerts he would pull out bootleg LPs, archive recordings or static-riddled tapes that were mana from heaven for him and dangerously close to the street-corner pirated CDs of mine. As I taught him to use YouTube, he progressed to hunching over his laptop watching 240p concert recordings of dubious origin, lost in the music, forgoing his diehard appreciation for sound-quality and music rights for the appreciation of the culture and idiosyncratic lore.
I continued to shuffle albums and listen to recommended playlists, own, yet the curated gems with my father were the experiences, entertainment and education that I am beyond privileged to have been given.
Jones has similar anecdotes, a Berkley school of music professor attempting to show archive jazz footage to his students while being interrupted by low-fidelity and incessant ad breaks, an empty jazz archive as students turn to abysmal online sources over traditional formats for research. Of course, trends change but that’s is not what is heartbreaking about the movement away from curated archives — it’s that there were no discerning alternatives.
Accessibility, access and curation is what inspired Jones to start Qwest TV, a high-quality, content-heavy streaming service that celebrates music. Numerous curators, industry insiders, intellectuals, artists and trendsetters compile and comment on playlists, documentaries, podcasts and concerts. The focus is on entertainment and education as much as it is a digital manifestation of trawling through vinyl crates at a flea market, going to a lecture by a music great or sitting on a carpet with your dad listening to his curated compendium of forgotten treasures.
A quick scroll through the platform was mind-blowing; Gil Scott-Heron in Black Wax, Woodstock documentaries, Frank Zappa and Van Morrison documentaries. I consequently missed the next two weeks of deadlines, and I hadn’t even seen the live concerts, playlists, archives or Guest Curators. I was as much beguiled as I was overwhelmed, from listening to my own echo chamber of jazz from Murakami books, recent releases of pop and rock, ambient study music and Spotify’s Discover Weekly, to a trove of music yearning to be discovered.
Starting with A Music Celebration for Quincy Jones felt apt but I soon moved to the concerts of contemporary artists such as Anderson .Paak, Alt J and Mos Def to the Afrobeat great Fela Kuti and the king of spaghetti westerns, Ennio Morricone. Listening to full concerts is an experience like no other, you are immersed into the artist’s persona, the crowd’s euphoria and the intricacy of the music.
“We combine great modern performances with gems from the archives — early Louis Armstrong to prime Miriam Makeba to modern shows from Anderson .Paak and Oumou Sangaré,” says Ackbaraly. “Last year we unearthed a super rare vault of performances never before seen outside France, including James Brown, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and many more.”
The curation of playlists showcases Qwest TV’s passion for using entertainment as education, allowing the accessibility of genres and artists who exist out of the mainstream, and how important context, history and appropriation are to understand our current experiences. Recordings often come with liner notes, interviews, opinions, trivia and context from journalists, musicians and first-hand sources, adding to the depth of the experience.
In the spirit of acting as a music museum of sorts, Qwest TV has an Edu scheme, allowing students free access to its catalogue, and has had more than 1,000 academic institutions sign up. One example is the Africa Day Playlist from May; the playlist demonstrates the continued influence of African music, highlighting its links to the US, South America and jazz hotspots like Paris. African musicians are tapped as invaluable contributors, allowing the playlist to represent indigenous voices and speak from experience, rather than be a Western portrayal of the continent’s music, as is the norm. Performances by legends from all over Africa are available, so is rare footage and recordings, with numerous documentaries such as an incredible cosmopolitan documentary of Morocco’s gnawa music.
Qwest TV is the perfect alternative to the algorithmic prisons of the monopolistic streaming services that populate our eardrums. Being able to escape from my “Recently Played” opened up a new world of music. Ackbaraly elaborates that this was precisely one of the pillars of the platform — moving away from current norms, engineered habits and unconscious bias.
“A key aspect of Qwest TV’s mission is to remove the cultural barriers that reinforce entrenched listening habits and place more value on certain music than others,” Ackbaraly says. “Africa is the source of the first heartbeat, the first human rhythms, but it is also home to a hugely intricate, sophisticated and progressive musical landscape. We want to place all music — jazz, ragga, opera, Afrobeats, R&B, electronic and so on — on the same stage, celebrating individualities while exposing links between them.”
The nostalgic experience of discovering secrets in vinyl sleeves on the shelves of music stores and in live experience is unlocked through this platform —masterpieces are just waiting to be discovered and hidden gems are yearning to be let out. The Qwest collection’s close relationship with artists themselves, foundations, museums and record labels has allowed a treasure chest of high quality and legal recordings to be released, often for the first time.
The platform highlights the rediscoveries of historically overlooked artists as they do the celebrated icons; the significance lies within the craft, history and evolution of genres rather than just the mainstream status quo.
Subscription in SA is $4.99 a month or $49.99 for a year. Registration includes the first month free: https://qwest.tv/partner/africa