Edward Mudau, owner of Just CDs Music Shop, shuffles between a varied mix of classical and contemporary jazz records behind a grey countertop on a black stereo system.
Just CDs Music Shop is a musical institution unto itself. It has two listed locations in downtown Johannesburg, one on Commissioner Street near Marshalltown, which is temporarily closed because of building renovations; and the other on the corner of Jorissen and Bertha streets in Braamfontein.
Mudau stands proudly in a small shop that has come to define his long-standing relationship with records, CDs and the music they capture.
Boasting an impressive collection of genres ranging from kwaito and reggae to soul and jazz from across the world, Mudau’s shops are Johannesburg’s most prized music sites.
A charismatic and warm Mudau, who prefers being referred to as Bra Eddie, calls it an “accident” in which inexplicable forces, possibly of the ancestral variety, intervened and aligned him with a lifelong pursuit and appreciation for excellent music.
Born and raised in Chiawelo in Soweto, Bra Eddie is as much a storyteller as he is a musical aficionado. He begins his story as a young man working for the Allied Building Society. “In the old days, we used to have building societies and banks. So for your bond and buildings you’d have to go to a building society,” he explains.
Those who know something of the history of South African financial institutions will know that Absa was originally an acronym for Amalgamated Banks of South Africa. It came into being in 1991, when Volkskas, a bank established by members of the Afrikaner Broederbond in 1935, merged with Allied Building Society and United Building Society.
Mudau was one of the young employees who were present for the merger. But soon after that he found himself working for Wesbank, a job he says he took out of necessity rather than passion or interest.
“I worked for Absa and for Wesbank … but you know the love of music this thing was following me around because somehow every weekend I used to spin some vinyls and [I remember] House music was ‘thee thing’.
“This was in the 1980s,” Mudau continues, “So from 1984 to, let’s see … when was Mandela released from jail … 1990? Ya, I it was around that point that I got married … my life changed and realised that I needed to be a little more responsible,” he says animatedly.
First CD sold
The ways in which we find our calling or purpose can be strange and varied. For Mudau, it was a Boys II Men CD that aligned with his preordained sensibilities to curate and archive music. “I realised that I needed to follow my passion and I started selling, but by accident,” he recounts.
“A lot of my friends used to listen to tapes and a lot of them used to ask me to record music on to tapes for them. This was long before the download years. [I remember] I bought a CD that all my friends wanted and I said, ‘You know, I could make a life from this.’
“Funny enough, here it is,” he says as he shows me the CD of the Philadelphia R&B group’s second studio album, II. “This is also the first CD I sold. I sold two of these CDs in 1994; that’s how the idea of the business started.
Mudau then recounts a fascinating tale of how he went to record companies to buy CDs directly from them for resale. “So this was a problem,” Mudau starts, “Because they could only sell to music shops. If you didn’t have a business, they couldn’t sell to you.
“When I went to the shop, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. The selections and information were limited at that time (we didn’t have the internet, we had to rely on someone who had data from abroad about what was available).”
When the lady asked ‘What’s your name?’ I said Soul Provider.
Mudau decided to go to Tusk Music. He recalls how the record label assumed that he was a legitimate retailer so he simply acted like one. “They asked me what was the name of my record shop and I didn’t have one immediately.
But behind the lady who was asking me this, there was a radio and the music that had just played was Michael Bolton’s Soul Provider. When the lady asked ‘What’s your name?’ I said Soul Provider. She wrote it down and asked what my telephone number was and I gave her my desk telephone number at work.”
He then recalls how he developed a relationship with the company’s import label manager. “I went to his office and there were things there that were simply not to be found anywhere and he couldn’t sell them.” Mudau recalls assuring the manager that if he gave him 20 copies of each record he would sell them all.
As Mudau had no shop to sell from, he began selling his CDs from the boot of his car.
He explains how he developed a client list and a business plan. “I had a portfolio from work [at the bank] that had elite customers – doctors, teachers and so on … so I took the same concept for my own business and I followed those people and presented them with music. It worked wonders.”
Mudau continued selling CDs out his boot for four more years until he opened his first shop in 1997. This was a difficult decision for him as he had been promoted by Wesbank with an office and company car, and a number of company perks.
“When I went on leave, I opened a shop while still on leave and came back and said, ‘I’m resigning,’ without giving my notice. They were initially upset with me but agreed to it after a day. That was 21 years ago and this is where I am now,” he says.
The stuff of fairytales
Mudau transitioned from being more than just a shop owner. In the early years, while building his business, he developed a relationship with Metro FM as a compiler.
“There was a programme on Metro FM presented by Isaac Phaahla and we worked together because I would give him a lot of stuff that was not available in the country. I think that when he took over, the listenership was around 500 000 and we increased it to 2 million.”
Mudau also recalls working as a musical compiler with Ike Tladi of Khaya FM.
Over the years, Mudau has met and spent time with local musical heavyweights such as Moses Molelekwa, Busi Mhlongo, Sipho Gumede and Madosini, among many others.
His fondest memory of owning the shop, however, is of a schoolboy who would frequent his shop. Mudau tells the story of how he would come every Monday to listen to one solitary song on his favourite album. It was a song on American rapper Ja Rule’s first album.
The CD was R129 and the young boy could not afford it. Eventually Mudau made an agreement with the boy to have him deposit R5 every week in an effort to pay the CD off.
“He did that for four weeks and on the fourth week, I decided that he could take it and he took that CD and disappeared. Four or five years later, a gentleman with a suit and tie came in. He didn’t say anything to me.
“He picked a lot of CDs, hip-hop only, and put them down on the table. He said, ‘Do you remember me?’ and I replied ‘no’. He told me that he was the young boy who used to come here and listen to Ja Rule. He must’ve bought R2 000 worth of CDs that day. He told me he was working and said he came in to say thank you.”