Music pioneer Chris Ghelakis dies

South African music pioneer, Chris Ghelakis, has died.

South African music pioneer, Chris Ghelakis, has died.

Published Dec 14, 2023


Highly respected South African music pioneer, Chris Ghelakis, who made his life’s work the promotion and celebration of the country's vibrant music scene, has died after a long battle with cancer.

He was 70 years old and is survived by his two children.

Ghelakis began his musical journey as a bassist in the 70s, later developing into not only a band manager but also a tour accountant and sound engineer. Major labels recognised his versatile capabilities, and this is when he started producing some of the biggest artists in South Africa.

Further extending his status as a music mogul, Ghelakis went on to purchase and manage one of the biggest music venues in South Africa, The Thunderdome, which was right in the heart of Johannesburg and was historically known as the ground breaker in cultural diversity.

Ghelakis, known for his ability to spot talent and embrace new technological changes in the music industry, founded Electromode in 2001 which went on to become one of the most successful independent music and entertainment brands in the country, working with many of the region’s top artists.

Always the trailblazer Electromode held the Top 27 positions in the Top 30 of Apple Music’s South African Chart in 2020.

When it came to upscaling South African talent, Ghelakis recognized the need to elevate to a global scale, this brought on the acquisition of Electromode by Universal Music Group’s independent division Ingrooves, which is now Virgin Music Group.

His talent-searching abilities were not only focused on music, but he had the uncanny capability of cultivating music executives. Entrenched in his love for the music entertainment business, he became a mentor to a plethora of industry leaders.

Tributes have been pouring in, with many South African musicians recounting stories of how Chris changed the course of their careers.

Dr Victor from Dr Victor and The Rasta Rebels said: “I met Chris in 1988 at Bela Napoli in Hillbrow where he booked my band CC Beat to play at his Club Thunderdome in Johannesburg. In 1990 he was also looking for artists to record for his new CSR record label and I was one the first few to join his label.

“In 1991 we recorded a cover of Give Me Hope Jo’Anna for his CSR Label and Dr Victor & The Rasta Rebels was formed in Chris’s office, as they say, the rest is history.

“I worked closely with Chris on all my albums and singles and won 2 SA Music Awards for the 25 years I was signed to CSR Records as an artist. It would be safe to say there would be no Dr Victor had it not been for Chris’s input, he helped shape my career and guided me as a big brother throughout my career.

“I’ve never met anyone with more passion and drive in the music industry than Chris... he was always the first one at the studio and the last one to leave. I can’t imagine the South African music industry without Chris Ghelakis...”

According to Cindy Alter: “How does one say goodbye to a person who has been a constant in your life for 45 years? Perhaps it is not a ‘goodbye’, but a, ‘see you again my friend’! What started as a musical connection, morphed into a close friendship, infused with great respect and love. A mentor, a concerned ear, an advisor, and a co-producer of projects. I know your family and you know mine, our lives always intertwined along our different paths. We have shared music, celebrations, laughter, and sorrow, and now, with gratitude, I can share the next phase of your journey. You live in my heart and my memories. Thank you for being you. There is only one you!”

Rapper KO: “Chris is a father and a mentor to me, watching him adapt skilfully to each new era of this industry is the reason I’m also constantly trying to evolve. Will sorely miss his guidance and intellect.”

Kaye, former co-owner G Management (Ghelakis Management): “As one of our industry's greatest characters, we were seriously talking about having a reality show at the office centred mostly around Chris and George (Vardas). But Chris never wanted the limelight. He quietly helped superstars behind the scenes and nurtured and shepherded so many music industry colleagues like me.

“He could spot talent a mile away and predict the future long before any of us could realize it. Chris taught me everything I know! To so many, Chris was a father figure. What are we all going to do without you, Chris? You held it together for your family. For everyone at Electromode/G Management. For all your artists. For the industry! How are we meant to navigate without your guidance? How I wish that reality show was made so that I could watch my boss, my colleague, my mentor, my friend on repeats any time I miss you and need to hear your voice”

Nat Pastor and JT Myers, co-CEOs of Virgin Music Group, said: “In the short time we worked together it was evident that Chris was a music man through and through.

“His impact on the South African music business and his drive to expand opportunities for artists within his own country and abroad made him a true visionary in our business. He will be missed by all of us at Virgin Music Group.”

Over the subsequent 40 years, Ghelakis developed 360-degree solutions for the South African entertainment industry and is still recognised as one of the most successful independent musical forces in the country.

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