South African music industry veteran Chris Ghelakis dies, aged 70

Chris Ghelakis

Widely respected South African music industry veteran, Chris Ghelakis has died after a long battle with cancer.

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

Ghelakis began his musical career as a bassist in the 70s, later developing into a band manager, as well as a tour accountant and sound engineer, which saw him start 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, in the heart of Johannesburg.

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 top independent music and entertainment brands in the country, working with many of the region’s top artists.

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

Electromode was acquired in January 2021 by Universal Music Group-owned Ingrooves Music Group, which is now Virgin Music Group.

“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.”

Nat Pastor and JT Myers, Virgin Music Group

Tributes have been pouring in for the veteran exec, 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 artist 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 the say the rest is history.

“I worked closely with Chris on all my albums and singles and won 2 SAMA 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 shaped 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 then 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…”

Cindy Alter said: “How does one say goodbye to a person that 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 said: “Chris is a father and a mentor to me, watching him adapt skillfully 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) said: “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 predicted 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 repeat 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.”

 Music Business Worldwide