PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Cape Town Jazz Festival, 23-24 March 2018

Enjoying the Free Community Concert in Greenmarket Square
Photo supplied by CTIJF
The 19th annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival gets under way next month (23-24 March 2018). Billed as the biggest musical event in sub-Saharan Africa, the Festival is directed by BILLY DOMINGO. Peter Jones asked him about it.

London Jazz News: What are your main criteria for selecting the artists?

Billy Domingo: Along with our own talent department, the CTIJF has a panel made up of musicians, authors, journalists, producers and others involved in growing the music industry in South Africa. Together, we look at all genres of jazz – from what is current, to artists who play South African music in a style that it really stems from.

We consider what will appeal to our existing festinos as well as offering something new (for them), as well as attracting new audiences to explore the Festival and the genre.  Baseline stage, for example, tends to attract a younger audience who are our future festinos. We have also constructed a number of initiatives that speak to growing new talent.  These include the ‘espYoungLegends’ competition and the Music and Careers workshops which are aimed at high school music students.

LJN: How easy/difficult has it been to attract the upfront financing and sponsorship?

BD: We are in the fortunate position to have the full support of our parent company, a listed entity on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. It is sometimes challenging, though, because every year sponsors' visions change, and marketing directives change, so we are always at the mercy of change.

Billy Domingo
Photo credit: espAfrika
Very few sponsors sign long-term contracts but we are very fortunate in that we have a unique brand so people want to partner with us, and that is because association with the CTIJF also drives proven value. In the main, we budget and strategically plan for all eventualities – we have 19 years of experience in this regard and a team of experts to safeguard the sustainability of the festival.

LJN: The pre-festival free concert is an inspired idea which should be taken up by other international jazz festivals. Do you think it gets more people into the Festival itself?

BD: We are not unique. The North Sea Jazz Festival has a concert in the city as well and we’ve adapted from concerts around the world. We have a huge political history that we recognise every year and Greenmarket Square, where we host the annual Free Community Concert, is where lots of our people were arrested during the struggle.

It gives something back to the people of the city, as a way for us to say thank you for allowing us to disrupt their trains, planes and life in general over those two festival days. It has done a lot for ticket sales, as many tourists who are unaware of the genre and artists will see them perform at the Free Concert and then be urged to buy a ticket to the main festival, if not for the same year, then for the following year. Over the past 11 years we have been sold out prior to the Free Concert, but it definitely gets word of mouth out and brings people to the main event.

LJN: What for you is the importance of the associated training and development events?

BD: This is the core of the festival – South Africa’s rich musical heritage will live on through these students – not just artists but the production and management side too.  We, as an organization, are very passionate about ensuring a sustainable and vibrant entertainment industry in South Africa – on stage as well as behind the scenes.

Nurturing rising talent at Cape Town International Jazz Festival
Picture supplied by CTIJF
The Music and Careers workshops – aimed at high school students – for example, helps music artists develop their performance craft while also training those keen on an events career.  For four Saturdays, the 75+ students get valuable training on developing their own brand, understanding what technical and hospitality riders are, how to use technology and social media to market themselves (once they know what their brand is), lighting and sound set-ups, creating music digitally, MC and presenter skills… and the list goes on. The workshops culminate in a live performance at the famous Artscape theatre where each of the bands performs two numbers.  From these performances, the music directors select what is referred to as the ‘All Star Band’.  This band then plays at the Greenmarket Square CTIJF Free community concert.

The next level would be the espYoungLegends competition (now in its third year), that invites young unsigned bands to compete for a slot to play at the main festival.  Other initiatives also include free masterclasses, which are open to the public, one on the business of music and another which is a hands-on technology masterclass.

There’s more besides – arts journalism and photojournalism courses, that ensure we are creating a raft of arts and culture journalists who can write beyond an event listing.  This also contributes to sustaining the industry, because you can be the best performer in the world, but if no one writes about you, no one will know…

LJN: How would you like to see the Festival developing in future?

BD: I would like to see it continue and extend the footprint into the inner city, as they do at Montreux and New Orleans, encompassing the whole city of Cape Town, so that not only can we benefit from this festival, but the general population as a whole can also experience the culture, as well as our visitors. So it’s about expanding our footprint, encompassing more venues, all professionally organized and curated under the banner of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

LINK: Cape Town International Jazz Festival

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