The Rainbow Restaurant, a popular Durban restaurant and music club, turns 30 today and what better way to celebrate than to throw a party with some of Durban’s best musicians. Started in 1981 by Ben Pretorius and Billy Mthembu, it’s become a launching pad for many musicians and with Neil Comfort holding the fort, it looks as though it will go on for many more years.
How did you become the owner of The Rainbow Restaurant when the Pretoriuses decided to step back?
Well I’ve been working in the music industry for many years, managing Busi Mhlongo, and the Rainbow was one of the few places, actually in those years the only, platform for musicians to perform. I went to the Rainbow for the first time in 1995 and Winston Mankunku Ngozi was performing and seeing the crowd roar while he was performing just brought me goose-bumps. In June 2001 I helped Pam Pretorius organise Ben’s 50th birthday party. We had many artists come to perform, including Winston. Over 300 people were there. A few months later I decided to buy the Rainbow. Ben was convinced that Nicole (Neil’s wife) and I were the right people to preserve the soul of the rainbow. It wasn’t just about selling his business, it was about putting it in the hands of the right people.
What fond memories do you have of the place?
It’s all about the music. I could go back to the day we got the Rainbow, September 1, 2001 and the opening concert the next day. Busi Mhlongo performed for us, only charging us R5 000 (she usually charged R40 000) which was a relief since we had really gone deep in our pockets to finance the Rainbow. She said the rest was a gift. So many performers have done great shows at Rainbow it’s difficult to pick one.
What has the Rainbow Restaurant’s effect on music been like?
Well back in the apartheid era, artists went into exile, or stayed for various reasons. So the Rainbow became a place for them to express themselves through their music. Then, young musicians like Jimmy Dludlu would come for jam sessions and that’s where he actually made his name. Last week we had a Mozambican student from UKZN perform at a jam session. The customers loved him. One of the biggest contributions of the Rainbow was that it became a platform for musicians to perform.
Is there still a call for Sunday afternoon jazz?
Oh definitely. People still want relaxing music and would look for a session to come and experience live music. Last week we didn’t have any musicians. The customers asked us to get an act and by the end of the session there were over 200 people there having fun.
The Rainbow Restaurant is at 23 Stanfield Lane, in Pinetown. Doors open at 1pm and the music starts shortly thereafter. Tickets cost R120. - Sunday Tribune