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A HOMELESS child stands next to a well-dressed professional pressed against the steel fence in front of the stage at Green Market Square. There is no VIP status for anyone, or barriers separating the elite from the poor. For four hours they’re all just music lovers experiencing the magic of jazz.
While the Cape Town International Jazz Festival has evolved, grown exponentially, and changed in audience, the free concert, which costs about R800 000 to stage, has always been the most important component for Billy Domingo.
Domingo, the chief of operations for festival founders and organisers espAfrika, along with Rashid Lombard, chief executive at espAfrika, and several other people, say the 15 years since the first event at the Good Hope Centre has flown.
Domingo recalls peeping from behind a wall at the first show, when it was still called the North Sea Jazz Festival, anxious about whether or not the people would come. They attracted a crowd of about 3 000. The budget then was about R3 million.
The festival has undergone several changes, including its name. Domingo quips that there was no North Sea in Cape Town anyway. The venue also changed to the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Initially they were offered the use of the two halls, with the hosts fearing the convention centre in its entirety would be too big. Festival organisers insisted on hiring the entire complex, with a capacity of nearly 35 000. It’s been sold out every year since 2007 and now costs about R50m to stage.
“I sometimes miss the intimacy of the first few. This isn’t just a jazz festival anymore. It went from being a jazz festival to a lifestyle festival,” says Domingo.
People come to the festival to network, fashionistas to be seen, families reconnecting, and of course, for music lovers to experience a wide range of old and contemporary favourites.
The inclusion of older bands such as Shakatak and Level 42 is crucial. “I’m 62 years old. I want the kids to understand what turned me on, and what influenced our sounds,” says Domingo. He explains that pre-1994, most South Africans never had access to live performances by the big international musicians of the time. “Cape Town was raised on artists like Earth, Wind and Fire. There are probably two million different ways to ‘jazz’ to Shakatak songs. Capetonians embrace rhythm,” he says. While the old school will always be celebrated, they’re not deaf to the newer talent, such as MiCasa, Jimmy Nevis, and Jonathan Rubain. They will all be part of the line-up this year.
This weekend transcends just being a festival at the weekend. It contributes more than R520m to the local economy, attracts 350 journalists from Africa and internationally, and creates 2 700 temporary jobs, says the City of Cape Town.
After 15 years, organisers believe the festival can grow further. The next step is for it to become a cultural festival. Although the concerts will still take place over a weekend, Domingo says they are investigating hosting events for a month leading up to the main event. Places such as the City Hall, the Good Hope Centre and venues in Athlone would be used.
“Every one who comes will take a bit of the festival with them when they leave,” says Domingo.
• Lower Long Street, between Walter Sisulu (formerly Coen Steytler) and Wharf, one left turning lane only, North, reopens on Monday at 4pm.
• Walter Sisulu, between Lower Long and Cullinan, taxi lane only, West, reopens on Sundayat 4pm.
• Wharf, between Lower Long and Cullinan, parking lane only, East, reopens Sundayat 4pm.
• Walter Sisulu, between Lower Long and Heerengracht, bus lane, East, reopens Monday at 3pm.
• Convention Square and Lower Long, between pedestrian crossing and Customs House, North and South, reopens on Sunday at 4pm.
• Walter Sisulu, between Lower Long and Heerengracht, full closure/soft lock, East, reopens on Sunday at 9am.
• Lower Long, between Wharf and Walter Sisulu, North, reopens on Sunday at 9am.
• Lower Long, between Walter Sisulu and Wharf, both lanes reverse flow, South, closes today at 2pm, reopens tomorrow at 4pm.
• Lower Long, between Wharf and Walter Sisulu, all directions, closes today at 4pm, reopens on Sunday at 9am.
• Heerengracht, between Walter Sisulu and Table Bay Boulevard, left lane only, North, closes today at 9am, reopens on Sunday at 9am.
• Walter Sisulu, between Buitengraght and Heerengracht, East, closes today at 2pm. reopens on Sunday at 9am.
• Walter Sisulu, between Heerengracht and Lower Long, West, closes today at 4pm, reopens on Sunday at 9am.
Tips for first-timers
• Don’t buy tickets off Gumtree or on the street.
• Wear comfortable shoes, you will do lots of walking.
• Orientate yourself with the layout of the venue.
• Get a programme, choose who you want to see, and plan a journey around it, then set off.
• To get the most out of the festival, spend no more than 20 minutes per stage, per act.
• Prepare for very long night of dancing, but also to come back educated.