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The British Council has been given a directive to forge relations between South African and UK arts to develop artists in both countries.
The man given the task is Tom Porter. He was appointed head of Arts for the British Council in July last year and wasted no time in carrying out that mandate.
Among many other projects they have started the Live SA & British Council Connect ZA Future Music, which brings out underground UK dance artists to perform and collaborate with their South African counterparts.
“We want to do projects which reinvigorate the conversation between the two countries,” explained Porter. “South Africa is an important country to Britain, yet there is not a lot of recogni- tion of artists. With 20 years of democracy we felt it was the right time to create new interest.
“We want to put South African arts across the board out there and let the world ask where is it from,” he continued. “We don’t want it to be seen as African music or African art. South Africa has a much more complex and interesting story.”
To achieve this the British Council are taking a grass-roots approach, focusing on connecting artists aged 18 to 35 with artists of the same age in Britain.
A final aim is to ensure they are successful and famous artists in 20 years’ time.
This means they are also focusing on 18- to 35-year-old audiences and obviously digital is one of the main platforms. Online initiatives like podcasts have already proved successful.
“We brought a popular DJ out to South Africa for 10 days and he had to choose artists for an hour’s show,” said Porter. “This resulted in Nancy G from Ghetto Ruff being invited to perform overseas. But on top of that we wanted him to tell the story to his fans.”
Porter said the average Briton’s perception of South Africa was one of crime, yet all the people they have invited have been impressed with the country.
“We want to change the way South Africa is perceived. I was a director on the Lake of Stars Music Festival in Malawi and we changed peoples’ perceptions. No, it’s not just a place where Madonna gets her babies.”
By building relationships Porter believes the council will stay away from ownership.
“We have to develop credibility,” he said, and hired Live SA, the online magazine, to run with the Connect ZA Future Music Collaboration. They were tasked with finding the artists at both ends of the Atlantic.
It is now in its second month. Tonight, London-based electronic musician Okzharp will share the stage with Zaki Ibrahim and Okmalumkoolkat. Live SA say the three artists will work together “in a way that truly represents the collaborative spirit that the Connect ZA series is supporting”.
Dirty Paraffin are the support act. The concert takes place at The Alex Theatre in Braamfontein.
On Saturday night the action moves to The Assembly in Cape Town, where the four will be joined by Christian Tiger School, JakobSnake and Funafuji. There are still two more events to happen within the next two months.
Porter says they are also behind the spoken word, working with Arts Alive poetry event Speak The Mind in early September and in early October are working with the Word and Sound Poetry Festival in the Market Lab, Newtown Precinct.