Sui Generis

With their aim of easy access for artists, smaller music festivals give performers an edge, writes Frank Gormley.

There is a confused sort of buzz in Cape Town at the moment. Many people have heard that we’ll be playing host to the city’s first fringe festival, but not everyone is sure quite what that means.

It is no surprise that there is a question around the concept of “fringe”. When I was growing up, a fringe was a type of haircut, straight across the front of your head. Times have certainly changed and the word is now used to describe areas, events, concepts and even actions.

In the modern context “fringe” suggests “on the edge” of something larger. There is even a newly proposed “fringe area” of the central business district, which is basically a clearly identified area on the edge of the CBD.

Modern use of the term originated from the world-famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe as long ago as 1948. The “unofficial” companies performing outside but alongside the main festival were described as fringe. The concept grew exponentially and by 2011, the Fringe sold 1 877 119 tickets for 42 689 performances of 2 542 shows, in 258 venues over 25 days. There were 21 192 performers from 60 countries.

As the concept has grown so has the range of festivals and the types of fringe – from the theatre associated with Edinburgh to the mainly music content of the Cork International Jazz Fringe Festival.

What all fringes have in common is a shared set of guidelines with the aim of providing an easily accessible opportunity for all audiences and artists to participate.

The guidelines include low ticket prices for audiences, low production fees for artists, and easy participation.

Access to performers is not rigid and there is an open-door policy to bring in as many performances as possible. There is as much variety as possible to promote new styles and themes, and new and known artists and performers. The festivals are generally non-profit and the biggest benefactors are the artists and performers, with surpluses going to agreed upon causes.

There is often a strong reliance on local government grants, corporate sponsorship and donors. So far the city and provincial government have not come to the party. We wait and hope.

Performances are typically no longer than one hour and happen in rapid fire to accommodate as many acts as possible.

Typically, tech is minimal so technical requirements must be kept simple. Venues are generally clustered to allow people to watch a variety of performances. There are no national, set rules as to how each festival operates.

Festivals have spread like wildfire, to the point at which almost every major city has at least one. If you Google “fringe” you will be astonished at the extent and scale of festivals around the world, in cities, towns, and even remote villages.

The organisation can be intensive, with multiple venues and artists to accommodate, and it requires a great deal of planning, particularly a first-time festival.

The Grahamstown Festival is the closest example of a festival with a related fringe and it has had huge success and rapid growth in recent years.

As the name suggests, Sounds Fringe Cape Town, happening from Wednesday to Sunday, is mainly music based.

More than 60 performances, in more than a dozen venues, over four days may seem tiny compared with other similar festivals, but it is an exciting start, a new concept for the City of Cape Town and an opportunity to showcase local talent.

Auditions are being held at the Crypt this week to give an opportunity to talented but unknown artists to participate. It can grow in a number of ways over the years – numerous venues, other areas also in clusters, more than one event per annum, and the inclusion of different types of art and sport.

Just like other fringe events, the Sounds Fringe is set to bring people to the streets of the city.

As it showcases the beautiful, historical West City area it will bring acclaimed and up-and-coming artists to new audiences. It is meant to be entirely complementary to the longstanding Cape Town International Jazz Festival, hugely successful and already in its 15th year. This year’s event will stretch mostly from Greenmarket Square to Church Square and will include a variety of venues including the Iziko Museums, Slave Lodge and Old Town Hall, St George’s Cathedral, Mandela Rhodes Place, Inn on the Square, The Crypt, Motherland Coffee Shop, The Twankey, and Reserve at the Taj.

Tickets will be only R100 for a day and available through Computicket. There will be a few special pay shows and some free ones. Hopefully, something for everyone.

The main beneficiaries of the festival will be the amazing Rainbow Academy and St George’s Cathedral.

The Sounds Fringe is a non-profit organisation. A small but extremely dedicated team of volunteers have been working hard for the past six months, putting things together, and overcoming many hurdles and obstacles.

It is all coming together and it is going to be amazing. So much thanks is due to them and to the seed sponsors.

It’s a new and exciting beginning, with enormous potential for growth, bringing jobs and hope, a window of opportunity for young performers in particular, and great entertainment and pleasure – all happening in the heart of a beautiful city that is waiting to welcome its people back to its streets.

Don’t miss it – experience the vibe of the Cape Town city centre and the amazing talent of its people.

Let’s take to the streets, this time not in protest but in song. Bring it on, come check it out, get on the Fringe.

* Frank Gormley is an entrepreneur, businessman and chairman of the Rainbow Academy and Sounds FringeCT. For more information, go to and or follow


* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.