Spikiri. Picture: Supplied

Previously known as The KZN Music Imbizo, the music conference that is now simply known as The Music Imbizo has grown. This is why the theme for this year is No Borders: Let The Music Travel.

Speakers from various parts of the world will once again descend on Durban on Thursday.

The Music Imbizo’s founder and project manager, Sphe Mbhele, explains why this theme has been a reflection of the Imbizo’s journey.

“The Imbizo grew out of the need to understand the business of music. My friend, Sibusiso Tsewu, and I wanted to create a platform to learn and it was not until I attended a UN Habitat event in Joburg that the idea really took shape,” he says.

“Initially, we wanted to do something around hip hop but that did not last because as soon as we had all hip-hop people in Durban in a room, then what?”

“Then we started spreading it out to other genres. The KZN Music Imbizo was born in 2009 as an idea to learn more about business across genres. That format was mainly inspired by MIDEM (Marché International du Disque et de ’Edition Musicale) in Europe and SXSW in the USA.

“We put it out on social media and asked people to come up with a theme for this year. Our plan was to concentrate on mobility and we steered the conversation towards that. Music travelling seemed sensible and everyone could grasp the idea of things moving - music travelling to all corners.”

After dismantling genre borders, Mbhele and his team began moving to incorporate topics that challenge the music industry. One of the ways they are doing that this year is through keynote addresses from industry players who seem like polar opposites.

Keynote speakers include SAMRO(Southern African Music Rights Organisation) Chief executive, Nothando Migogo and Raplyf co-owner, Kwesta.

The main programme will include panel discussions about new business models, music distribution and royalties, touring, PR and branding. There will even be live interviews with Stevie Wonder’s manager, Keith Harris, as well as a studio session with Mzansi legend Spikiri.

Another way the Imbizo is focusing on mobility is literally through the modes of transport that will get delegates to Durban. Obviously the US and UK delegates will be flying, but there are 50 young people who will be travelling by train, courtesy of Prasa, and some delegates will use buses.

Interestingly, the Imbizo includes sectors of the creative industry which aren’t focused on music. For instance, retailer and youth culture expert Frypan Mfula will be a panelist.

Mbhele says: “I have been following what Frypan and the Lets Play Outside crew have been doing. Really impressive stuff. Entrepreneurial and very practical. I believe music is a carrier of culture, creativity and entrepreneurship. 

"Since they are youth, we wanted to look at creating a space for urban youth to showcase. Music travels and with it, so does language, clothing, culture and other stuff.”

The Imbizo will also be breakaway sessions for smaller side workshops by the likes of CAPASSO, a kwaito and house round-table and a chance to pitch music videos to key players from the Trace music channel.

Mbhele says these are just some of the ways in which the Imbizo aims to do things differently this year. “The format of the new music listening session: of inviting radio station music compilers and the video pitching as well (are different). We needed to be practical about how we want things done and what brings value to the people that pay to be part of The Music Imbizo. The format is very new and hopefully our delegates will find value in it.”

Ultimately, Mbhele hopes to grow the legacy of the Imbizo beyond imagination. “We want to be the most important music business platform in the continent, a place where you will definitely make a sale or discover something that will blow the world.”

* The Music Imbizo takes place at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban from August 23 to 25. Tickets at Webtickets