Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

Something happened at the free concert of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on Wednesday night, something that I have seen at some other events, but I have always found it fascinating yet understandable in our digital age.

As soon as the South African singer Shekhinah arrived on stage just before 10pm, the audience lit up, with the light coming from hundreds, if not thousands, of cellphones wanting to record the moment - for Instagram, for prosperity or maybe just for the heck of it.

Shekhinah, from Durban, became popular through South African Idols, in which she participated twice, the second time making the top six in 2012.

But much has happened since then and, clearly, many of the people who were gathered on Greenmarket Square - some from as early as 4pm - were there to see her perform.

Yes, there were other performances, but she appeared to be the main attraction, as could be seen by the number of people who left after she performed even though there was still one act to come.

Earlier, she had performed as the opening act for English singer and songwriter Ed Sheeran, who was performing down the road at the Cape Town stadium.

I was not privileged to attend Sheeran’s show - the tickets were a bit pricey but clearly there are many Capetonians who do not worry about such trivial matters such as spending a small fortune on an overseas artist.

But I always enjoy the free concert because it is one of the rare opportunities for what many call “ordinary people” to enjoy the inner city at night and to be treated to a free concert by some of the best local artists with a sprinkling of international acts.

Earlier in the day, there was a conversation with some government officials about how to grow audiences for arts and culture in general - for theatre, music, dance and other art forms - but also how to develop a reading culture in our country.

I have been thinking about this issue the whole week, especially after attending a concert last Saturday at the Baxter Theatre featuring the masterful guitarist Selaelo Selota, where I was disappointed at the poor attendance.

Yes, it is the Baxter and even R150 for a ticket can be expensive, especially in the week before pay day, but I expected more than the handful of people who came to experience one of the best concerts I have been to in a while.

In a country such as South Africa, where inequality, unemployment and poverty continue to remind us of how far we still have to go as a democracy, there are people who argue - and probably with some merit - that there are more important things to worry about than developing audiences for arts and culture events.

But arts and culture are as important as many of the other pressing issues facing our society. They should not be competing against decent education, housing, health care and job creation. They should be complementing the other needs in our society.

A nation without proper arts and culture is a poor nation. Music, especially, feeds the soul and sometimes helps to make the burden of live a little easier. Arts and culture help us to see the world differently and could also help us to think differently about the problems we face.

I try to support local music and events as much as possible and that is why I am attending the CTIJF for its 20th birthday this weekend - even though it was reasonably expensive to pay for the entrance fee and the Rosies tickets for my wife and me. But those of us who can afford to pay should pay so that the organisers can arrange free concerts so that those who cannot afford can also have their Instagram moment with Shekhinah and other stars. Some people call it audience development.

* Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

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

Weekend Argus