Dancing with the Diaspora
After 22 years and 3 months of the Bassline venue they moved permanently into the festival space.
Interview Brad Holmes
Why are there so few venues in South Africa?
The obvious reason why there are so little venues in South Africa is that music venues around the world are generally NPO's. A really good example is the Roundhouse in Camden. An NPO runs the venue and that NPO has a board and that board. The business that runs the venue is a NPO. The people who run the venue are venue specialist but they also are very strong when it comes to getting funding from arts institutions, government, private public sector funding specialist. That is used to create an identity and develop culture. A good example would be the Paradiso in Holland, similar model. There are quite a few venues in France that operate like that. And then you have artist management and technical production wings, and those are PTY's and they run differently. No matter where you are a music venue is literally impossible to sustain.
We don't have that pedigree due to apartheid. That pedigree that was built with the Paradiso is 60 years old. And they have got the pedigree of knowing what works and what does not work and how you make it work. The music venue business is a victim of apartheid. It is quite true. We don't have that pedigree of years of experience. The music venue business throughout the apartheid process was generally neglected. In apartheid music venues had zero funding and you can't develop culture out of that. That is the main reason that the DAC is doing a remarkable job in developing arts but it is difficult because there is so much other stuff that needs to be taken care of.
The only music venues that are working in South Africa and doing good business are the casino's. The reason being the casino's are offering very high end theatre productions, the most amazing sound and lighting equipment. And you don't have to pay an arm and leg to use the casino. And they are using the venue to bring people to gamble to attract people and then people gamble afterwards. It is a capitalist model used big time in the states.
It is a natural progression. You start off in a jazz club, 60 people, you then take out the backend of the garage area knock it out and turn it into 100. You then knock out the kitchen and turn it into 150 over a ten year period. Which is then followed by moving into a concert venue which takes 1000 people, running that for ten years, while you are at it you start doing festivals as well. So the natural progression is to go into technical production, artist management and festivals. That is the natural way. Many people around the world who have grown into festivals around the world have started in venues. It is a natural progression.
Our Africa Day festival was very successful. The whole objective is to create Africa day where it has the status of a CT or JoJ festival accept for African music. 20 000 people paying R500 a head that is where I want to be in five years.
Chatting to Brad Holmes
David Coplan is writing a book about you and the Bassline?
David has been firing away. He is on chapter four. He kind of gets it. I think the main reason why he gets it is because he was there every night drinking whiskey. He was very much part of the process. He probably came four of five times a week for four or five years. The reason why my bar turn-over was so good was because of his brilliant bar tab! Not really. But he understands what happens there. I bumped into him at the bowling club a long time ago. I said to him that I kept all my diaries. This is 2015, this is 2016. (Brad shows me a pile of A5 120 page hard covers) I write everything down. I have been doing that since 1994. It is not necessarily saying today I thought about the lovely flowers in Riebecks Kasteel. It is more about today, this is what happens. I met Bheki Khoza at 10 o clock, we discussed the following. I have all of that information, 22 years of it which I have kept in my state of inebriation, at least the first 4 years. We went through all the diaries until 2003 which took a year every Monday between 6 and 10, he came to my house and we went through the diaries. David also had a whole lot of his own recollections because he was there. He basically literally started off the whole process from when I was a little kid and then goes into 1994 when we opened the Bassline. The book is about Bassline and the two people involved in it.
David has taken the '94 – '98 period and puts it with Sophiatown, the analogies of what happened during the Sophiatown period where there was artistic freedom going down and between '94 and '98 where there was massive artistic freedom. There is basically a similarity, although very different. In one sense we were not free and in the other sense we had just become free. And he uses a lot of referencing to the Sophiatown time. You will probably find a lot of people will read it at school, or people studying the history of South African music, like ‘In the Township Tonight', or your book will probably be similar in that sense.,
Why did you start the club?
I saw a gap because there was nowhere for the bands that I was managing to play. I also had lots of restaurant experience being a waiter. I had run restaurants and managed restaurants and all that kind of shit.
And you did music festivals?
We do three or four festivals a year. I did Arts alive for six years, Africa Day since 2004, Fete de la Musique, Maftown Heights. We've done numerous amounts. Probably 30 or 40 gigs - not in the venue.
What is the origin of Africa Day?
When you moved across here you became more Africa focused than jazz?
Jazz doesn't pay the bills. We did jazz every Wednesday for two years recently. I love it and listen to it at home, but I don't have to pay for that. I turn on my hard drive and choose who I want to listen to and listen to it in my own time. Jazz is very difficult. Aymeric at the Oribit is keeping that flag going. We are multi-cultural, multi-genre. As long as you are not Steve Hofmeyer, you are in. We are not a Barnyard, we don't cross into commercial theatre and things like that. If you are a decent death metal act and there is a market for it and the promoter can sell a thousand tickets, we are in. And if there is a decent kwaito act we are in too. A perfect weekend, raga, Oliver Mtukudzi, followed by Wishfest which is death metal. Then you have got poetry, raga, gay pride afterparty. And then there is raga, followed by Ringo Madlinglozi followed by Pataranki who is a massive Nigerian star.
We are expanding to a 2500 capacity. If everything goes accordingly it will be ready in September, which is our 22 nd birthday.
Have you had a link with Bushfire?
Jiggs and I basically have been informally doing it anyway since Jiggs started the Firefest in 2007. All we are doing now is formalising it. The biggest reason for the route is the sharing of talent, which means that we can go to international agencies and give them six gigs, which means the international flights get shared pro-rata, which means you can bring down performers fees substantially, because you are offering them six gigs not one. We are doing a few of those. Jiggs is on the same weekend as we are and it is a four hour drive.
We are like the centre because everyone lands here in Johannesburg. We do Swaziland on the Friday, Johannesburg on the Saturday and Durban on the Sunday. That is how we are doing it. There are three festivals running on the same weekend and each one of them is a drive away from one another.
And now there are international tourist companies that are selling Azgo, Bushfire and Africa Day as a package for international tourists. What Joburg has to offer is it is sold as an African music festival. And Azgo is also. We also have the Kruger Park and all that shit to offer.
We are doing the festival outdoor and the chances of us moving to the Mary Fitzgerald Square are very high and then it will accommodate 15 000, otherwise 7000 in the park. Funding for this kind of stuff used to be free flowing, I remember 2008 Africa Day I raised 13 M. Joburg is a very different market to Maputo and Swaziland and Durban. The Joburg okes are very aspirant. This DVD will give you an idea of when I had money. I am trying to rebuild it to this again 2006 - 2009. And sell the broadcast. That is where I want to go and hopefully I will go there. The 2016 show should be along these lines. But you never know. It snowed one year and you just get fucked when that happens. It is a 40 metre stage. It crosses the whole square.
Have you booked any artists yet?
I haven't got any headliners yet. I am sharing them with Jiggs. Songhoy Blues from Mali. Bholoji from Congo va de Gami from Benin, Vieux Faka Toure Mali, Oliver Mtukudzi, Nathi, Thandiswa. It is enough to full the small venue, but still I need a proper headliner.
Jiggs was telling me a lot about his work in social upliftment, what are you doing?
We don't have an angle. But I can assure you that Bassline is the place. If any migrant musician comes to South Africa, the first place he comes to and the first door that he knocks on is here and we do extensive training here. We are strong on the social responsibility and we also pay people properly. That is a socialist angle, we are trying to make proper money. And that is what we are trying to do with Africa Day because last year we had to do it in the Bassline and the year before because we had no money.
We do more African music than anybody else in the country by far. This is the place where all the African bands play. We have had Zimbabwean, Congolese, Ethiopians. You don't hear about them because they don't talk to you, they talk to their communities. The Ethiopians living in Jeppe town get very excited and they full the place up. We do a lot of those probably about 15 – 20 a year.
Are you promoting unity in that regard?
Bassline has always represented social cohesion, that is what we do for a living. We just do it. It is part of our business plan to make sure the Africa diaspora specifically have a place where they can feel comfortable to come and watch talent that represents their culture. There are six rehearsal rooms, recording studio, small venue and main venue. You walk in here you rehearse, you perform in the small venue and once you get good enough you perform in the big venue and once you get good enough you perform on one of my festivals.
Anything to add?
The importance of having formalised tour circuit is the message I want you to put across. It is going to be called the Southern African tour circuit where the concert promoters is the six different regions in the SADAC area can actually go to promoters and say I can give you six gigs if we can get the timing right. I will give you a good example.
Songhoy Blues apparently they are the hottest thing around. When I was in London, in October I had four different people tell me. The air tickets are 1200 E per ticket. We share the costs between Bushfire, Africa Day, Sakifo, Zakifo and it means that we pay 1875 E each. I am paying a quarter of the price for my air tickets. And that is what it is about. And then we are getting them for 3000 E. You are looking at about R25 000 bucks to fly the whole band from Paris and 3000 E for their performance, so you have an international band for R100 000, and it would normally cost you R200 000. That is what it is all about and it actually makes the whole process feasible and it is very feasible for the artists too as they are getting exposure in six territories and not one.
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