Dancing with the Diaspora


Interview Andy Davis

My background is journalism. My interest was South African political culture and how music and art, cultural expression and politics work together. How you change societies and address problems through art and specifically music, and things that make you feel a certain way.

Music has an incredible ability to make people more open minded, accepting and better. If you feel something in art - it evolves you. Through my work as a freelancer for Sunday Times and Mail and Guardian, editing SL, we launched Selection a CD cover mount. That got me into producing our own mix tapes which gave me a different perspective.

When I went freelance I was doing a lot of work with 340ml. There was some budget from a music festival on Reunion Island to take out a journalist. I went in 2007 to Saint -Leu Reunion. And this was heaven on earth: a tropical island with palm trees, volcanoes. It was the most beautiful place with a grinding left break breaking of the bay with hardly anyone surfing. The day I arrived they put us in a beachfront Cabanas guest house with the wave right across the bay. It was just me surfing and I paddled out to surf in the morning. A few hours later Patrice a German Nigerian reggae musician started doing his sound check on this stage called the Ravine. The music travelled down through the big volcanic valley around the corner. It was literally like being in the front row of the sound-check but we were in the ocean. The music travelled down the corridor. I remember thinking this was heaven on earth, listening to these deep reggae bass lines while surfing. I got to know Jerome and right then I said we have got to do this in South Africa. And he said come lets go. And we got along like that.

When you are an idealistic journalist you don't know what goes into things. So I never gave up on the idea and kept in touch with Sakifo and got invited over a few more times.

It is a Francophone festival with a very strong South African and reggae interest. The Maloya sound of Réunion and Mascarene Islands is unique. The music of Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands is very influential. It sounds very African with an island style. This mix of musical influences seemed like something that would work in South Africa. The affinity was there. And in Réunion everyone is creole and everyone is really easy with each other.

The French colonies have a French culture and people are easy with each other. It is not like the daily reality in South Africa. And that is inspiring – how people get along and everyone is equal. French society is interesting in how there is a big middle class. There are a few rich and few poor but the majority are just people and that for a South African is very attractive because we have so many hang ups and divisions. Also the way they approach their politics – they expect the government to do something for you and if the government doesn't do something for you they get pissed off and get involved. There is a lot we can take from those places.

We had been living in Cape Town for a long time when the opportunity came up to move to Durban and work for Zigzag. We ended up taking Zigzag off Media24 and invested in it ourselves. At the end of 2013 we moved to Durban. When you see how Durban has this constant exodus of creative and talented people, for anyone who is artistic it eventually works out that they can't make a living in Durban and they move to Cape Town, Johannesburg or overseas. And that is why Durban has this incredible history of exporting talent. That is relevant to the music industry.

Sakifo in creole means what you need. When they started the festival on the island, they had no music industry on this isolated little hole on the ocean. It was important for the culture of the island to bring all these international artists and make them feel that they are connected to the rest of the world. And it is similar to Durban -we have needs. And I like the idea of a festival that responds to the needs of a place and doesn't just come in and be hedonistic to have a jol. But I suppose that also responds to needs! The idea was let's fortify and build a strong culture here. Durban has an insecurity complex – that we don't deserve it because we have been the third city for so long. A big artist will come and definitely play Johannesburg and Cape Town and maybe Durban. And then when they play Durban, the Durbanites don't come and the promoter says that's why we don't do Durban. And then Durbanites then have to go to Cape Town and the rich make a big deal about going there watch Mumford and Sons at Kirstenbosch. We wanted to address that and say we can do it.

It wasn't the immediate success that we wanted it to be; that we opened the doors and people just flooded in. Durban gave us the classic cold shoulder.

Having a partner in Reunion that has got the infrastructure and the relationships; they have been booking Manu Chau; their reggae line up is insane – everyone from Steel Pulse to underground French reggae artists like Dub Inc; every year they have got a big reggae heavyweight last year was Groundation, and we said what would work here. Reggae is not that big in South Africa, you would think it would be bigger. It pulls a small committed loyal group of Rastafarians. The last big act we had was Burning Spear and the Wailors done through Red Bull.

Having that connection to Reunion and leveraging their connections, we can come on quite strong in South Africa. Durban wasn't open to it. We have had to fight for our audience and we have had to improve, building everything from scratch. The first year was a small street party down at the Beer Hall and the City Hall in the centre of town and the year after we used the Natal High Command. We invested a huge amount in our line-up and probably over did it. We had a respectable crowd, but we didn't make any money. Now we are getting to a point where maybe with Damien we are going to turn the corner. You need a big headline act but you also need support. You need the city to say, ‘hey man we love you, come and do this here'. We need province. DAC thankfully give us some money and they are committed which is great and gives us a solid foundation and partner to work with. The corporates only come when you have numbers. So, it is a hard business. It is not like the slam dunk people think it is. You see people spending money, buying their beer, ticket and t-shirt and enjoying it. People think we are killing it, but it feels like charity a lot of the time.

In 2012 I went to Reunion and met Dr Sipho Sithole. Between him, me and Jerome we said let's do this. It makes sense in Durban as we are neighbours. We have the Indian Ocean on our door step and it is just a hop across. And Durban needs something. We are unashamed in the idea that we want to be to Durban what the jazz fest is to Cape Town. We want to have our own impact and attract the same headlines.

How does Zigzag fit in?

Zigzag has 8 issues a year with a big online and social media. It has an audience that loves it and an industry that supports it. Our main audience is South African. There is a cross over between surfing and music but it must happen organically. The guys at zigzag are fanatics on surfing. There are surf related bands. We did something with Jeremy Loops and we will do something on surfers in bands. Reunion has a big shark attack problem so they send their surf team out here to train every year. And everyone who is that age and a surfer know Sakifo and Reunion so when they are here, there is a version here. And that is the beautiful thing. They love the idea that they have an export product. They love the idea that Sakifo has come and planted itself in Durban. When we go to Sakifo we are like heroes, people high five us for taking this loved festival brand and giving them a stake. And on the back of that for the first year we have a business delegation from Reunion coming to Durban and sussing the place out because they have got a channel where they can come in.

The trade is sugar cane. There is a huge sugar cane industry in Reunion Island and a very sophisticated industry. They are a big rum manufacturer. And they do rum the way we do wine. They will grow special types and varieties of sugar cane to create special types of rum. They feel they have a lot of expertise that they can share. We just grow huge fields of cane and make white sugar. And they have all the technology and farming techniques. It has become a hub for green energy and sustainable energy. A lot of French companies that do that have big arms in Reunion because of the sunshine and the wind. They have huge hurricanes and cyclones every year and they have lots of tropical sun. I think that is a great import export relationship that could be evolved. And obviously as a French region they have the same attitude towards culture. If you approached them to do a tour to Reunion you could find funding. I am surprised more bands don't do it. You could contact Reunion Island tourism and get your tickets sponsored. They have an amazing infrastructure for bands and culture. They have a society that expects you. Bands should also consider recording there. They have amazing studios. It is just the French / English barrier, but we are neighbours.

IOMMA gives the festival more weight. With the festival professionals, buyers and music industry reps that come to IOMMA, as a SA act to get an opportunity to go there, is amazing. You can get a lot of big gigs through that. That is something we want to build on.

What is the gain?

In terms of sheer numbers: Reunion has less than 1 Million people and they get 30k people at their event. More than 5% of the whole island comes to the festival. But, there is a saturation point. Only so many people can go to an island. As a festival brand with a unique position and a unique content, SA with our 50 Million plus people is attractive, particularly if you can carve out a niche here and leverage off your established networks, it makes sense. And it is in the neighbourhood. And you can build something as strong in Durban with as much a defining effect on the city, it is a great opportunity.

Blue Lagoon?

Blue Lagoon is an accessible and beautiful venue. You stand on the stage and look South over the bay of Durban at all the hotels and high rises – the artists will never forget that. We set our estimates low – our target is 7500 and we may do a lot more. Last year was close to 5000. You have 2000 on a day but you have a two day festival and you have all your activations before - that all comes up to your tally. 7500 is what we need in terms of ticket sales. It is on the beach side with access under the bridge with a big parking area, big drop off and go and a big field that runs along the promenade. You can split that field into three stages.


Absolutely there is an intention towards that. The whole thing runs off a diesel generator so we could bio-diesel that in the future. That is what we would like to achieve. It makes obvious sense particularly of we are bringing over all these Reunion companies that specialise in sustainability.

Our whole staff is from Durban. All our service providers are Durban. We get 3 or 4 people seconded to us as super experts. We do a skills transfer, so we have a sound designer, staging expert and lighting expert and bar expert and they work with our team. The money gets spent here. The money stays in Durban and that is where we see a big impact. Beyond that a lot of our senior people are women. And that is hugely important. The team is racially integrated and merited.

When we did our first year the headlines were Flavio from Brazil and Nathalie from Reunion island. Flavio is this sexy Brazilian goddess with this frizzy hair and her sound is very positive. She is from the flavela's in Rio which is hard-core but her sound is pure sunshine. Nathalie Natiembé is the grandmother of Reunion music. She was a legal secretary until music took her. The whole idea was that we want to put people on stage that inspire South Africans. It was hugely important to have women who are strong role models because we have a horrible history of chauvinism and violence against women and children. Jerome very consciously shows those acts and the same thing happened last year when we had popular big acts like Inna Modja   from Mali – a female role model, strong and politically on point. Zakifo is a very egalitarian space. With the festival you get to create a world and populate it they way you want. And that is the beauty of a festival. You create a permissive space where people can come and be free to imagine a different reality. The more control you have over the festival the better you are at doing that. And that is the intention of the festival. We want to go to the world.


It made sense for us to happen close to Sakifo because we share artists and in our sharing artists, it makes sense for us to work with Igoda because they share artists. Suddenly over 3 weeks you have 5 big festivals. Igoda is in its early days but soon what will happen if you can play 5 big gigs as a headline artist you will jump at the opportunity. It can be like the European festival circuit and the American college circuit with bands just circulating. Already this year there is an Australian tourist delegation coming out run by Sonny Gomer who has African music radio show in Australia. He is bringing a whole group as a tour guide. And then you get into an interesting space where you are attracting both artists and tourists.


We fulfil the intention of the East3route down to the bone. That is what Igoda does. It activates the East3route magnificently. South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Seychelles. Reunion I think will join at some stage. Johannesburg is relevant to that but there is no head of the route. It is a fantastic idea and we will strengthen it where we can.

Impact stats?

We are at least 80% local. The big growth for us is attracting Johannesburg. And we have had a surprise at how popular Damien Marley is in Mozambique. A lot of people have said they are coming just for that. If people talk about you internationally you get big in South Africa. We still like to take our cues of someone else notices you. And the same in Durban, more people in Durban catch on if they hear about it from Johannesburg.

The impact for Swaziland and Maputo is R6 to R1 but for us it is more like R4 to R1. We are building an audience. I am comfortable that it will take us time. By 7 years we will be mature festival.

What I liked about Reunion is it is a point fishing village. You had the Ravine which was the main stage and then you walk through a street of bars and activating spaces and courtyards where little bands would play. And you had your ticket on your wrist. In the school hall and the gym there is music. And then you are on the beach and there is a sound stage. So you activate the whole town. And it invites the whole town in. A local creole guy who had a good recipe for pork kebabs was selling them on the side of the road. I would love to do something like that in Durban with parts of the city and parts of the Port activated. It is all accessible on the promenade. You could activate the whole promenade, a carnival type thing.


Sakifo spends a lot of time and energy on how it puts itself forward. And it is beautiful. Each festival has got a different theme. We work with Cronc, an illustrator and designer from Cape Town. This one has a nautical theme with mermaids and the lions eyes are steering wheels from ships. There is a whole world to discover. We are asking people to get out of their comfort zones and come. The line-up you don't know what you are going to get, a glorious wonderful mish-mash of genres. We have access to amazing bands and musicians but a lot of them will be unknown. Last year we brought out Kid Francescoli from Marseille, electronic French Mafioso beat maker with an American singer. It introduces us to musicians of the highest quality we have not caught onto yet. The idea is to expose Durbanites to interesting music and build up trust that the quality is there. It is a slice of something new and different and that for SA is quite rare.

Interview Sipho Sithole

It was a stroke of genius for the fire festival promoters to get together and to conceptualise an idea whereby one festival does not have to stress about taking on all the costs of an artist and to come up with an idea of cost sharing. More than that; the value proposition to an artist is if you pick up an artist you can sell more than two festivals to the artist. One festival out of your own country does not work. Igoda festival circuit is a membership based festival organisation which comprises of 5 festivals: Zakifo Durban, Bassline Africa Day festival Johannesburg, also last week of May; Sakifo in Reunion Island which happens immediately after Africa Day. And in between that you have Azgo festival in Mozambique which is a weekend before the two festivals in South Africa and on the last weekend of May you have Bushfire in Swaziland.

We got together as the 5 festivals to say how best we can work together rather than competing. How do we go about programming artists that can be shared between the festivals and also accommodation, travelling and so forth? When you have a circuit like that it means for the artist that if an artist leaves his/her own country to do one festival they must take 5 days out of their schedule, but if an artist comes to do three festivals, Zakifo on the Friday night for the first day of the festival, Saturday in Johannesburg at Bassline and on Sunday at Bushfire. In 3 days the artist has done three festivals. If it was one festival it would take 5 days. The other part we are able to negotiate a more favourable performance fee. An artist who would have charged you R250k they would charge you R150k per festival. It is money they would not have had. That is the idea. It is more than the sharing of artists, there is also the sharing of best practice and learning between the festivals; the sharing of contracts and talent management and the sharing of expertise. With Sakifo we get technical experts coming from Reunion Island and they return in time for Sakifo the following weekend in June.

Damien Marley who is coming now has actually got a nice tour. He is doing South Africa, Mauritius, Reunion Island, Kenya and Ethiopia. It is the perfect thing. Those are the kind of benefits.

Mauritius is part of us because Jerome who does Sakifo is also programming for Mauritius but it is not part of the circuit.

There is also neighbouring countries, Zimbabwe and Botswana looking to participate. It will be great.

I am a partner. We are three. My interest as I have travelled in a number of music markets; and got sick and tired of festivals in South Africa where you can predict who is performing: very localised recycling one and the same artist and not growing, educating and developing audiences in terms of music education. Audiences know they are going to go there and see Zahara, Unathi, The Soil and whatever. There is more to music than the artists.

What attracted me to Sakifo is that it is an eclectic alternative festival. If you went there, you come out full in terms of what music has to offer. You see artists that you never thought existed, that play brilliant music. You hear sounds that are very unfamiliar to you.

My argument is that anyone who has money can do a festival, put up a stage and book artists. But if the festival is not informed by a philosophy and a concept, for me every festival must be a concept festival. It must have its own theme, it is different. Zakifo is about offering South Africans something they have not been familiar with in terms of sound. We come from a long history of cultural boycott and all that, so what we have heard on radio is only what have been played on Metro or 5 and those radio stations and what is trending. It is about presenting a world music offering in terms of sound. It is also about presenting urban contemporary sounds that are not necessarily pop. You can be at a stage and see a reggae artist and soul rock music. The differentiating factor about S/Zakifo is we can have a main stage and two satellite stages. There is always an audience for each one of the stages. It is a nice way that we have programmed it. The other thing about S/Zakifo is that it is more than just music on stage. It is also a trade zone. So, you can go there and you can find merchandise and different vendors selling different things. And there could be traditional performances happening on the periphery. So people don't have to be fixated on the show, they can take a walk and buy certain things. Sakifo is amazing, 9 different stages. The whole town comes to a standstill. It is a trade zone. The Sakifo festival merchandise, whether it is a t-shirt, they make about 20 000 Euros a weekend just on merchandise. And then you have satellite bar areas.

I work in Pretoria for PRASA. I am a corporate strategist, chief strategist at the passenger railways.

Native Rhythms?

We are an integrated entertainment company. We have artists and talent management. We always have an artist or two performing at Zakifo as a partner. This year we have three. The partners pushed for The Soil. I only push for the ones I want to make sure they get a chance, especially emerging artists.

Our sound and audience profile is very different in terms of the fan zone that follows the artist. Our physical sales do very well. The Soil sells on average 80-90k per album. Over a 3 year period amongst all our artists we sell 160k which is still fine for us. We have not seen an uptake on the digital side. Our philosophy is that as a talent management company, the record is just a CV because without having a CV you are not able to push a performance. We are making more money on the performance side, R8 – 9 Million a year. But we must have a CV. If I am pushing for an artist to perform at Womad they are going to say, ‘can I have the material?' And also there must be a song on radio. There are artists just working on singles. But, that is pop. We are more afro-soul, ethno-soul. We are about long shelf life kind of music and albums. Artists that we know ten years from now they will be here. We are not in the business of churning out artists every 12 months because that will not be sustainable. We can't be in a market when every year we must record an album and then we will be judged by our previous single. Artists are born every 12 months. We have an artist management unit, record label and publishing unit and then events and production. I do a lot of music production myself and produce for other labels. We have our own studio and rehearsal space. We are fully fledged. We don't have to go anywhere.

Music market integration?

It won't because there is Moshito that happens in September. Moshito happens in September and IOMMA in May. Unless we move Moshito to the Africa Month and then move it to Durban? Even before Zakifo, I have been fighting for having a music market to coincide with the SAMA because we can't celebrate the achievements when you are not part of the discourse and development. It would have been nice if you have Moshito finishing on Thursday and then on Friday, SAMA. It could be the same thing Zakifo then Moshito. And it would work because Moshito does programme artists that we see at showcases.

Is it sustainable?

We would like to keep the same name and partnership with Sakifo because of the duel programming and because they have been in the game for a long time and are the first conduit to the artist. They initiated the discussion for Damien Marley, but if it had been us, they would have said, ‘who are you guys, we don't know you.' There are more benefits in technical, cultural exchange, as well as the arts exchange. It is already a brand on its own. It is a stand-alone brand.

The belief by the city in the festival is very important as well as the belief by the province in the festival. We are lucky that at this point we have the DAC that has been the partner since last year. In the first year in 2015 we didn't want to knock on doors without showing what we can do. It was a lot of our own investment. We wanted to create the brand. Last year the DAC came on board and this year they have increased their contribution. We are still not fully funded. We still need to look at a premium brand product sponsorship. Luckily we have Air Austral which is a Reunion Island Airline. The artist that fly from Europe, we divert them to South Africa and then they get picked up by Air Austral to go to Reunion Island. We also have artists from Reunion Island that fly Air Austral straight to South Africa. Air Austral is our airline sponsor for that corridor.

Trade Exchange:

When we went there last year we met about 50 small and medium sized businesses. There is a sister city partnership between Le Port and Durban. The festival in Reunion Island takes place in St Pierre but the city of Le Port has got a sister city relationship with the city of Durban. We are hoping that we will be able to build a sustainable festival. They take time to break even.


We are looking at a satellite concert in Johannesburg or Cape Town, there is a possibility that Damien Marley will do a concert here on the 26 th of May before jetting off to Durban. If we make 200k from that we can put it into Zakifo.

We will go to the broadcasters when we can negotiate.


When I was at Airports Company as an executive, I began to feel that the airports were the port of entrance and if you wanted to understand and feel the soul of the nation, you must feel it at the entry point. I started talking to ACSA that we should have performances at the airport. We started at a restaurant in Jan Smuts. I would go to shows in Johannesburg and meet artists. I was craving for a sound that I didn't know existed: tt was a fusion of afro-jazz and maskandi. I met a guy who was a maskandi guitarist at a stage play. I sold the idea to the group called Umzansi, instrumental afrojazz, to invite the maskandi artist to play and sing with them: and then invited Gloria Bosman and Suthukazi to play in this band. I used to buy them food, monthly groceries. They stayed in Hillbrow and I liked to be around them. At some stage I bought the band instruments. But then I started to feel I was imposing my own sound so with this maskandi guy, we set up a band with my cousin in the village who was a recording artist from long ago. In April '98 I bought him to Joburg and put him together with this other guy. And then went for jazz musicians, Bheki Khoza, Lulu Gontsana, Herbie Tsaoli, Mandla Zikalalala bass and Tlale Makhene percussion. And my brief to them was you are going to play around the maskandi artists. That is how Bambata was started. Bambata was influenced by the 1906 poll tax rebellion in KZN not far from my village (Pomeroy).

I started finding these artists gigs but they were not bankable so we couldn't pay anyone and I didn't want the money to come to me. I used to insist corporates give us a cash check but that was not sustainable. So I registered a company in April ‘98 called Native Rhythms. It became a conduit to receive money and give it out. At the end of the financial year we had received over R250k and my tax consultant said you need to start accounting. And that is how the company started.

Blue Lagoon Location

It is a melting pot for people who want to go out and enjoy what Durban has to offer. The beaches are also used for religious cleansing, braais and all sorts of things. To have an event where one of the biggest rivers flows into the oceans is symbolic because we also want people to flow to that point.


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