Dancing with the Diaspora
Awesome Africa: KZN World Music festival capital.

An unforgettable memory of celebrating world music with your many many friends in the valleys and hills of Kwa Zulu Natal. A stage of great excitement and musical freedom sits on a field high above the brook that rushes gently by. People from all over the world were in eThekwini for this enjoyable festival. Come Back Awesome Africa. Now is our time...

Interview Dan Chiorbili

Are festivals making sense on a business level?

It has changed dramatically from the euphoria of the late 90's which is when Awesome started. It is incredible we have been going since '99 in various guises. The next Awesome Africa is on the 3 rd of December. It has become a lot more commercial and I feel a lot of the soul has gone out of the festivals. Although there are a lot of great festivals, the Oppikoppi's, the Rocking the Daisies, that kind of stuff, but I find the world music idiom has become a little bit hackney or lethargic. There is not as much of a drive to discover new sounds.

What can be done?

Insightful programming: I get the impression that you get a lot of the same faces on festival bills now. And we need something new and fresh to come through. There is a lot of up and coming talent, that is probably not getting their just due, but at the same time they have also got to come to the party.

What about sponsorship?

Sponsorships in the last ten years have gone down. In fact the World Cup was probably a death knell to a certain degree for arts sponsorships. It was for us because we always had Standard Bank on as a major sponsor. And when 2010 came along they took their money out of music and arts and put it into soccer. And it is only in the last year or two that we are slowly getting back to where the wheel turned and the days of big corporates getting involved and direct sponsorships. In a sense it is not all bad I believe, because it makes us get more creative, and especially to give back. We put a lot into workshops for arts practitioners linked to the festival, so we are getting the community directly involved.

How is cultural tourism?

Sadly some of the great environmental spots have been really badly mismanaged. And they haven't seen the worth of creating festivals. But in saying that I got a call a couple of weeks ago, to say that Shongweni wants to look at revitalising and rejuvenating what we did before. I don't know if we can just walk into that. Artistically times have changed. But it is worth looking into. It is a pristine environmental spot.

And the beachfront?

We did the World Cup fanparks there, which was great, but it is an incredibly financially intensive situation. To charge is difficult so you have to look at it being a free event. And therein lies part of the problem, you have to recoup part of your costs and you can't do it on the beachfront which is a pitty.

I find a lot of the festivals operate in isolation opposed to the European festival forum where directors talk to each other. There is synergy between 1300 festivals that are linked to the summer in Europe. We don't have that. We work in isolation. There is nobody that binds together. There was SAMPRA but that is now defunct. Maybe part of the denigration of the festival circuit has been the lack of vision from tourism and municipal guys.

How would you compare DBN to CT and JHB?

It is difficult being a Durbanite and working out of Durban. Durban still has amazing potential that hasn't been realised. I think Cape Town is further ahead than Durban without a doubt. There is more of a jazz and a festival culture. You can see what the CTIJF has done and the spin-offs. Joburg will always be Joburg because it has got the money. So, sadly we are nowhere near where we should be. We try and portray ourselves as the festival city but we are not a festival city. We had a great festival a couple of months ago, Sakifo, it drew a couple of thousand people.

What about maskanda, ngoma, ischitimiya festivals?

Ja, there are some nice ones in isolation as I say. Which are one day things and great, but they haven't really grown. They have just maintained their audience. Personally from my perspective I would like to see it include different genres of music instead of being very staged.

Maybe in hindsight we were possible further ahead 15 years ago then where we are now.

With Awesome the programming was unique?

It is not as broad from a world music perspective. Our three focuses are on international local collaborations, indigenous music styles out of KZN and emerging talent out of schools.

Are there international links?

We work a lot with Reunion Island, we work a lot with Brazil, Italy. Those are our three main links. And West Africa. Last year we had N' Faly Kouyate from the AfroCelt Sound System. Prior to that Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Drummers of Burundi that kind of stuff.

Where does Awesome Africa take place?

Ballito, 30 minutes North of Durban in Sugar Rush Park. An intimate outdoor venue probably 6500 people. There is camping close by. Our mandate through the DAC is to incorporate the Ilembe region. And that is Maphumulo, KwaDukuza , Mandini and Ndwedwe, so we draw 50% of the local talent from those regions.

Oppikoppi is a feeder system

We changed venues quite a lot. We started in Shongweni for 7 years and then we moved into town, Albert Park, City Hall, Beachfront, Midmar. Unfortunately we haven't been able to bed down a great area and when Ilembe approached us to move the whole project to Ilembe we thought that is great. They are people who are really passionate about making things work. We have a good relationship with the DAC who back us really well.

How green have the festivals become?

That is really one of the fantastic aspects. Rocking the Daisies has set the trend there. We have been green right from the very beginning. And that is a fantastic way to harness a movement. One year we tried with solar energy and at the last minute we had to go back to 3 phase power but I know you can make it work with biodegradables and all that kind of stuff.

Are there companies you work with?

There are good people involved, a lot of NGO's. It is a real focus. There is Joanne Harvey of Urban Reconditioning.

I would like to see more linkages and more partnerships with international festivals. There seems to be a reticence to get involved and really create that cross cultural vibe. Again it comes with money. We work a lot through Mundos, the world music festival in Italy. I will be there the week after next, working on next years programme. We broke through there in 2004 with Busi Mhlongo and the Shembe guys. And now it has been an on-going thing. Nibs Van der Spuy is there as we speak. Reunion is always fantastic to work with. And another one is the Cultural festival in Brazil which takes place in Salvador.

We will announce the line-up beginning of October when I get back :


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