Interview Theo Van den Hoek
I got involved in the entertainment industry in 1968 which is a long time ago. I started working for a Dutch promoter called Paul Acket. At first I started promoting rock concerts and in the late 70's we started organising the North Sea Jazz festival in The Hague in Netherlands. The first edition was in 1976. I was Paul's assistant and when he died '92 I became the CEO of the festival and in 1998 I met Rashid in The Hague and he started talking to me and he said I would love to organise a jazz festival in Cape Town. He asked me if I could help him. I said it would be a pleasure and I said it is important to know that to organise an event like the North Sea Jazz you need support from the government, you need support from sponsors. If you can make appointments within a week period with important potential sponsors and government people so we can see if there is a financial support for a festival in Cape Town, I am willing to come over to Cape Town to talk to potential sponsors and government people and explain what the festival would be for Cape Town, the impact it would have. Two months later Rashid sent me a fax with an itinerary of who we would be meeting that week. So I went to Cape Town. We had meetings with all these people. We went to look for a venue and he brought me to the Good Hope Centre. And walking through the Good Hope Centre I saw potential for a festival there. The first edition was in 2000 and in between I went up and down to Cape Town helping organise. And Rashid came to Cape Town and stayed a few weeks to see how our offices were run. What you needed to organise an event like that, sponsoring, security, sound systems, logistics, etc, etc. We had the first edition which in my opinion was quite successful for a first edition. We continued and made it better every time. The last time we organised it together was 2005 which was the first edition in the new venue. And then he could organise it with his team and he didn't need us anymore. We also had the Dutch government in the first few years helping financially to put the event up and I was very pleased that we were involved in bringing the jazz music back to South Africa. That was the theme. Even talking to artists, they felt the same. It is a long way from LA to NY to fly to CT for one festival. For instance in Europe they do 15 festivals. This CT event was do one performance and go back again. What we did to make it interesting for the artists is they arrive a day earlier and take a tour of Cape Town and then do the performance and then three days later you return. That worked very well. The festival is one of the biggest in SA which makes me proud and Rashid must be very proud. It has been almost 10 years since I was in CT for the last time.
Are you still involved with music festivals?
I was up until two years ago as an advisor. I did something in St Petersburg Russia in 2006 and 7. In 2008 we had this economic crash in Europe and US so it was very hard for people to start new events. I said I had had my time and I want to return and enjoy the nice things in life. The company is sleeping.
What are the impact of festivals?
First of all an economic impact. Hotels are fully booked, restaurants are fully booked. 70 000 people come to eth festival over 3 days. People are traveling and spending money. There was a survey which proved that a lot of money was spent in the three days of the festival. A lot of tourists from US, all over Europe and Japan come for the festival. The North Sea in Rotterdam now has a big impact for the city , putting the city on the map, which I assume is the same for Cape Town. People asked me why you didn't go to JHB, why did you go to CT. Because CT is a touristic city, a beautiful city on the sea, lots of nice hotels, good restaurants. It has a big impact on tourists. I am sure a lot of people from several countries go to the CT event.
Festival circuit in Europe, but what about SA?
For me it is a little bit hard to answer. I was hoping that there would be other countries in Africa who would pick up the possibilities of organising the festival as the artists are in Africa for the CT jazz fest. So far nobody in Africa has stood up to say in our city or country we would also like to organise a festival in the same period CT is doing. I know he was trying in Angola but I don't know if it ever happened. So far, it is just CT. Maybe the organisers should look at another city in SA like Durban which is far away enough not to hurt the festival in CT. In Europe if you take for instance, festivals in France and Belgium are only a few hundred kilometres from the North Sea. There must be a group of potential jazz lovers in places like Durban or wherever in SA.
It is very important you take your visitor very seriously. And make sure the sound is good at the venues, that you have excellent food. The people in Europe and CT as well don't mind paying a certain entrance fee but they do expect to have a certain luxury at the festival. Take the visitors at the festival very seriously and treat them as your guest.
I left the North Sea Jazz festival in 2006, it has been a while. I don't know what they have done in the last couple of years. The thing for me that is very important is that you take the visitor very seriously. I am also assuming that they are getting electricity via other means, sun and wind and that kind of new ways of getting your energy which you need for a festival.
What makes a person to become a festival director?
I always say first of all you must have a passion for music, but in my opinion do not be a musician because you need next to a passion for music you should have a good business view and you should programme not music you just like but music that is good for the festival. If you are into a certain type of music and you are a musician you might make the mistake of only booking that type of artist and not thinking of your guest that is coming to the festival. You need sponsors to organise a festival. If a sponsor gives you money you must make sure that the sponsor is happy and he wants to continue sponsoring your event. You must have a network in government, like the North Sea in Holland still gets money from the city of Rotterdam, just because of the fact that so many people come to Rotterdam spending their money. That is the combination that is important you must have a good heart for music and a good head for business.
Buena Vista Social Club Ibrahim Ferrer North Sea Jazz Festival