United Colours of Africa

Afropunk comes to Johannesburg

Matthew Morgan Interview:

Our plan is to be here. Since I have maybe ten years left before I go and do something else, I love the idea of having an office in South Africa where we work from, for the continent. 5 years is the contract we have with Conhill venue, but our aspirations are to be here a lot longer.

One of the beautiful things that we do, owning your own business and being able to travel, you are constantly learning. Often when we make decisions about going to another country you start learning no matter how much pre planning you have done before you get there.

I have been in the country off and on this year for nearly 5 months. This particular trip has been 3 months. The biggest difficulty was everybody breaks on the 15 th or 16 th .

Coming to Joburg initially and deciding we wanted to bring a festival at the time of the year the people normally exit the city. It was a very conscious decision to bring something meaningful back to the city and give people the economic opportunity to make money at a time that is generally quiet. The challenges are great but the rewards are high. And we didn't realise how large the challenges would actually be. When people say they don't want to work after the 16 th they really don't want to work. Trailer companies, heavy equipment, fencing, waste management – we had real issues in that regard. We learnt a lot about how early we need to be. From a financial perspective it was very difficult because people required 100% up front, which stressed cash flows and for a new entity was difficult. That was not something we anticipated, when we get quotes and we got closer people said they were not going to do it. We had a very challenging relationship with one of our ticketing partners which created an enormous amount of stress. We learnt who to work with and the options. Planning a lot earlier …

One of the surprises has been the level of trained skills. When you have combed through the people not to work with and you have found the people to work with, there are some exceptional people here, extremely creative, very skilled and professional; and that was very rewarding. We are taking a bunch of staff who have been working with us to the US and other cities which I am extremely happy about, particularly our production manager. Our production manager has a business here and is someone who has become my right hand to book talent and my assistant. We found some really good people to become part of our global family rather than SA specific. We want to be a transition for culture and the business community and we want to add skills both ways and have that manifest itself.

Clinton Seery that is our production manager, Warren Bokwe, Shannon Ogle and Lesego Madikong.

I had a good meeting with the MEC yesterday, the minister of culture for the province and the focus was now that we have met we are working towards working with ESCOD, style again from Soweto, vintage designers from Maboneng and how do we extend that relationship?

We did SA fashion week. We are trying to incorporate ESCOD into SA fashion week. And how do we help elevate that here. And how do we get their goods out of SA. It is easy for us to sell it on the ground at festivals. But there is loads of potential to export, even on website sales. I met with great CMT's and great people here and in Cape Town. The design seems to be in Joburg and the manufacture in Cape Town. Because we are everywhere we can use that.

We have already redesigned the venue. And we are pushing for 15000 next year with tons of emergency exits. It would have to be across the entire site. With the re-plan that we have we are comfortable with 13 odd thousand. It has never been my desire to have a mega 60 thousand people upwards. I grew up in a suburban environment in East London in the UK with festivals far away from where I lived and my focus is on - how do you create an environment in the city that you could experience - where you would normally have to travel far away which excludes people. Our audience has become in nearly every city 50% who travel from outside into the city. I don't know that I will be looking any time soon for a place that accommodates 50 or 60 thousand.

Afropunk is not for everybody. We have gone 16 odd years without a fight or an arrest at everything we have ever done. How many people know why they are there? We do not know the critical mass in Johannesburg. A beautiful site may manifest. We have never done camping and that is something we have spoken about. And maybe SA will be the place where we start a camping festival. I am open but I am also mindful that we want to maintain rather a 15 – 20 thousand people space for 15 to 20 years that people relish than guys who expand into a much larger number and lose the essence of what the festival is about.

Dawn Robertson CEO at Conhill is the reason we are there and here and not somewhere else. She is like a missing family member. She is absolutely incredible. She guides us and supports us. Our visions align. She helped craft “We the people” for us last year that became our mantra and our identity around the world at all our festivals. Battle of the Bands was actually crafted with Siya from Brother Moves On. When we thing about identifying new bands and how they come through what has become a very cluttered mailbox for me where I get hundreds a day of requests for bands. How do we do that in a real way and how do we build a live audience and venues and rehearsal spaces in Joburg that currently don't exist. That was many conversations with Siya in Paris, New York and SA. That is why we go to Tsakane and Tembisa and Pretoria, Soweto and Newtown. That was conversations with Siya about art organisations and supporting folk on the ground and trying to create a live scene here and getting to bands that are not necessarily the ones we would get to if we just went out in the normal promo way to sign up bands.

I was here for 6 weeks doing battle of the bands before going to the festival and that was very challenging going into unconventional venues, working with promoters, weather conditions – it was very challenging. We will continue to do it because the aspiration to grow a live scene is there. That was almost more challenging then the festival itself.

It is education and support. Venues live venues are built by people and young people. When I think of Bonnaroo and Super Flight guys – they were young people that started promoting shows. I started with managing bands and I wanted to put them on something. I started booking shows that I could put them on. There has to be support and education for young people and venue and equipment options for them to start. It is very difficult. There doesn't seem to be a great desire for a live music scene.

I am not quite sure why because there are lots of bands. Hip Hop and Gqom and digital music and set up decks, Black Coffee etc seems to be an easier barrier to entry. But SAMRO need to do a much better job!

The bands are there. There is a lot of talent. I am obsessed with Gqom at the moment. I haven't been as excited about a genre for a long time. It is DJ based but it is something I love because it is very South African. In the live music scene one of the bands I absolutely loved was Radio 123. It feels like it came from here and that is important to me particularly in sharing music. There is a lot of music here that sounds like US hip hop and I have absolutely no interest. Because I have seen the best that that can be and I want stuff that is South African that we can share. So, Manthe Ribane spectacular, Automatik, a band that I followed for a while, the lead singer was in a band called Ree-burth which we featured many years ago. He is from here.

Warren started introducing Lag and Rude Boys and I saw Sho Madjozi who I am obsessed with.

I used to manage Santigold in a punk band called Stiffed and she recreated herself. Sho Madjozi reminds me of her in the best possible way like an African version of Santi and MIA. She is Tsonga and she has taken traditional Tsonga dance and made it useful and the dress and culture to the forefront. She sings and raps in Tsonga. It is incredible.

Spoke Mathambo's record is one of my favourites this year. It sounds like a great mix tape. It is brilliant. I love when you incorporate and make what you do different as opposed to trying to do what everyone is doing.

My partner Jocelyn Cooper – I have big ideas and want to do lots of things Champaign taste and beer money and we had to keep the ticket price down which is important to us. It is very challenging but I think the advertising has to come.

They say in the US, advertising before it truly understands who the audience is becomes a multi-racial, multi-culture industry. It is on the surface but certainly not on the inside. They don't understand who the audience is. They say it will take 66 years before it will catch up in the US, which is ridiculous. I don't think it will be that long. You are constantly fighting because brands want to identify with an audience. I have always been totally confused that we have been able to galvanise and build a community and movement. And we understand what those touch points are and how we do that. They say they want to do that but they come along and do completely the opposite. And a lot of that has to do with not having people at the brands that actually understand and then they don't give you the freedom to build in the way you would. It is one of the most challenging aspects. There are some great people and when we find them we want to hold on to them. Advertising experiential marketing here is probably like the 80s in the US – banners and VIP and stuff that is not really what we are about. It is important to people here.

People's aspirations – they come to afropunk and have somewhat of an understanding most of the time. When we go to a new city there is a core of 3 – 5% that have been to other cities that understand the culture and what the movement is about. And then there are people who want what they get at Delicious and put it on top of Afropunk – and that is when I say it is not for everybody. It is never going to be a Cape Town Jazz VIP experience.

With Conhill we are doing an economic impact study. We are working with Margie at SA Tourism on a review and an economic study on the event that just happened. Margie has been an absolute godsend. You have some people here that despite what you hear about the corruption and crime, there are some spectacular people here, Margie Whitehouse is head of marketing.

This year we filled 4 hotels, we employed 1068 people. 3000 (30%) people from abroad, Europe and the US. A lot more people from W and EC. 56% from Gauteng. We exceeded expectation.

You saw people singing on the Saturday.

We will have 5 or 6 artists, hopefully Black Coffee will spearhead a SA stage in NY. We will see if we get support from the Minister of Culture and Tourism. But without a doubt an act or two in Paris. We already had Black Motion and DJ Maphorisa last year in Brooklyn. We will have more this year.

Interview Dawn Robertson

We had 20 000 people over the two days. It was 3100 international people, including Africa, Europe and US. Quite a few hotels were booked out, Hallmark, Maboneng. One of the tactics we used was to work with travel movements. There is research emerging about black people travelling from the States. There are 8 to 10 companies working with Mellennials around travelling. Tastemakers have opened up an office in Joburg. We worked closely with Black and abroad. Those groups came in and rented accommodation. The owners of the group travel with the people and immerse them in unique experiences. 3000 international visitors. The highest number outside of Joburg was from Cape Town and there is even a group called the Cape Town Afropunkers. The ‘I am joburg' project opened up certain precincts that did quite well during that time as well. I am Joburg was a legacy project for Afroounk to make sure that young emerging entrepreneurs got the travel experience business once they were here. The social media reach – I am Joburg had a reach of 39 million, which was double afropunk Joburg. Gauteng tourism reached 9 – 10 Million and COJ 59 000! If you look at mapping at where people were searching for it, it mirrors completely the afropunk reach. It is very clear that people who were coming to afropunk were searching for local experiences. That project will have good reach next year. Margie a SAT will be signing joint marketing agreements with travel agencies in the source markets and I am Joburg will be the official accredited experience provider. Hopefully through that we can build the capacity of the local operators. People were most interested in the unique experiences we curate – for example the arts and justice tour in the court with a law clerk. There were food experiences. Ponte for example, they raved about it and loved the experiences they had there. Gerald at Jozi Hangout weren't opening over December and they did and wouldn't regret it. The Red Bus, there were days when it was full. The whole face of Johannesburg has changed. It is a combination of the economy. Generally people have been staycationing, but I think the international visitors are a reflection of afropunk. For us we are trying to bring them in as close as possible after Christmas and then keep them for a week after the event. A lot of the visitors moved off to Cape Town after then event. And we want to see if we can push them into Durban. Obviously our partnership with SAT is about dispersing people. But the first prize for us was actually growing the visitor numbers in Johannesburg at a time when we used to get no international visitors.

Phase 1 was getting the park ready for afropunk. Phase 2 kicks in now. We have funding from the National Department of Tourism. A lot of the banks and slopes, 4M all the way round will increase the capacity. Unlike other countries JOCs City of Johannesburg, only gives you permission for the numbers in front of your main stage. It is largely based on the spare space you have to accommodate people. We will definitely get it up to about 12 000 with the new design and the extension of the park.

We have a preliminary report which shows you how many businesses actually benefitted from the event. These are the SMME's that benefitted from a production point of view, market access opportunity was all the people selling at the food and spendthrift markets and then the actual people who were employed by afropunk for the year. What we can get for you is an analysis of the tickets, where they were purchased. The impact assesstment will look at economical , environmental etc.

“We the people,” was our campaign that we were rolling out for the coming of age of the constitution. When he saw that he thought it was perfect and took it all to the festivals around the world.

Joburg will always be and they want to grow it to the main pinnacle event – almost like a home-coming. They will continue using the slogan, “All roads lead to Joburg,” and they will be pushing Joburg from the first festival in Paris, London, New York, Atlanta and then Joburg.

Matthew is very interested in growing young talent. He is fascinated that Gearhouse for example has this whole Roadie training programme that they do that does not exist in America. He wants to send roadies from America to Gearhouse to get their training here. There are a lot of opportunities that can open up as a result of this.

Finding something that is a fit with Conhill – the value the ethos the sentiments people express, the fact that you can be free to yourself, the culture that was exposed – has completely aligned. When I came here I was looking for an international festival to put us on the international map – it has more than exceeded my expectations.

He wants to do a range of events that grows the movement, concerts to he is conversation with Trevor Noah to do something around about the 16 th of December this year. We have an agreement with him that he has the space for December. If he puts the stage up at the beginning of December what other events can he do? The idea is if you are going to invest in that stage use it to do other events. Also things like the Solution sessions (which they run in Atlanta), do those throughout the year. He already partners with us on Basha Uhuru which is our big youth festival we have in June. His partnerships with the SMME's for example the clothing company that did the merchandise. They had the licence to produce the afropunk range. He now wants to produce for all the other festivals in South Africa and then ship them out. He is very keen on making South Africa his main hub. I think if he could move here he would. He is looking into buying a building. And a lot of the artists that were here are interested in buying property. Two of his staff members are negotiating property already. There has been a huge interest of people wanting to invest.

We always say 5 years at Conhill because it could exceed the size of Conhill, but he doesn't want to go to big like the 30 000 a day they do in Brooklyn. He would rather do multiple events and settle on the 12 – 15 thousand. The other events are smaller than JHB. It is the second biggest.

Battle of the Bands is about unearthing live music talent. The park when it is completed will be able to host a range of products, markets, outdoor cinema and opens up for the community. It is the People's Park. From Conhill perspective the fiscus dries up and the challenges of education and health reduce our budgets on a daily basis so it is about us trying to grow our own revenue to keep the site open.

The first site you see outside the Women's jail, that constructions tender has just been advertised in the tender bulletin. That is going to be the new visitors centre. 5 stories – the ground floor is the museum of the constitution. 2 nd floor is the archive of the constitution and is open for scholars to access. It also has the visitors centre for tourism. It opens onto the square so has coffee shops merchandising shops and that is where I am Joburg will be located. And a 600 person conference centre on the next floor. And office space above and a roof top venue for live events. And that building belongs to Conhill and will go up. The other land pastles under development, that is for the office of the chief justice which is currently tenanted in Midrand. And the Justice college and one or two of the Chapter 9s will move there. That is currently out on phase 1, what they call TA 1 of a PP partnership. The nurses home behind the Queen Vic, we are finalising funding from one of the international donor agencies to convert that into an NGO hub for NGOs working the art and social justice space. That is full donor funded and about R70 M. The Queen Vic is out on a PPP at the moment with the intention of converting to hotel apartments particular because the Justice College is moving in and all the judges from all over the country come up here to be trained over an extended period of time.

In the meantime the ground-floor has been renovated and there are 20 small businesses working the creative sector and having taken occupation as office space. Some of them have done exhibitions, there are photographers and videographers there.

The first building will be completed in about 12 months. TA 1 will be completed in about 6 months. TA 1 is the feasibility study and the potential. They for example are meeting with the Justice College to find out what their needs are and then it goes out to find a developer who will develop for those needs!

Because afropunk is going to do multiple events and events in other places they start on Monday. They are employed fulltime – there are 4 or 5 of them.

Battle of the Bands was successful. Matthew partnered with existing organisations as he wanted to build a capacity there. In Tembisa they had about 10 000 people but there was no security and safety. So he is reconsidering how he does it next year.

Solange wants to come in May but the Park won't be ready till June.

Understanding the international sound guys and how they wanted to be set up was a challenge. But they managed it quite well. They are looking at creating a suspended sound engineers desk for next year so it doesn't obscure participants view.

Even if you look at the new grand positioning of Constitution Hill which is growing concurrently it is about building a movement of independent thinkers – people who dare to be different. And that is the stuff that is coming out and is pretty much the audience we are getting at Conhil. Basha grew from a very small event and had 12 000 people last year. Basha is around freedom, creative economy and what young people are doing. There are a lot of dialogues, exhibitions, workshops, summits and we are putting together a youth summit. The challenge now is how do I differentiate Basha from Afropunk. So we are looking at making Basha younger and finding a voice for younger people as t is in the school holidays and how do we create these conversations for much younger black people. Basha includes film festivals, workshops, Pechacoocha sessions were young creative talk about the work they are doing.


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