Having a good time: Music lovers at Kirstenbosch Gardens. Picture: SUPPLIED
Having a good time: Music lovers at Kirstenbosch Gardens. Picture: SUPPLIED

According to the 2015 PwC Outlook report, SA’s music market is worth an annual R2bn. Live music is worth half of that, is growing at 8% and is expected to reach R1.5bn in 2019. Yet, live music venues are facing very tough times.

Tagores, Moholo Live and Straight no Chaser in Cape Town have all closed down. In Durban, musicians recently marched through the streets to protest against the closing of the public venue, the Stable Theatre due to mismanagement. Founding partner of the Orbit in Braamfontein, Aymeric Peguillan has left due to unsustainable programming and the Bassline in Newtown is closing its doors at month-end to become a full-time festival and production company for the annual Africa Day megafestival.

Brad Holmes founded the Bassline 22 years ago. After 10 years of operating a 60-seat jazz venue in Melville and slowly expanding it into a 150-seat venue, he moved into the 1,000-seat venue, previously the Mega music warehouse, for another 10 years. There, Holmes promoted African music and began to expand into technical production, artist management and festivals.

Elias Ngidi performing at Rainbow Restaurant. Picture: SUPPLIED
Elias Ngidi performing at Rainbow Restaurant. Picture: SUPPLIED

"That’s the natural progression. Many festival directors around the world started in venues," he says.

Cape Town International Jazz festival evolved out of Manenberg’s jazz café. Bushfire in Swaziland came out of the House of Fire venue and sitting partner at The Orbit, Kevin Naidoo, believes the best way to sustain that venue is to start
a festival.

Holmes explains why South African music venues are struggling: "Unlike here, music venues around the world are generally nonprofit organisations with a board and private-public funding specialists managing them. A good example is the Roundhouse in Camden and Paradiso in Holland.

"Venues like that have 60 years’ experience in figuring out how to make it work.

"The music venue business is a victim of apartheid. During apartheid, [it] was generally neglected. Music venues had zero funding and you can’t develop culture out of that. That is the main reason that the Department of Arts and Culture is [seen to be] doing a remarkable job in developing arts."

Multipurpose  Venues

The few music venues still operating are multipurpose. Casinos use music to bring in gamblers and restaurants to bring in diners and the Bartel Arts Trust (BAT) Centre in Durban is an example of an independently funded mixed-use venue.

Various international institutions across Africa are committed to fast-tracking the development of music venues in the region to a global standard. Swiss funding body Pro-Helvetia invests R4m annually in cultural exchanges, tours, collaborations and performances across urban centres in southern Africa. The Goethe Institute reaches about 13,000 people with 65 concerts at 13 centres across sub-Saharan Africa.

The French Institute of SA (IFAS) has 24 "Instituts Français" in Africa for artistic residencies, and their popular Fête de la Musique festivals reach thousands in the major centres.

Norway funds Concerts SA, which has pieced together the beginnings of a venue circuit as a template that could be used on a larger scale by the government. Concerts SA gives R10,200 a month to team up with venues Crypt, Craft Fair at Soweto Theatre, Rainbow Restaurant, Freedom Station, Nikki’s, Swingers, the Space, Jazz in the Native Yards and Jazzy Rainbow. As part of a regional and national circuit, Concerts SA operates a mobility fund benefiting about 1,000 musicians to perform at 600 gigs throughout the year at about 200 venues.

Concerts SA’s It Starts with a Heartbeat report sets out practical options for supporting the growth of live music audiences and is popularising the concept of the night economy. Gwen Ansell, compiler of the report, notes: "The night economy needs to provide a spread of venues, music options, and related activities so as to maximise audiences drawn to metropolitan centres, and thus boost economic activity through economies of scale."

There is a drive towards better regulation of the night economy. One technique is through the collection of performance royalties, which the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) does in licensed venues. But the emphasis for change is on local government. Live music venues are an important value-add to lifestyle and entertainment hubs. And the outlay is well justified, given the benefits from tourism, branding and the night economy.

Brad says, "It is the responsibility of the constitutional development department of the city to make sure that the cities’ jewels are protected. It is the cities’ responsibility to protect the museums, theatres and cultural platforms."

Local government owns an enormous amount of cultural infrastructure

Local government owns an enormous amount of cultural infrastructure. To their credit, some cultural centres and outdoor spaces strongly support live music performance. There are some fantastic facilities: the Homecoming Centre (next door to the District Six Museum in Cape Town), the Sophiatown Heritage Centre in Johannesburg, Umkhumbane Heritage Centre in Durban (being built), and Red Location museum in New Brighton (not always operational). The Cradle of Humankind and a Sculpture Park by Nirox stage a series of weekend jazz music shows, combining heritage, music and the visual arts every spring. The Dinosaur Foyer at Iziko Museums in Cape Town hosts music events. And various botanical gardens host live music.

Monika Läuferts le Roux of Tsica Heritage Consultants is engaged in a heritage study for the City of Johannesburg’s Corridors of Freedom project. The Louis Botha Development Corridor, Empire-Perth Development Corridor and Turffontein Development Corridor, will all boost music venues.

The longstanding Radium Beer Hall in Orange Grove is one such venue that will benefit.

"Historical places are an important part of the development plan, and hopefully visitor numbers will grow as road access improves, more parking becomes available, and
public transport is improved," Le Roux says.

Demand  Patterns

Demand patterns are breathing new life into music venues. The younger generation is driving an "experience economy" in which people seek out experiences as opposed to goods.

This too is quickly evolving into the "transformation economy", in which people want their experiences to be positive and life-changing.

Live music is the obvious tool of transformation, hence the growth of "jam bands" world-wide and "jam nights" at music venues. Musicians are becoming the entrepreneurs. And as a result, the grassroots venues of the busker, such as any unused space, from shopping malls to train stations, taxi-ranks or street corners are viable and free venues.

With its established tourist industry, Cape Town is taking the lead in supporting buskers. The V&A Waterfront, which is the most visited attraction on the continent, with 24-million annual visitors, is supporting busking as part of its formal entertainment offering.

Its statistics show that busking increases foot traffic at an overall average of 4%, and 21% during the inaugural Cape Town Buskers Festival in September, which attracted more than 70,000 people.

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