Rashid Lombard, Diamond of Africa Grandest Gathering

Cape Town International Jazz Festival

Internationally renowned photographer, Rashid Lombard is the Founder and Director of the Africa Grandest Gathering, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Lombard is a local legend, an International political, war photojournalist and CEO of espAfrika, the Cape Town based corporation responsible for the festival. Rashid is also a former station manager of Fine Music Radio, former programming manager at P4 Smooth Jazz Radio. He also produced e-TV's "Jazz Café".

Lombard discusses with Jazz Times about from where he’s coming from, when he prepares the Festival and how: “After 28 years earning a living as a photojournalist, I stopped at the end of 1994 when Mr. Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first democratically elected President of South Africa. I then started the first community based jazz and classical radio station in Cape Town and I am now CEO of espAFRIKA. Before 1994, artists wouldn’t travel to South Africa because of the cultural boycott. Once we had democratic elections, everything opened up and we could start inviting artists over. There was more freedom of movement that we didn’t have up to 1994. Having been to the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland as a photographer for about six years, I approached the director, Theo Van Den Hoek, and asked him to assist in staging a similar multi-stage festival in Cape Town. It was important to have a partnership with a festival that had a good track record, and it was important for me to present the people involved in person. So we flew him out to Cape Town, arranged meetings with government officials and potential sponsors. So we established it as the North Sea Jazz Festival (Cape Town) to take advantage of their brand name. That did cause a lot of confusion in the early days. People said, ‘But you’re not the North Sea, you’re the South Atlantic.’ In fact, South Atlantic Jazz festival was one name we considered. It was a three year agreement, which in fact extended to a fourth year, that at some point we would Africanize the name. So we worked together until 2004 and established the event, after which we agreed to part and to change the name to Cape Town International Jazz Festival”.

South Africa is a gorgeous country charged with poignant history. When musicians travel they have the opportunity to play for different people in different countries, they perceive that people want to see peach and fervor. We want to know what will be the right level to match both expectations on such important festival. Rashid explains: “We maintain the 50/50 split between African artists and musicians from the rest of the world. We have also stuck to our formula where the Cape Town International Jazz Festival brings together jazz and other jazz-related experimental genres. It has not been easy but our winning formula has many elements. Our vision is to present something that is more than a music event. The presentation on five stages over two days of 40 bands equally split between African and overseas artists, has given festival goers so much choice. More importantly, what has carried us through is the relationship we establish with musicians, managers, booking agents, audiences and our sponsors. With isolation of South Africa during the 1970’ and 1980’s there was this hunger to see international musicians perform in South Africa in a festival atmosphere that bring people of all persuasions together. The vision was simply to create a festival of international standard where the best of the rest of the world are combined with the best of South Africa and Africa. Combining European expertise in presentation of a jazz festival of this nature and the African expertise in networking, building on relations and creating community. The vision of the festival was articulated in the way that it was clear that the festival was intended to bring together music lovers from all over the country and indeed all over the world to participate communally in their love of the art form in the humbling province of the Western Cape. In a sense the vision of the festival was used as a metaphor for what South Africa and the Western Cape could be. In harmony with itself and at harmony with the world.”

The work Rashid Lombard has done is priceless but I want to know when art and bureaucracy coincide on his work. Lombard develops: “We are going into our 13th year. Sponsorship was another major problem at the start. We badly needed sponsorship, but we decided we would go ahead anyway and, if there were losses, we’d see them as an investment, and for the first three years there was an investment every year. It wasn’t until the fourth year that we broke even. This has been an on-going challenge deal with tourism structure and other government departments that festival of this nature create job, improve bed nights at hotels and in general has an economic impact on the host city.”

The Cape Town Jazz Festival is creating its own musical language. There shouldn't be a cleavage between reasoning power and ardor. However, structure and knack are important if ignited with passion. Rashid reveals: “There’s so much destruction that is going on in the world today--all around us; -if we don't get to the root of the violence, then it's all for naught. So, what the event do using imagination and creating metaphors that confound the senses, and that confound those who are not de-tuned. How to surprise then the audiences…. In countries where freedom of speech is suppressed it is much more difficult for musicians to speak out as individuals. There are exceptions like Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela and Thomas Mapfumo and others but they remain exceptions. Musicians are far more likely to speak out for positive change when they have support. Every country on the continent of Africa faces it unique challenges and conditions. In developing a continent wide network of artists we should be sensitive to these differences and not try to apply one size fits all solutions “.

Rashid Lombard is obviously a man who knows the meaning of emotions but overall this man possesses noteworthy management skills. He tell us about the qualities he expect from an artist so he can consider to hire him/her/them : “ A programming committee looks at what is current on radio, which artists has not been to South Africa, which artists are currently touring and of course the most important the fee and travelling party of an artist. Also noting that the South African audiences is very nostalgic so we have to look at artists like the Earth Wind and Fire, Commodores and jazz legends like Ahmed Jamal, Wayne Shorter etc. We also do not repeat artists unless it’s by public demand which has happened in the case of Miriam Makeba. This year we are featuring 41 artists with one being a high school big band. We started featuring school bands 4 years ago. “

Not many people know about the Jazz scene in South Africa. I wonder if Rashid got governmental support for the events he organizes. He confesses: “We have had the national governments Depart of Arts and Culture a sponsor for the past 12 years. They look in particular to the training and development aspects of our workshops. It is part of a larger South African vision to put people, heritage, knowledge and culture at the center of South Africa’s socio-economic development. It’s is the quintessential nation-building tool. Then we have the Provincial Government of the Western Cape with Cape Town being the capital. Here we have sponsorship from the City of Cape Town and the Province. In effect the economic impact, GDP for Cape Town in 2011 was USD66.5 million and nationally USD95 million”.

South Africa Is filled with many talented musicians, nonetheless many of them need to emigrate because there is not enough work for them, I inquiry if the situation will evolve. Lombard assess :” Today, because of the way the industry has evolved musicians are more inclined to view themselves as people who are in business, taking care of the bottom line. I believe that many musicians especially in developing countries have to concentrate their efforts on survival within a competitive and globalized industry. We can see this amongst musicians almost everywhere in Africa. If we accept that musicians are people who work for a living then we also need to learn from the trade union movement, these are structures where people pool their strengths to improve their bargaining position and there is no reason why musicians should not do so the same.”

Knowing Cape Town, its beauty, warm people and economic potential I want to know how Rashid see Cape Town Jazz festival positioned in two years. He reveals: “In two years, 2014 it will be our 15th anniversary. It will still be the biggest festival on the African continent. Noting that 2007, Melody Trip did an on-line survey and we were rated No4 amongst all the jazz festivals in the world with New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival No1 followed by Montréal Jazz festival and Montreux Jazz Festival.”

Rashid Lombard knows the meaning of struggle, strives to keep the music and art alive. He’s is a great example to the people of Africa and he’s greatly looked upon and respected. Rashid Lombard is a symbol of inspiration and unity. He’s right now listening to the latest Chick Corea’s Cd “Further Explorations” with Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian and he thinks it’s : “absolutely fabulous and therapeutic “.

Visit the Cape Town Jazz festival website: www.capetownjazzfest.com

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