The Interview – Peter Tladi: Jazz, jive and the city of Jozi

2014-02-23 14:00

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As the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz moves to Sandton, Percy Mabandu asks festival boss Peter Tladi whether the capital of consumption will kill the jamboree’s soul.

It has been a week since T-Musicman, the company that organises the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival, announced its move from downtown Joburg to Sandton, Africa’s capital of consumption.

It has been placed on record that the City of Gold’s largest cultural event will for the next five years take place at the Sandton Convention Centre.

It will also no longer happen during August, but at the height of spring in September, between the 25th and the 27th.

Naturally, there have been complaints about what this means for the lauded rejuvenation of the Joburg inner city, especially for the cultural hub of Newtown.

Many people have cried foul, saying the move amounts to the triumph of gentrification over its plebeian credentials.

The complainants feel it will void the festival of its soul – a spirit lent to it by the city’s working class appeal.

Amid the fray, Peter Tladi, the man who puts the T in T-Musicman, has agreed to meet and have a chat with me.

Sitting at a table in Café De La Creme in Melville, Tladi beams a smile to signal his location in the sparsely populated eatery.

Were it not for his genial demeanour, he’d easily be a contender for the role of the Penguin in the Batman franchise.

The 64-year-old cultural entrepreneur is short and stout with an unmissable potbelly – but he doesn’t have the supervillain’s beaklike nose and mordant manners.

Tladi is wearing his signature Irish cap – it’s blue denim with white stripes to match his golf shirt.

Tladi is comfortable as he navigates the tougher parts of our conversation, and we move effortlessly from pleasantries to the burning issues.

“You know, it’s normal for people to hang on to what they like.

If you’ve been with something for 14 years, it’s not going to be easy to be pulled out of it.

Even if it’s for a better way of life. Remember how we fought when they took us from Alexandra to Meadowlands? Compare the two places.”

He uses the controversial analogy of the 1960s forced removals to make a point about the paradox of being moved against our wishes from places we love to areas we don’t like.

He proceeds to illustrate his point. As festivals grow, they are forced to move to bigger and better venues.

The Joy of Jazz counterpart, Cape Town’s International Jazz Festival, moved from the Good Hope Centre to the Cape Town International Convention Centre in 2004.

After 35 years, even the North Sea Jazz Festival had to move to a larger venue from The Hague to Rotterdam.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival also had to move from its sacred home on Congo Square to a more suitable place at the Fair Grounds Race Course.

But Tladi is not dismissive of the problems involved in moving the festival.

Not least because the discussion is linked to job creation – a big issue in South Africa.

The festival creates more than 5?000 jobs and there are also many other informal-trading opportunities that become available around the Newtown cultural precinct during the weeklong jazz jamboree.

“It was not a decision we came to easily,” he says.

“There were logistical problems we encountered because of the festival’s growth. It was not a case of let’s move because we are bigger than our shoes, but rather that we needed new shoes.”

Tladi explains that every year, it took a month to set up the venue in Newtown, and they had to remove and rebuild the pavement on the square before and after the festival, which contributed heavily to their costs.

The increasing number of patrons meant there also wasn’t enough parking, and people had been increasingly complaining about the safety of their cars and the fact that the car guards on the surrounding streets were becoming a nuisance.

The city’s fire department was also becoming worried about the safety of the festivalgoers gathered in large tents.

Speaking slowly and clearly, he says the move to Sandton comes with an improvement to the offering.

While taking place in Newtown, festivalgoers had to pay to access each of the venues separately.

Last year, a one-day pass cost R750 to see performances on the Dinaledi, Mbira and Conga stages.

A weekend pass for access to the same stages was billed at R950 per person.

This excluded Bassline and The Market theatre on both days.

In total, separate day passes amounted to R1?500 per person.

“The sponsors have helped to minimise the impact,” says Tladi.

“People will pay a much lesser fee. We are busy with the calculations, but it should be around R650 to access all the stages.”

During its nascent years, the Joy of Jazz attracted about 1?800 people to Newtown.

Now it sells more than 24?000 tickets and simply no longer has the capacity to host all the visitors.

The Dinaledi stage, for example, catered to 1?500 people in a large marquee, but will host 4?500 after the move.

Mbira will grow from 1?500 seats to 3?500.

All this serious talk takes a visible toll on the jovial jazz impresario and he orders a croissant with scrambled eggs.

He says revellers must rest easy.

There will be a jazz concert in the Mary Fitzgerald Square as part of The Road to Joy of Jazz series of live performances that will take place across the country.

“So Newtown does not lose out completely,” he says as he gets down to his meal.

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