Africa’s Grandest Gathering is the fourth biggest jazz festival in the world, annually injecting more than R500 million directly into the local economy.
“You have to aspire to become great and do things”
Since humble beginnings 14 years ago, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival has been bringing local and international artists together and today its success has steadily grown. This year an estimated 34 000 jazz lovers will attend the event at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) to enjoy the music of more than 40 local and international artists.
The masterminds behind this soulful R50-million budget event are espAfrika owners Rashid Lombard and Billy Domingo, childhood friends and prominent Cape Town businessmen with a burning desire to uplift Africa through music and the arts.
According to Lombard, who was also an award-winning photographer in his day, the festival – which demands extensive logistics, safety and security and spectator management – contributed R522 million directly to the gross domestic product of the Western Cape last year.
The project is the brainchild of Lombard, and Domingo joined shortly after its inception when Lombard approached him in 1998 to form a partnership and establish a world-class jazz event in South Africa. At this point in time, the establishment of their events and production company, espAfrika, also came about.
Since then, their journeys have been marked by international travel and exposure to the music and events industry all across the world.
The festival, which initially started off in conjunction with the North Sea Jazz Festival, was independently named the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in 2005 and the first event was held in the Goodhope Centre. However, the duo soon found their numbers increasing to the point where it had to be moved to the bigger CTICC.
Domingo says since then they have built up the biggest corporate village in the southern hemisphere. “And we deliver. The shows deliver every year. We may occasionally have one or two hiccups, but they have not been major. Some artists were not able to make it and we spent more money to get replacements, but we have always delivered and people always come back, saying that it was incredible!
“So our journey with jazz has progressed. We have attended festivals around the word. Both Rashid and I have been travelling between six to eight times a year to places in Europe and around the world. We have learnt so much and now we have reached a stage where the festival has taken on a life of its own.”
Lombard and Domingo agree that diversity is one of the biggest characteristics of the event. To them, jazz as a genre is as diverse as the people who listen to it. It is for this reason that they have decided to create an “unstratified event” in terms of attendance.
“We don’t have golden circles because I don’t want a man standing in front of the stage saying, ‘I am, therefore I can’. I want a man standing in front saying, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and not, ‘Where do you come from?’ We are there to listen to the same bands. There are people who drive Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s and there are people who drive Mini Minors. And that’s why we do the free concerts at Greenmarket Square. People should be able to mix freely with whomever they want. We’ve equalled the playing field and allowed the people to deal with each other,” Domingo says.
Lombard and Domingo’s company sets the benchmark in term of progressive thinking and empowerment in a South African context. Being 100% black-owned, the company finds itself in line with current industry codes regarding business practice, employment equity and procurement policies. One of their unique components is that apart from the directors, the entire management and 90% of the staff at espAfrika comprise a team of highly skilled and forward-thinking women.
“Coming from a political background, empowerment and the role of women have always been important for me. When one starts a company, especially in the beginning, one often sees only men prominently on the team. It doesn’t always happen consciously, but the women sometimes start to outshine the men. If we look at the production manager, normally it’s a man’s job, yet Eva, Billy’s wife, heads up this department,” Lombard says.
According to Domingo, the multi-tasking capacity of a woman is something that few ever appreciate. “Men have egos, and men’s ego say: ‘I’m in charge’. But that really says nothing. These ladies have taken ownership of their divisions and are delivering exceptionally well. This makes it easier for Rashid and I to look at the company and its progress from a broader perspective because micromanaging is not an option. These ladies run the festival – they have done it for years. A number of them started as trainees, some of them up to 18 years ago. These are people who are incredibly talented. And they are what makes espAfrika what it is,” Domingo says.
When it comes to the way their company is run, they agree the “family feel” they have established has been the foundation that makes their team so successful.
“The success of the company is the result of this family feel. Billy and I have built the festival over the last 10 years in terms of production and in terms of procurement,” Lombard says.
Lombard and Domingo concur that arts and culture play a powerful role in creating a unique, diverse and authentic African identity, as well as being a driver for the economy at large.
“I think South African arts and culture are key social building blocks in our country. These are some of the ingredients for creating a climate of some sort of social stability and economic growth. Talking about the creative economy in that sense, in South Africa we do have the ability to be a leader in generating not only employment but economic growth,” Lombard toldLeadership.
Domingo says many a successful artist today started off on the Jazz Festival stage. “When we look at artists such as the Judith Sephuma’s of this world, we created the platform from which they went on to their international careers. We took them to the North Sea Jazz Festival, where agents from around the world attended. They saw our talent and liked it. And that is what this is all about: showcasing Africa’s Grandest Gathering. We are sold out every year.
“You have to aspire to become great and do things. South African artists cannot walk up to us and say, ‘I’m black’, ‘I’m white’ or ‘I’m brown’... and therefore you should listen to our music’. It doesn’t work that way. You have to aspire to a height where you can perform at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival. It is one of the pinnacles of success that we have measured in South Africa and on the African continent. We have created this zone which people can only get into if they actually pay their dues and work hard,” Domingo says.
Lombard and Domingo have dedicated themselves to leaving an African footprint in terms of upliftment through music and culture. Their company has a firm understanding of the needs and logistics involved in producing an African product with regard to the entertainment industry and have produced events in Mozambique, Nigeria, Mauritius, Angola, Botswana as well as the rest of the world.
One of the projects in which they are involved, the Arts & Culture Focus School, is a prime example of their contribution to youth empowerment. The project includes workshops and training in arts journalism, photojournalism, music business, artist training and classes for children. The Intyolo Jazz Programme leg of the project, on the other hand, focuses on music and skills transfer through upliftment and mentorship programmes.
The project further takes a selection of schools from previously disadvantaged areas, identifies young and upcoming talent, and hosts the training sessions in order to equip the youngsters with skills ranging from events management and production to mentorship aimed at seeing the young artists rise to the challenge.
Both Lombard and Domingo feel strongly about a collaborative and inclusive approach when it comes to leadership. “I lead by example. I don’t make rash decisions, and I get the staff to give input as well,” Lombard says.
As for Domingo, “What I do is I sit, I listen, and from the creative side – and possibly from a production side – I’ll get involved. But when it comes to what is going to happen, how lucrative the industry is and where it goes, I let them first present to me and then we take it from there. A good leader, in that sense, listens to what his people say.
“I have 44 years of experience, but I need to understand when there is a time for change – a time to move into a different era – and a lot of what the girls know now are things that I never knew before. So I take what they’ve got – that’s the new – and I take the old and I find a happy balance. But you don’t lead by dictating; you lead by example.”p
More about Rashid Lombard
Born in Port Elizabeth in 1951 and having moved to Cape Town shortly after the implementation of the Group Areas Act, Lombard attended school in Athlone. Thereafter he studied architectural draughting, followed by an introduction to industrial photography at Murray & Roberts. This was the starting point of his photography career, which he pursued for the next 28 years, covering hard news across the continent.
His work on Nelson Mandela and the struggle has received numerous awards and was recently on display at the “Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life” exhibition. Other than this, Lombard was also a successful jazz photographer and is passionate about the important role music played in the anti-apartheid struggle.
Besides his phenomenal achievements as a photojournalist, which have seen him featuring as contributor to the Nobel Peace Centre project, Lombard also boasts a successful career in radio broadcasting at, among others, the former P4 Smooth Jazz Radio and e.tv’sJazz Café.
He speaks fondly of his family, both past and present. “From my mother’s side, they are artisans and tailors. Up till today I still do my own sewing and shorten my own clothes. My two sons are both in television and media, one with Al Jazeera, the other with CNN as cameraman and producer, and my daughter, Yana, is currently working with me. All three studied visual communications for some reason or another. I think they take after me. I also have twolaatlammetjies[children born late in the marriage], who are working at becoming musicians,” he says. Lombard sees the first three as following in their father’s footsteps, while the younger two are living his dream of being involved in music.
More about Billy Domingo
Domingo spent most of his younger days in Cape Town. He qualified as a carpenter after completing his schooling, but found himself in limbo shortly thereafter. This eventually took him to the theatre where his incredible journey began.
“I went into the theatre because my mother loved it there. Since I had qualified as a carpenter, I got to build sets. I was, however, definitely not a carpenter. I then met Brian Cook, who said I was well suited to work on stage. I became one of the first black stage managers in the Cape. I then went on to produce shows and I was artistic director for Mandela’s 1994 Royal Command Performance,” he says.
He describes his current family life as being his foundation. “I got married when I was 40 and have two sons. One is at Stellenbosch (University) and the other at the University of Cape Town. The one came out brown like me and the other one came out blonde like my wife. We are truly a rainbow nation.
“The family is the cornerstone of where we are right now. My wife works at the company and she is head of the operations. She’s amazing and she literally runs the place for us,” he says.
Domingo’s two great loves are rally cars and golf. “I rallied from the ‘70s into the ‘90s and now I manage motor rally drivers. My other love is golf. I started playing million-dollar golf in 1980 at Sun City,” he says.