Metro FM and the Market Theatre put together a festival that aimed to attract a new audience to the Market Theatre in Newtown. The festival, with 13 different musical performances and four comedy shows, ran from 15 November until 9 December 2012.
The festival promoters really outdid themselves in choosing an amazing lineup of African musicians. The event kicked off with an electrifying performance by Thandiswa Mazwai, backed by a pulsating jazz quartet featuring grand piano and double bass. Thandiswa is a fully fledged diva who made an impression on the jazz aficionados with her raspy voice moving effortlessly through many styles and feelings.
The Market Theatre has tremendous presence and it really gave each performance a sense of style and occasion. I was lucky to attend numerous performances; it was fascinating as each night the theatre was commandeered by a different audience. Theatre staff ensured that each event went smoothly, and they were always friendly and professional. Just one note of criticism: it did feel like the promoters rested on their laurels a bit and neglected to add anything that could perhaps have heightened the experience. In other words, it didn't feel as though the festival had a cohesive identity as such - it felt more like a sporadic collection of amazing performances. Each group of fans had no awareness of any of the people at the other events. I would have loved to have seen some cross pollination going down between the different audiences. Perhaps the festival organisers could try to have more than one show on per night in the future, so the Market Theatre would feel like the centre of a cultural precinct rather than an isolated destination.
Jozi often gets a bad rep due to the ever-present threat of crime and the size of the ever-expanding potholes on our roads. At the same time, our city is also a dynamic cultural crucible that is facilitating the rebirth of a multitude of identities and art forms. I guess that is what draws so many people to the place, myself included. Despite being mugged on the way to one of the performances at the theatre, I still had many bright moments, which I shared with the approving audiences while basking in the wake of our local artists' creativity. It felt for a while during each performance like the good things in Johannesburg definitely outweighed the bad.
The second night of music was a double bill that raised the roof of the Market Theatre. The Soil kicked off the entertainment - a three piece act that bust a capella vocals over a rhythm laid down by beat boxer extraordinaire Master P. The Soil were glamorously kitted out in updated Sophiatown nightclub attire by an award-winning fashion designer. The Muffinz (a six piece band featuring a range of different lyrical styles) were the second act of the night and the packed theatre got down to their unique blend of rock, folk, funk and African sounds. If you haven't heard that the Muffinz rule the world, you better pay attention. The band literally overflows with talent and innovative ideas.
The comedy lineup was also extensive, with the likes of Mark Banks, Siv Ngesi, Donovan Goliath, Jason Goliath, Eugene Khoza and Trevor Gumbi, each comedian offering their own brand of hilarious social commentary. It was really refreshing to be able to laugh at the many quirky aspects of South African culture. The last dimension to the festival was a series of classical and opera performances interpreted by the likes of Soweto Opera Quadro and Opera Africa.
The third night's performance was by Zakes Bantwini, a performer whom you would normally hear in a club singing vocals over deep house tracks. He had put together a full band with a horn section in order to sculpt his performance for a theatre setting. Zakes has a soulful sound and he brought a streetwise edge to his dance-infused grooves. It is quite a sight to witness house heads getting down in the aisles of a cultural heritage point like the Market theatre.
Afro pop icon Zahara was another major attraction at the festival. Already a superstar after her debut album last year, her easy listening style holds appeal for people of all ages and it was really heartwarming to see children as young as six or seven dancing and singing along to the lyrics.
Other heavyweight headliners at the festival included Ringo, Lira, Paul Hanmer, Hip Hop Pantsula, Trompies,Thebe, Rebbeca Malope and the Zimbabwean musical icon Oliver Mtukuzi.
All in all this was a worthy effort from Metro and The Market Theatre. Keep your eyes peeled for next year's lineup. You won't be sorry.
by Dror Cohen