Arts and Culture - KwaZulu-Natal Rhumbelow Kuluma Kingston Sound Concorde Printing Harry Lock

rightHAND designs

Durban says Goodbye to the Blues

June 22nd, 2021

The times they are a-changin’ as Bob Dylan once wrote – and they are indeed! With this in mind, directors of the Durban International Blues Festival, Will Wallace and Tanya van Agthoven Marais have come to a decision in the light of the climate of the universe in the music and sponsorship industry right now. There will not be another Durban International Blues Festival as 2020 saw the final event at the Rhumbelow Theatre in December of that year.

After 16 continuous years of the unique blues festival happening annually, sometimes against all odds, we felt that the Covid restricted event of 2020 (where we applied the attitude of “the show must go on”) should be our graceful exit.

From very humble beginnings in 2005, the brainchild of the late Themi Venturas, Will Wallace, and Tanya van Agthoven Marais formed the founder members of this festival and have seen various directors support the challenging feat of creating and sustaining a music event such as this in Durban, and proudly too in South Africa. Amongst those directors who also worked tirelessly for the event  Prince Bongani Zulu (R.I.P.), Sue Salisbury, Pinkie Mtshali (R.I.P), and Thando Nyameni. The added support which was truly valued and appreciated is that of the Department of Arts and Culture and in particular that of Chris Randlehoff who invested personal commitment far beyond his call.

The Durban International Blues Festival had an aim- this was to become the biggest blues festival in South Africa and it succeeded in a climate which is very difficult to work within, in South Africa,” says Will Wallace who took on the Chair after Themi Venturas passed away and Thando Nyameni resigned to fulfill his personal project commitments.

This event was also one of the anchor events back in the years when Durban held its Mayoral Events Calendar and received fair support during that time- but Durban times were also a –changing!

The success of this festival, however, went far beyond national borders and infused into the intimate blues communities internationally who “clambered“  to be billed on the Durban stage. The festival saw not only the cream of the crop of South African blues artists but also internationally recognized blues masters from Greece, Australia, Canada, USA, Italy, Argentina – some of who returned more than once. Amongst them, Liz Mandeville, Donna Herula, Charlie Love, Pat Savage, Fiona Boyes, Yamil Jacobo, Phillip Walker, Khalif Wailin’Walter, Toronzo Cannon, Vasti Jackson, Down and Out Blues Band, Fruteland Jackson, Jimmy D Lane, and more.

Proudly South African artists who supported the event time after time include in the long list Dan Patlansky, Albert Frost, Natasha Meister, The Blues Broers, Charlie King, Martin Botha, Barry Tompson, and The Reals, ( Including Dawn Selby, Mali Sewall, Jason Andrew) Bobby and the Dynamites, Blackwater, The Black Cat Bones, Tiffany Shepard, The Black Lapels, Rowan Stuart, Nico Lawrence, and The Smoke Train, Red Hand Blues Band, Rusty Red, Sea Level, Boulevard Blues Band, Zwarte Piet, Tammy Saville Sibongile Khumalo, Busi Mhlongo, Black Mambaso, Madala Kunene, Jerry Kunene, Brian Thusi, Pinkie Mtshali -the list goes on.

Van Agthoven Marais admits that the main reason for this sensible decision is influenced by lack of funds and sponsorship and not loss of passion in the least.

“In the uncertain climate, even before Covid, the uphill struggle was immense but we muddled through and could not have done this without the continued help of loyal sponsors on all levels such as Will Matthews (Concord Printing), Brett Kingsland (Kingston Live), Kuluma TV, photographers (0fficial) Harry Locke and Alaister Fraser. Various product and” in-kind” sponsors and venue sponsorship where costs were cut to a bare minimum to assist the Section 21 organization. The DAC were primary sponsors for a considerable period, but we saw that the writing was on the wall about 2 years ago although we had a contract for another two years, which should have seen us through to 2022. But about 3 weeks ago we were informed that “they would not be honouring the contract” not even for 2021. This formed our immediate and responsible decision,” she says.

There is a season for everything and with grateful hearts; appreciation goes to the sponsors but also to the artists from near and far: this event was possible because of their enthusiastic participation, understanding of big-budget restrictions, and wishes to return time after time. The directors of this event are extremely proud of the dent the Durban International Blues Festival made within the international blues festival arena. “Sometimes we appeared bigger than we really were; such was the word of mouth promotion from those who had been and performed, encouraging fellow musicians to apply to come to Durban, “ adds Will Wallace. Had the City of Durban stepped in to support this, the event would have hoped to profile the “Sister City “ concept but sadly this didn’t come to fruition and the concept was set aside.

Thanks must go to the loyal audiences who became familiar with “family faces “even if only once a year at the event. Thank you for this support as the show depended too, on your attendance.

Then came Covid!

This was the nail in the coffin one could say although Roland Stansell /Rhumbelow Theatre collaborated with the festival and between the two entities, they were able to pull off a different sort of event where Covid protocols applied to theatre audiences; international artist friends donated their professional time and musical contribution on video – an awesome success and a good parting note as the last Durban International Blues Festival was played out in December 2020.