Road to Joy of Jazz 2023 with Percy Mabandu

The role of media in creative and artistic spaces is to act as catalyst for work in question. This through the highlighting and critiquing of the work, as well as informing audiences of the work. This role is important on a broader scale, as it enhances the reach, value and to an extent the significance of the work.

Media and Content consultant, Percy Mabandu has over the course of his career, inclusive of his work as an artist/painter, been involved with a number of institutions and entities which has allowed him to garner not only good experience within his respective fields but also a worldly, more wider view to the intricacies the the arts and overall industry.

With the latest edition of The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz coming up, we spoke to Percy about the importance of media coverage, the significance of of brand alignment within the events space, and his perspective of such events from the audience view of a show goer.

Read our chat below…

In the art world, particularly in music, how important is coverage for the artist’s work?

There are two types of coverage. The first is reportage which is basic journalism, focused on getting the word out there. This is where you get reports on which artist is performing where, which new albums have been released and which new artworks are being exhibited, etc. One can never get enough of this kind of coverage because there’s almost always something new happening and people want to be kept in the loop. This type of journalism expands the artist’s reach and in a way helps them find their fanbase.

The second type of coverage, which I believe is lacking in South Africa, is critics. When I hear artists say their work has been critically-acclaimed I always wonder by whom because we don’t have critics in this country or at least not nearly enough. Critics help to keep the culture accountable to itself in sense. For example with music, a critic would study the history of the medium and genre and conclude on whether a body of work lives up to the stand that classifies that particular genre. Critics are important for the arts because they allow us to keep tabs on the progress we’re making or the lack thereof.

You have been doing coverage for Joy of Jazz for a number of years now, how do you navigate the various conversations you have to carry out with the diverse blend of artists you meet every year?

I’m properly trained. I went to art school from the age of 13 and I have lived my life at the intersection of the Arts and the Communications industries ever since. I joined the Mail & Guardian in 2009 before moving to City Press. I later freelanced and worked with the likes of City Press and Sunday Times. I even held down the 702 jazz hour a couple of years ago, so in a sense I am a specialist in my own right and that’s how I approach my work. Being a painter myself I have an in-depth appreciation and understanding of artworks. Having studied how to play the trumpet, I hear the music as close to a musician as one can get and that enables me to appreciate the work of artists with the resonances of an insider. Training has also made it easy for me. Plus I don’t live in much distance to the industry. I engage with less reverence as a fan and more as an artist interested in their artwork. And they know that when they are talking to me it’s going to be about their work and nothing else.

That’s a purist approach and I think that also has to do with respecting your audience, right?

Certainly. And just allowing the honesty of the work to carry itself.

The flip side to allowing the honesty of the work to carry itself is that sometimes there’s nothing to tell. You can sit with an artist that’s important to the culture, have a conversation, and realize there’s nothing to write home about. It happens. And it sucks if you were commissioned to write something because it means you’re one invoice down but that level of honesty is important. I’m a literary artist and the output I deliver has to be worth my byline, that’s important to me.

The other thing is that we make a fuss about quality writing and wanting to put out the best work. But, we do not stress the importance of a quality readership. We don’t demand a quality audience as often as we should and yet it is extremely important to have an audience that has enough qualitative literacy in their tank to understand what is being said and appreciate the literary artistry of the writer. It’s like listening to Johnny Dyani or Zoe Modiga record for the first time, your ear palette needs to be hip enough to hear and understand what is being said. If I’m sitting here trying to tell you why Gustav Mahler is an important composer, you need to bring a certain degree of knowledge and understanding of classical music to join in on the conversation. Similarly you need a level of qualitative literacy to appreciate how a writer is employing language in a particular piece.

Given that you have been attending the JoJ since it’s early days, how has the growth been?

I started attending Joy of Jazz when it was still in Newtown and the move to the Sandton Convention Centre was in and of itself evidence of the growth of the festival. The move also had its own implications in terms of the curation of the festival and how the audience would enjoy the music from one stage to the next. At one point Standard Bank has an orchestra performing at Mandela Square as part of the festival activation and last year the festival had a lifestyle expo. Joy of Jazz keeps improving, even during the recovery period from the covid-19 pandemic, the festival proved resilient. This year is the first year, post COVID, of original curation and its guaranteed to be an experience for music lovers and those working in the precinct.

So would you say the venue plays a substantial role in the success of the festival?

Look the venue is great and convenient but I do sometimes wonder about what happens when the music stops and lights got out. I don’t think it has the long lasting impact it could have particularly for the music industry as a whole. I think there’s a conversation to be had about activating theatres, community halls, and any other space that is usable for the arts because an investment in those spaces would be beneficial for the arts in the long run. Think about the 2010 soccer world cup where resources were invested into getting the stadiums to an international standard. Post the world cup those stadiums continue to generate revenue and host world class games. I think of the National Arts Festival that lights up and stimulates the economy of the whole town of Makhanda and Macofe that does the same for Bloemfontein. It’s time for us to think beyond the weekend and start focusing on the reach and long-term impact of such festivals for the arts community at large.

For a festival like Joy of Jazz, how important is brand sponsorship from corporates like Standard Bank?

Well for one it buys customer confidence in that when you see the Standard Bank logo you’re more likely to cough up the required amount for a ticket because you are sure that you will get your money’s worth. It says to you that the event is credible. Such sponsorship also means that the musicians will be paid well which is important. It also gives the festival a budget to extend its financial impact beyond the stage through the creation of jobs for support staff. An investment in a project like Joy of Jazz allows for the stimulation of the economy in one way or another within the city.

As a custodian of the arts, how important is having Joy of Jazz, at its size, for the culture?

Culture is why we do what we do. We work hard for the whole month and when the money rolls in the first thing we do is go out there and buy well designed shoes and clothes as an expression of art. We eat well prepared food and drink premium beer while listening to well made music. We live and fight for the ability to produce and consume our own culture and express ourselves in a manner that’s comfortable to us. We eat to keep ourselves alive so we can enjoy music. And a premium international festival such as the Joy of Jazz is the best expression of the culture.

Festival Dates: 29 and 30 September 2023

Venue:  Sandton International Convention Centre.

Tickets are available at Computicket and Checkers outlets.