Hidden Conversations with Fryn Nytiv

With so many ways to communicate at our disposal, we must not forget the transformative power of a live music experience and genuine human exchange.

Jon Batiste

Live music spaces are an integral part of any city’s culture. Not only do they provide entertainment but when done well they become an oasis so much so that their closure cuts deep into one’s soul. Though Johannesburg has seen a number of live music spaces close down, curators and promoters like Fryn Nytiv continue to bear the torch for the culture.

In this conversation we speak to Fryn Nytiv about the concept Hidden Spaces from inception all the way to its seventh season that’s fast approaching, as well as the home it has become to music lovers.

If there is one thing I’m curious about it is the concept of Hidden Spaces, from the experience I can tell that it’s well thought out. So please enlighten us, how did the concept of Hidden Spaces come about?

That’s actually an interesting story. I was in studio on the day of lockdown in March 2020 and I was all over the place emotionally, trying to figure out what lockdown would look like for me. And the reason I was in studio was because I scheduled to have a rehearsal a group but people ended up being busy trying to get ready for lockdown and did not come to the rehearsal, except for Zoë Modiga and Banda Banda. They ended up having a live in studio impromptu session and I was the only person there. It felt like the performance was meant just for me and it was exactly what I needed. During lockdown I realized that that intimate session was such a healing moment for me and I would not have made it through the many weeks of lockdown had I not had that experience. I then started to think that we needed more of such intimate sessions where it is not about the smoke and mirror but rather a space where we can come together as a small family to share music. That’s how the concept of Hidden Spaces came to be and also the reason why Zoë was the first artist we had when Hidden Spaces was officially launched. In a sense I feel that she inspired this whole concept.

So you get the concept but how do you translate that idea into a full fledged live music experience?

In hindsight it feels like it was God. In the time of lockdown I decided to move my studio – I know right, who does that? – but I did and I started looking for spaces. I found a space in Greenside that had this outdoor area that just felt right for hanging out and playing music. When we say Hidden Spaces people often say it’s because they can never find my studio or the space of the event is hidden but really it was never about that although I suppose that’s how it’s been. In all truth Hidden Spaces is a space where we connect, where music heals us, and where artists can also be vulnerable and share their stories with a responsive audience. It feels like family and friends coming together around a fire to break bread together and heal through music.

The logistics really just came together. I found this space that worked. We weren’t gigging at the time because of lockdown and I had all this live music equipment ready for use. So, I started calling some friends and told them about this vision I had for an intimate music session and they jumped on-board. As lockdown restrictions lifted we started Hidden Spaces and that was that.

Excluding your studio, how difficult is it for you to find venues that work for the ambience of Hidden Spaces?

It’s tough because everybody thinks any venue will work and it doesn’t. I’m quite careful in choosing spaces because Hidden Spaces is a feeling and that feeling starts with the venue; it needs to have that coziness that makes you comfortable to connect with other people. You will notice that at any venue we use, you have the freedom to go and sit right next to the stage or on the cushions on the floor. It is these small things that make Hidden Spaces and on that we cannot compromise. So for a venue to work, it need to have that cozy feel.

The vision for Hidden Spaces was always for it to move around different spaces in the City and not just limit it to my studio. In essence I wanted us to spread the feeling of warmth and healing all over Jo’burg.

Are you genre-specific when it comes to the acts you host on Hidden Spaces?

No, I’m not genre-specific but I am specific about the kind of feeling we need in the space. So if your music cannot be stripped down then it cannot be Hidden Spaces. The whole idea is that there is constant engagement between the artist and the audience in the space because that’s where the connection is made. So you music, regardless of genre, must allow the space to talk to the audience during your set.

In this digital age where people can access music by a click of a button, why do you think live music spaces are still important and relevant?

They are the culture and the life source. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with digital but there is something completely different that happens in the live music space that you cannot get in digital. You can’t recreate the feeling you get and the moments you share in live music spaces – it’s a completely different sensation to listening to the record.

We now live in a time where AI (artificial intelligence) can compose music but I always say that AI doesn’t connect with the human soul the way an artist does. And in a live music space, particularly an intimate live space, there’s a magic for the soul that you can’t get anywhere else.

In Jo’burg we have gone through a period where a lot of live music venues struggled and those of us who have tried to keep promoting and curating live spaces have seen how important the live music scene is. It is the culture. It is the soul of the city, if not the country.

What can we expect for 7th season of Hidden Spaces?

This season is exciting! More so because we have partnered with a few people and we will be doing some cool and exciting stuff throughout the season. Our partners include the Goethe Institut South Africa and Artistry so you can imagine the experiences we are going to curate this season. The line up is also looking amazing! We’re starting off with Nobuhle Ashanti supported by The Brother Moves On. We also have the likes of Thesis ZA, Ayanda Jiya and Thando Zide, coming through this season. There are many more acts on the line up, you will just have to keep your ear on the ground. This season is going to be amazing.

If you had to set a theme for this season, what would it be?

I actually thought about it when we started planning the season and I came to the theme “She Will Speak”; she being the music. To me music is a woman because music gives life, music gives birth, and music is a queen.

What has surprised you most about the Hidden Spaces experience?

What’s surprised me the most is the fact that it’s not just me. I was quite scared when we started out because I wasn’t quite sure if other people would understand the concept and get the feeling I got when I was sitting in that studio watching Zoë and Banda. But now that insecurity is gone because every time we do a show, it’s always special and the people feel that.

The one thing that always happens is that the artists always say that they did things or shared things they didn’t plan on or expect to do. And I think that has a lot to do with the energy of the audience in the room. Since it’s so intimate, the artist can hear and see everything. They can see feel the impact of what they’re sharing as it lands on the audience. We are all creators in that space and that’s what makes it special.

What would you say to someone who has not been to a live music space yet?

You are missing out on healing. We live in a time where we all need healing and that’s what live music does. It speaks to a part of your soul that you can’t reach. It’s so precious. You might not know that you need it but you do.