A Soiree In The City – Crowdfunding The Troubadours

  • Date of event: 20 August 2013
  • Original publication date: 27 August 2013

There is an African proverb that states “it takes a village to raise a child”. Within South Africa’s arts community, the artists themselves need support from everyone, and not just from parental sponsors with deep pockets. Thanks to the concept of crowdfunding, the extended family can now lend a helping hand, and have direct input in organizing live events for artists of their choosing.

City Soiree

The revolutionaries from City Soiree (a Cape Town-based performing arts organisation) identified two major issues facing artists, particularly those of a less-mainstream variety: unreliable forms of financial support, and lack of opportunities to perform their work. By tapping into the collective devotion found in the artists’ fans, Gerhard Maree and Jaco le Roux created Troubadour, a crowdfunding platform that places the power in the consumers’ hands. Through pledging an amount towards a concert’s target, live music lovers dictate the fate of the next gig they attend, and the concept can be scaled from Tuesday the 20th of August’s intimate inaugural affair in the South African Slave Church Museum, to larger, perhaps more traditional venues.

City Soiree Troubadour.png

But for now, Maree is happy with the simplicity and self-sustaining nature of the campaign. In his thank-you address to the congregated faithful, he made a pertinent observation: “You might notice that there is no alcohol branding on the walls of this venue, because we literally don’t need it”. With an approach as refreshing as its execution was resourceful, the first public Troubadour event brought together three virtuosos under one holy roof for an evening filled with collaborative displays of craftsmanship.

Derek Gripper

A unique venue such as this was perfectly suited to Derek Gripper’s technically titillating classical guitar playing, whose diverse style was infused with the musical aromas of Mali, Turkey, Brazil and India (to name a few). Unaccompanied (and almost unbelievably), he wove together fragments of unorthodox melodies and vocal incantations, maintaining an esoteric, unpredictable rhythm that left the audience wondering where in the world a song was going, both musically and geographically.

On an intriguing piece entitled 'Where Is Mandela?', Gripper began to reveal added layers to his dexterous dissertation on the instrument, so dense that it was as if two guitars were playing at the same time – one focusing on a percussive drone, another providing an urgent melody. Tales of the songs’ origins interspersed the catalogue of chords, as he passionately spoke of guitar lessons on an exquisite Turkish beach, finding inspiration in a religious sect’s music, a lament for the downfall of a 19th century Guinean ruler, and learning to play the kora (a 21-stringed harp-lute from Mali). His forays into the Malian melody-maker had resulted in an album called One Night On Earth, which was coincidentally released the last time he performed in this historically poignant venue.

Derek Gripper - City Soiree 'Live For A Night' (20 August 2013)  Photo credit: Malherbe Pelser

Derek Gripper - City Soiree 'Live For A Night' (20 August 2013)

Photo credit: Malherbe Pelser

Sannie Fox

The grumble and rumble of an electric guitar heralded Sannie Fox’s arrival to the pulpit, her undulating grooves prickling with tension. Supported by Werner von Waltsleben on percussion, the Machineri front woman’s smooth and controlled croon cooled the bubbling bare-boned blues, and echoed throughout the cavernous yet cosy church.

Sannie Fox - City Soiree 'Live For A Night' (20 August 2013)  Photo credit: Malherbe Pelser

Sannie Fox - City Soiree 'Live For A Night' (20 August 2013)

Photo credit: Malherbe Pelser

Flaxen-haired Fox highlighted the collaborative nature of this ground-breaking event, instrumentally sparring with Gripper on a rendition of a song by Malian composer Ali Farka Touré, as well as vocally bathing with Siya Mthembu (lead singer of the final act, The Brother Moves On). The former saw her take on the challenge of singing in another African language, as the aural acrobatics began to unfurl from the two gifted guitarists. On the latter, her warm vocal chemistry with Mthembu was on display, underpinned by a sexy looping guitar riff and a toe-tapping tempo. But on set-closer ‘No Good’ was where the songstress really pulled out all the stops, foisting a catchy melody over a deep, gurgling riff, assertively declaring “it’s no good, but you do it all the same”.

The Brother Moves On

Shape-shifting thespians The Brother Moves On unveiled a first look at their new soulful acoustic set, blending performance art, storytelling and freeform musical expression into a bewildering yet brilliant mix of entertainment. All clad in a revolutionary ensemble of khaki safari suits and red berets, the unconventional Johannesburg troupe traversed a wide range of emotions, moving from a mournful ambience to a heavenly, dreamlike state. Violinist Galina Juritz supplemented these opening pieces, full of vocal harmonisations and gentle, cascading guitar interplay.

Eventually, the enigmatic Mthembu began his amusing song introductions, which although humourous in nature, were the platform for communicating the performance’s solemn overarching metaphor. According to him, the group were the “eccentric launch of the Freedom Front”, and each song was a spotlight on a particular social issue, whether it was violence against women and children, post-apartheid reconciliation, or the universal power of a funeral song to cut across literacy boundaries. Thus, the quintet rooted themselves in a meditative state of mind, swaying along to shuffling jazzy beats and throbbing rhythms from both double bass and bass guitar. Tying together this wondrous web of sound were the capricious vocals of Mthembu, which ebbed and flowed from a deep, operatic style to a soaring, gospel-influenced tenor, marked with stark, scratchy interludes. If this versatility didn’t ensure rapt attention, his sudden declaration of “Comrades! Back to the agenda! No falling asleep!” definitely ensured that the audience was kept on the edge of their pews.

The Brother Moves On - City Soiree 'Live For A Night' (20 August 2013)  Photo credit: Malherbe Pelser

The Brother Moves On - City Soiree 'Live For A Night' (20 August 2013)

Photo credit: Malherbe Pelser

The Future Of Crowdfunding In South Africa

Based on this first event, Troubadour has the potential to make a tangible and personal impact on both the careers of performance artists and the fulfillment of their fans: overheads were kept low, artists were paid, and the audience had intimate access to a bespoke musical experience.

As a model of marketing live music, crowdfunding cuts through the middlemen and brings the talent closer to those who consume it. Placing the success of a gig on the shoulders of attendees might seem a bit risky, what with the fickle nature of music purchasers in this internet age. But surely the prospect of seeing your favourite artist up close and personal, thanks in part to your own pledge of commitment, would be enough to entice even the stingiest of enthusiasts?

In South Africa, we have some way to go before crowdfunding reaches the level of cultural significance that initiatives such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo hold in the United States of America. But a soiree as sweet as this one could be the catalyst for a change in how live music is organized and presented in our nation. It is time to let the troubadours wander, and not have to wonder from where their next pay check is coming.