Tuesday, March 21, 2023

It’s the end of the road for the Hamptons Jazz Festival

“Let me call you back. I am still in the children’s ward,” says Hampton’s Jazz Festival promoter Debbie Smith speaking to Lifestyle from a London (UK) hospital where she works as a nurse. Following an eventful build up to the festival marred by bad publicity Smith and her Hamptons’ co-promoter, Starr Ngwenya, are back at their day jobs as nurses in the UK trying to save enough to pay off the festival’s debts. As a result, Smith does not see another Hamptons festival taking place in the near future.

“There is not going to be another festival if the regulations governing the staging of public events remain the same,” she says. “We are not prepared to invest in an event where we spend 99 percent of the time chasing permits and fighting to get the green light for an event that is promoting tourism, economic empowerment for youth, NGOs, and a source of revenue for local artists.”
All trouble seems to have broken lose with the postponement of the festival that had been scheduled for end of March 2018 but later moved to April 28. While Smith maintains the festival was postponed solely due to the Gaborone City Council’s decision to revoke their initial permit, those close to the promoters say the main reason had been the potential absence of both the headline acts, Billy Ocean and Salif Keita.

Both had allegedly missed their respective flights making it impossible for them to make it in time for the March date.

Ocean’s flight from Jamaica had apparently been grounded due to bad weather while Keita had been late for his scheduled departure. With the postponement came extra costs and loss of confidence by the festival’s fans some of who opted for refunds as soon as news broke out about the postponement.
“Prior to postponement, Hamptons fans had bought tickets with some having been bought on lay buy for up to six months prior to the event,” Smith explains.

“Our patrons from as far as South Africa had also purchased tickets and accommodation packages. All was great until the dreaded permit revocation two weeks after the original permit was issued.”
She says an application was made with the support of their legal team for an extension to perform beyond midnight which Minister of Culture Thapelo Olopeng took to Cabinet. Cabinet, Smith says, then overruled the City Council, two days prior to the new April 24 date, ordering that the festival go in accordance with the original permit.

“All artists including the headliners Billy Ocean and Salif Keita managed to reschedule with the main date being worked around Billy Ocean’s schedule,” she says.
“Our logistics team had to make drastic changes following the Cabinet authorization with additional costs which seriously affected our budget. Fans became worried about the cancellation all together with some sending threatening messages resulting P124, 000 worth of refunds demanded.” By Friday May 25 Smith said they had P44, 000 in ticket refunds still left to pay from both her and her partner’s own day job salaries.
Duma FM Grounds management also increased their venue charges from P80 000 to P120 000, Smith says.
By then, she says, all artists had already received their deposits in accordance with their respective contracts. Billy Ocean and Salif Keita had been fully paid since February. Ocean was paid P500, 000 while Keita got his P250, 000. At least P370, 000 was spent on flights for the UK singer’s 16 member entourage and a further P120, 000 for Keita’s 10 member crew.

“Zahara also charged us an extra P75, 000 fee for performance. We paid her P50, 000 meaning a total fee of P150 000 fully paid and R25 000 at a later stage,” Smith tells Lifestyle.

“Amanda Black also arrived for the event as her deposits had also been paid. We were initially going to pay at the border but we decided to pay them once they get into Botswana. While she wrote stuff on her Facebook page about not finding Hamptons management, one wonders who picked her from the airport and checked her in to the hotel.” She says Black refused to take her final payment in Pula currency insisting it be changed into South African Rands. “Her representative originally took the payment in Pula which was great,” Smith explains, “The representative then made a call and was asked to give us the money back as it was in Pula. She also demanded we do an EFT (electronic fund transfer).  Suddenly the representative was confused not knowing what to do whilst Amanda was in her hotel room. But after running around to resolve the issue I finally decided I had taken enough and gave up on her.”

The total bill for local artists including Socca Moruakgomo, Ndingo Johwa, Shanti Lo, Thabang, ATI and others went up to at least P172, 000. A total of 400,000 was paid for the lighting and stage, the promoter says. While they got P68,000 in sponsorship money from the Ministry of Youth and Culture (MYSEC) smith estimates the total costs of the festival at P4 million .

Lack of adequate sponsorship remains one of the biggest hurdles for local promoters. “It is impossible to even break-even when ticket sales cover only 40 percent of the entire festival expenses,” say Fish Pabalinga of Gaborone International Music & Culture Week (GIMC). “If you organize your festival properly without trying to cut corners you can forget about getting your money back.” Pabalinga says he has observed a trend in the way government and private sector sponsors events. “I’m sorry to say this but events run by white people seem to attract extremely more financial support than those owned and organized by black people. It seems to be a race issue.” Like Smith Pabalinga is also concerned about the process of acquiring permits to organize a festival. “Why should you have to run between MYESC, City Council, COSBOTS, and Ministry of Trade to do paperwork for a single event,” Pabalinga told Lifestyle, echoing Smith’s statement that “I was tossed around from the Gaborone Council, to Local Government, to byelaw, to Ministry of Trade, to MYESC, and the Cabinet.” 
The promoters are currently both in the UK “working to pay back the festival bill.”

“I know people believe we ran away from our troubles but this is what we have always done when we needed funds for the festival,” Smith says, “We go back to our day jobs to raise funds so we can pay back refunds and all the remaining bills.” In the meantime Smith says they have pulled the plug on the Hamptons Jazz Festival after just five years.


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