Standard Bank ditches Makhanda jazz fest

The National Arts Festival in full swing.

By RAY HARTLE

Standard Bank’s announcement that it is giving up on sponsoring Makhanda’s (Grahamstown) national jazz festival and associated youth jazz festival after a relationship of more than two decades, is bound to impact future editions of this homegrown, yet top-notch, event – unless another major corporate sponsor steps in.

The bank’s head of sponsorship Desiree Pooe confirmed in an online interview on June 14 attended by NAF chief executive Monica Newton, that the Makhanda jazz sponsorship was pulled after the bank reviewed its sponsorship strategy for 2022 to 2025.

Neither Pooe nor Newton would disclose the value of Standard’s bank’s sponsorship stake in the jazz festival, due to confidentiality arrangements between the parties.

“Unfortunately, it [the strategy review] meant that we are not continuing with the sponsorship of the jazz programme,” Pooe said, although she added the bank was still in discussion with the owners of the Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival about continued future sponsorship, “because they are still to present their plans”.

The rationale of quitting Makhanda jazz was in keeping with the bank’s business priorities, brand refinement and a review of client needs.

The Makhanda jazz festival forms part of the National Arts Festival, which runs in the town from June 23 to July 3. Centred on the Diocesan School for Girls campus, the musical jamboree is a unique event drawing together jazz as an art form and as popular entertainment, unequivocally underpinned by education.

The main jazz festival, showcasing some of the biggest names in the genre, occurs alongside a gathering of hundreds of school, college and university musicians from around the country, under the banner of the youth jazz festival. Young musicians and seasoned practitioners interact formally and informally, sharing practice and performing spaces, mixing it in big band and smaller combinations.

The youth festival, arguably, has contributed to significant growth in interest in jazz across the country and offers a model of youth development in other forms of the arts. But it is this incubator for the next generations of South African jazz artists which may be most affected by the withdrawal of Standard Bank’s sponsorship of jazz in Makhanda.

Ironically, Pooe has previously spoken of the importance for the bank of “creating platforms for young and established artists to learn from each other … it’s not just about the performances, it’s about the start of journeys for many artists, it builds a lot of careers”.

In our interview, she said her prior views confirmed the brand alignment “at the time”.

While the bank’s strategy review started in 2020, nothing could be implemented because that term’s contract between the NAF and Standard Bank was still in place. When that contract ended in December last year, discussions started between the parties which resulted in the jazz sponsorship being terminated.

The bank will continue as an associate sponsor of the NAF and will hold naming sponsorship rights for the Young Artist Awards and Ovation Awards.

A quick glance through the 2022 jazz festival programme shows no single sponsor filling the gap left by Standard Bank, although the organisers typically have managed to draw a wide range of local and international offerings, from this year’s Young Artist Award winner for jazz Vuma Levin, “Born Coloured; Not Born Free” Benjamin Jeptha, and HHP bass guitarist and vocalist AusTebza, to Bokani Dyer and Kyle Shepherd, with a host of school bands thrown into the mix.

NAF chairperson Ayanda Mjekula, who joined the NAF board while an official at Standard Bank, was the first to confirm the sponsorship cancellation.

“There will be a jazz festival but it won’t be sponsored by Standard Bank. We’ve tried to collect from a number of sources to fill that gap”.

Jazz festival director Alan Webster expressed gratitude towards the bank “for supporting jazz in Makhanda for 24 years”.

He said during this time the jazz festival grew into “an amazing celebration of our nation’s jazz identity and a key developmental platform that put us in touch with the world.

“We are very sorry to see the end of what has been a very fruitful and positive relationship.”

Dispelling concerns that organisers may have been left with too little time to secure sponsorship, Webster said this year’s jazz festival was made possible by financial support from the NAF “and elsewhere”, with entries in the programme pointing to foreign cultural funders.

“We look forward to a new sponsor taking up this most precious cultural gem and helping us impact on South Africa’s artists of the present and future”.

Mjekula initially said the sponsorship withdrawal was not public knowledge because “it concerns us. It is really no news”.

But when it was pointed out that the lack of a replacement sponsor was news, he said: “I’m not making it a secret really but that is the reality, they’ve withdrawn from the jazz.”

He said the programme remained a “decent” one, despite the sponsorship challenge.

“After two years, we are back in person now and I think people should actually come and see what it’s got. We’re quite happy with the lineup. It [Standard Bank’s withdrawal] doesn’t show on the artists at all.

Mjekula said it was “open to any sponsor to take the place” of Standard Bank. The last festival had “the latitude now to go to other financial institutions”.

Pooe said: “We are still invested in the NAF. It may be without the jazz festival but there are other spaces in which we are invested.

“We are very fortunate that we are able to invest in arts sponsorships even in this economic climate – we are in the company of a few corporates that continue long-term investments in the arts.”

Hunter said the jazz festival would continue to be supported by the NAF and its sponsors. Despite Hunter agreeing to provide information on the percentage split of income across the festival’s various sources of funding, this has not been provided. Grocott’s Mail previously reported that Standard Bank contributed “just under one-third” of the festival’s budget.

Standard Bank ditches Makhanda jazz fest
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