By BRUCE DENNILL
Oesfees is a music festival that was inaugurated at Solms-Delta in Franschhoek in April 2008, and is now an annual event. The Franschhoek Oesfees, a harvest festival, takes the form of a heartfelt “thank-you” to the valley’s farm-workers, to celebrate their hard work and bless the year’s harvest. Complementary admission is extended to the workers of all Franschhoek Valley farms, but limited tickets are also available to the general public. Each year the festival team scouts the winelands and hand picks a number of local musical gems. This year, Adriaan Brand, former Springbok Nude Girl, Delta Trust Music Manager, Music van de Caab Heritage Development Project Coordinator and a registered music therapist, found a group of talented youngsters in Barrydale, via Netvirpret , an organisation set up to uplift children from disadvantaged backgrounds and empower them by allowing the kids to play and be creative and to learn that they are capable of achieving. Brand discusses the process.
Tell me about talent searches: there are the commercial (Idols, X Factor, etc) and there are the geographical (going to where people are doing something special, but are not receiving much credit for it). Many people are cynical about the value of the former, while you are becoming ever more adept at uncovering the latter. Is it possible to change the general music audience’s mind from prioritising TV “reality” to giving more worth to actual reality?
Adriaan Brand: A really good question – and not at all easy to answer. What I can say from my own experience is that people, and this includes the press as well as their readers, and broadcast media as well as listeners and viewers, seem to be interested in what we do. Of course there are many layers that one could unpack in pursuit of understanding this interest. Is it because of, as you note, the actual reality aspect of it? Or could it perhaps have something more to do with the subject matter? We are intentionally looking at often neglected sources of cultural treasure – songs and performers who could otherwise go quite unnoticed, and cultural material which could disappear lest someone takes notice and note. Another aspect could be the sense of appreciation at being appreciated, that we so often encounter. With shows like Idols, participants volunteer themselves and rock up, with the implicit message “notice me”. In our kind of work, we generally encounter surprise, and the implicit message “what, you’re interested in what we do, and came out all this way?” This is undeniably more endearing.
Starting the process: you arrive in some backwoods town, seek out some talented individuals, hopefully enjoy some success in that area. Now what? How do you manage expectations – getting strangers to invest in what you’re doing while also keeping their ideas of what might happen realistic?
It is very important to be completely honest and open about what we are there to do, and the limitations of the process – to, as you aptly note – manage expectations. In this regard, we state outright that we are doing field research with a dual purpose. Firstly, we are interested in rare material that fewer and fewer people are performing these days. Secondly, we are auditioning – running a kind of “heritage idols” programme in search of performers to invite to Oesfees. We clearly state that participation is voluntary, and we don’t have budget to remunerate anyone for participating. All we can offer is that what people choose to show us. The process will be used to inspire farm workers to sing and remember more of the old songs, as well as to help the Oesfees committee to choose who to invite to come and entertain audiences in the winelands. We then state the date of the Oesfees, as well as by which date we will contact those who were selected. We also clarify how much those who are selected to perform at Oesfees will be paid for their performance, and that we will carry the costs of bringing them in.
Revealing and supporting new talent is unquestionably important to folks like yourself, but selling what these artists deliver to an audience bombarded by more polished (though probably less interesting) radio fodder is difficult. Is this marketing a priority with the Barrydale musicians, or is giving them a platform and opening a channel of communication between them and the mainstream enough?
We don’t purport to believe that heritage material will be commercially competitive with the kind of material that generally populates radio playlists. We merely declare our intention to pay tribute to and show our appreciation of, heritage material and indigenous artists who do unusual things. While it is indeed, in the case of Netvirpret, our goal to open channels of communication and interest between the musicians and a larger public, we are unable to state whether or not this will be “enough”. What is enough? Which goals are implied in such an assessment? We aim to stimulate interest, and of course we hope that funding opportunities for them will flow from such interest.
What have you personally – as a successful career musician – learned from these performers? Are those lessons likely to be evident to listeners in music you create going forward?
I am often filled with a sense of humility at the enormous levels of evolution and sophistication that I encounter in remote areas. Also, the spirit of resilience that accompanies the passion with which remotely situated rural artists execute and maintain their craft remains an inspiration to me. I’m not sure whether this is detectable in the music that I make in collaboration with Music van de Caab project participants – these feel more like personal experience related insights.
“World music” is often relegated to non-priority status in publicity terms – even while government-backed groups make a noise about the importance of heritage and so on. You’ve been to small, poor communities where near-extinct music and performance styles are being kept alive and you take that material to a festival in one of the richest, most elegant communities in South Africa. Everyone will learn something – what do you hope those lessons will be?
There are so many! Don’t scoff at human effort; watch the crowd react to these beats and melodies; feel where the music talks to you – and experience South Africa!
Read more at: www.solms-delta.co.za.