26 June 2016
Close to 200 Cape Town artists and people associated with the entertainment industry attended the official launch last week of the African Musicians Trust.
That, in itself, has to be a promising step in the development of the organisation.
In all the years I have followed the entertainment scene in Cape Town (and it’s been a long time), I can’t recall any occasion where that many performers were gathered at a venue unless it was a funeral for one of their own.
The African Musicians Trust was set up to serve the interests of local performers in management, marketing and networking areas.
Most interest, it would seem, was centred on a plan to create a provident fund and funeral plan that was fuelled in part by the almost obligatory “tribute fund-raiser” whenever local artist died.
According to one of the founders of the AMT, Glenn Robertson, last Monday’s launch at Kaleidoscope was a “phenomenal event” attended by approximately 200 people ranging from 16 years to 80-plus.
“I have not seen so much unity among Cape Town musicians in a very long time. What wonderful energy – it was a great way for musicians who have not seen each other for years to re-connect,” Glenn, himself a singer, said.
“We are very excited about the launch and look forward to an amazing future for the African Musicians Trust.”
The next step, Glenn says, is to embark on an intensive drive to get as many musicians signed up and on board in order to transform the existing music scene.
The latest moves of the Trust might not be labelled a seismic shift, given the thinking of notoriously slap approaches to their future by entertainers but it is certainly gaining traction from a number of respected people in the industry.
Among those who attended were Hilton Schilder, Rashid Lombard, Terry Fortune, Sophia Foster, Vicky Sampson, Martin Myers, Frank Cuddumbey, Tony Cedras, Mervyn Africa, Sammy Webber, Jack Momple, Zelda Benjamin and Gary Kriel to name a few.
One of the people more than qualified to pass judgement on the AMT initiative is Terry Fortune who himself was involved a few years ago in a push to set up a musicians’ association as a precursor to a union or lobby group.
“It did not succeed as funding to support the administration of the organisation stopped,” Terry said. “Also, funding from the government came with directives – for example, certain occasions, such as ministerial functions, had to be supported with performing art exhibitions in order to qualify for funding.
“More importantly, no clear legislation supported initiatives by the association.”
Terry is quite candid in his opinion about the prospects of the Trust and its impact.
“It may assist a few individual cases but not change the overall social problems that exist. Unless legislation is passed, compelling musicians to join, comply, contribute etc, it cannot work.
“For the AMT to succeed, it needs to think out of the box, with achievable goals and sustainable initiatives. For example, a medical aid fund or insurance where musos contribute an unsustainable or hefty amount is a no-no.
“Promoting an insurance policy, although it has merit, is not sustainable and does not address the core issue of musicians not receiving social benefits when in need.”
Terry gave an example of achievable projects and out of-the-box thinking . . . “on a Monday at Dr X’s surgery in Athlone between 2-6 registered persons of the Trust can receive discounted medical attention (instead of R350, the trust pays R150). And different areas on different days”.
“The trust can never hope to implement a medical aid or even medical assistance as the costs are prohibitive and would bankrupt the organisation.”
He also thinks the Trust should explore the possibilities of a medical help desk to advise artists where and how to access the best medical public service.
“The awareness and need for something like this body has always been something performers knew was needed but it needs innovative thinking and government legislation,” Terry said.
“At the moment there is not the will from government to make it happen. To give the organisation balls and give the industry hope it needs to introduce a benefit, such as the discounted doctor visits on certain days.
Terry was impressed with the big turnout and the fact that there was a good mixture of young and old.
“There were veterans who attended because they hoped that with this initiative, something positive can come out of this. The way I saw it, the older performers were sceptical because of historical experience concerning similar attempts. The young were hopeful and positive but inexperienced.
“But, as Glenn said, ‘this is an ongoing and long-term project’.”
Terry did throw in one other caveat and it relates directly to Glenn Robertson’s other role that is a major force in his life – his ministry and the fact that he is a pastor.
“The relationship between religious philosophy and musicians’ concerns does not always make for compatible bedfellows.
“But, did I sign up? Yes, because I believe that although many of the noble aims may not be achieved, only through unity of purpose and co-operation can we bring about sustainable positive change.”
Jazz singer Zelda Benjamin also gave the initiative qualified support.
“I’d like to see something positive come out of this but I’m not as optimistic as some. For it to succeed will require a major change in the thinking of most of our entertainers,” she said.
“For too long they have been thinking only about today and its immediate impact with no regard for what’s further down the track.”
One person who is effusive in her praise for the Trust is singer Vicky Sampson, daughter of Victor Sampson, who in the Sixties was one of the best balladeers Cape Town had ever seen.
Vicky put on her Facebook page: “Feeling very positive about last night’s launch of the African Musicians Trust. A landmark event in the history of our country as artists. Congratulations Glenn, Ros Dantu and the rest of the team who made this possible. We are taking this forward in a BIG way!”
Rashid Lombard, who up until two years ago was, for 16 years, the driving force behind the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, also attended the launch. He too welcomes the initiative but, having engaged musicians over the years, knows only too well about the ups and downs of employment in the industry and the need for things such as a life assurance policy.
“For almost three decades, these discussions have been taking place without any positive and tangible results,” Rashid said. “In my opinion, this is a first for South Africa and, hopefully, Africa.
“It is interesting that it covers all role players in the entertainment, creative and music industries with benefits that include disability, traumatic illness and a funeral plan.
“Most importantly, I believe the fact that these policies are underwritten by Capital Alliance Group, a division of Liberty Life Group, speaks to its credibility.
“The costs, according to their application forms are reasonable. However, we need to look at how, especially musicians, can sustain monthly payments since they don’t have the luxury of permanent employment.
“I would also like to see friends and supporters of musicians in the ‘legal fraternity’ to further study and advise us regarding the finer details of the policy.”
Rashid now heads his own company providing services across a number of platforms.
I suppose all those involved wait with bated breath for the next development. But the conversation has started. All the stakeholders – entertainers, promoters, bit players – have an opportunity. What eventuates is in their hands.
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Photos: African Musicians Trust launch.
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