Musicians save artist’s treasure in Observatory

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Local musicians and artists are emptying their pockets to save experimental live music venue Tagore’s in Observatory after its owners appealed for financial help.

Kevin Nair, who founded the venue seven years ago, told the Cape Times he had to consider selling the venue as it had become too expensive to operate. He appealed to local and international artists to help keep the music playing.

While the building had initially been for sale, Nair has received some help to pay the bills but still needs to secure its long-term viability.

“The sale has been withdrawn as a result of a huge outcry from our patrons and the arts community, both locally and internationally. I own the building and have a huge bond on it. It’s tough meeting all the expenses. We need funding to keep the live music going,” said Nair.

“It has been difficult financially as we host about 25 live performances per month, and this means we provide a stage and an income for about 100 musicians, as most performances are quartets. None of this is funded in anyway, except by myself.”

He said they were “currently in the process of trying to secure some funding, so that we can continue providing a space of artistic creativity, that enhances the cultural experience of our city”.

“We are running an initiative to raise the necessary funds, via our Facebook database as well as a crowd funding appeal online.”
Its online campaign states that the owners “do not want to sell, but… the old man Tagore is broke, and the bank is urgently calling”. It cautions that the building “must not fall into unmusical hands”.

Nair said he hoped to raise R1,4-million to buy the property and keep it running.

“This means without the burden of rent or a bond, the revenue Tagore’s generates can be better utilised to boost musician’s salaries, as well as the efficient staffing and maintenance of Tagore’s,” said Nair.

“We’ve never been more motivated for the existence of Tagore’s than we are right now.”

Musicians who have played at the venue joined the campaign to “save Tagore’s”.

Jazz musician Buddy Wells said he supported the campaign because Tagore’s was “an essential part of our culture”.

“There is no other venue I have played in around the world that has the unique ambiance of Tagore’s. You can feel the warmth and intimacy when you walk in,” said Wells.

“Every gig that I have played or witnessed there is special. Because of its size, the audience and the artist experience the music extremely intensely. As a cultural melting point, Tagore’s is a national treasure.”

Wells was referring to the small stage that meets the eye as one enters the venue. Its narrow staircase leads upstairs to small rooms where numerous artists meet late into the night.

Musician Thandi Ntuli said Tagore’s offered musicians a space to perform “live music that is in its developmental phase”.

“One can perform there on a regular basis to hone one’s craft. Anything from a traditional jazz band to a person playing a guitar with a spoon while reciting Japanese poetry would find room for appreciation. This venue permits it. People who come there are open-minded and respect all forms of art,” said Ntuli.

“It’s a great place for the growth of an artist. I don’t think a place that gives artists a chance to make as many mistakes, in the name of progress, should be closed.”

Shane Cooper, recent winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz award, said playing at Tagore’s “encourages artists to perform their own original jazz music, and allows them to explore many different genres of jazz without any restrictions”.

Tagore’s is named after Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore who was the first non-European winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was also a music composer who died in 1941.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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