Jazz festival founder hands over the reigns
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
On a recent Friday night Rashid Lombard was having dinner at his daughter Yana Lombard’s house in Crawford, while detailing plans for life after the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
The festival’s founder and its well-known face stepped down in late November as chief executive of the annual musical migration to the south. This decision had been “long coming”.
“There has been this call and I just haven’t been able to get to it… Now at the age of 63, it makes so much sense. It’s 15 years later (since the festival started),” he says.
“That’s 15 years of hard labour, living hard, flying all over the world, going to meetings, the continuous struggle of sponsorship, breakfast when it’s lunch time. It’s been a strain on me. It gave me very little time for myself, my photography and other interests.”
While Lombard has let go of the reigns, he will “still have my shares in the company”.
The Rashid Lombard Family Trust and festival co-founder Billy Domingo each own 24,5% of espAfrika, the company that owns the festival, while its majority shareholder since 2007 is Sekunjalo Investments Limited owns 51%.
Lombard says Sekunjalo’s group chief executive Khalid Abdulla will temporarily take over his job. Domingo maintains a hands-on role.
Lombard meanwhile wants to ensure “that all the knowledge I’ve accumulated should be passed on”.
“I have set up my own family business and my daughter Yana is moving on with me. I’m not going to do another jazz festival,” he says.
“I’m so looking forward to the next phase of my life. I have all this knowledge and I can’t hold it in any longer. I need to share it.”
When Lombard started the festival, initially with Dutch partners, his daughter joined him, working in recent years as the festival’s talent booker. He says their “family business will not produce any festivals”.
“We will look at arts and culture enterprises. I want to work with young entrepreneurs. I also want to go into government relations. I’m looking at training and development in the creative industries,” says Lombard.
“There is a lot of interest already, in terms of consulting work. I’m looking forward to working maybe 30 hours a week and having my own time.
“I also want to look at my photographic archive and bring out the history that I’ve captured. I can do it now.
“And I’m excited about scouting for young musicians. There is a huge demand for South African sound internationally. I’ve honed the skills to recognise new talent.”
While Lombard talks of taking it easy, it is clear he will not suddenly sit quietly on a mat and meditate. He still wants to rock ‘n roll.
“Retirement is nowhere in my vocabulary at all,” he confirms.
“I just want to do things differently. I want to build a family business with my daughter Yana and my two (grown) sons.
“And I have another two sons, Zak whose eight and Daniel who’s four. I’m hoping one of them becomes a musician.”
Lombard says he has no fears the festival’s quality would suddenly plummet, as it has a “good, well-oiled team and formula. It will still be successful”.
“People have asked if the festival will be different now that I’m leaving. But I’m just a name. It could be anybody else. People will see that the festival will grow.
There are competent people there. I have a lot of faith in them,” he says.
“It will continue. It’s like a golf course. You don’t design a golf course for two or five years. You design it for life. The festival has reached a stature where it will go on beyond everyone else.”
Surprisingly, hardly an air of nostalgia takes flight during Lombard’s interview. He is content about not having to work at next year’s 16th edition of the festival respected for bringing the music world’s greatest stars to Cape Town.
“I’m leaving, at peace. I can now go and have a ball at the festival. I’m looking forward listening to music,” says Lombard.
It was after all his love for music that pulled him through three decades of sometimes-hell as a photojournalist, working later in his career for international news agencies, covering apartheid and some of Africa’s conflicts.
“Music always traveled with me. It was therapy. It was my healing. After I filed my pictures, I’d listen to music,” he says.
“After our democratic elections (in South Africa), I was really tired. I came to a point where I realised I’ve had it with hard news. All they want is blood. That’s when I stopped.”
Lombard then had various roles with Bush Radio, Fine Music Radio and P4, before launching the jazz festival.
As dinner nears its end, Lombard reflects on his upbringing in Lawrence Road, Athlone, and other parts of Cape Town where he has stayed.
“We come out of a MK (Mkhonte we Sizwe, the ANC’s militant wing) family. I used my camera (to fight), my sons were in the SRC (student representative council found at schools),” he says.
“We were always militant. But how do you deal with the militancy of the mind? How do you decontaminate the mind? You don’t just put ointment on. You do it with arts and culture. So I found my home (with music and the festival).”
He adds, without hesitation: “I wouldn’t want to go through that same 15 years. I need time now for myself and to let my creative juices work again.
“I’m not going to miss the festival. It is stressful, tiring, long hours, being a lot away from home. It was absolutely exciting while it lasted.
“I built a solid company and now I can move on and do other things. Now I don’t have to worry about technical production and stage design and blah, blah, blah. When an artist asks you for French water. That’s the kak we get.”
Rewards for that hard labour have come in various ways, including recognition in April with the national Order of Ikhamanga Award for his “contribution to arts and culture over the past 40 years”.
Yana Lombard says those decades have seen her father “always transitioning, being a chameleon, always starting something fresh somewhere”.
Lombard elaborates: “I don’t get stuck in a comfort zone. I become restless. You can’t be complacent. Things change. People’s minds change. The country changes. You need to be a step ahead. Just like a song.”