Joburg's premium jazz venue The Orbit is turning four

2018-03-11 00:00 - Lloyd Gedye
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The Orbit / City Press

Cape Town - The Orbit Anniversary Festival, this year dubbed #The4thMovement, takes place from March 13 to 18.

Organiser Sibongakonke Mama says that much like the fourth movement of a symphony explores themes from the first movement, The Orbit’s celebration would be about the last four years.

The night The Orbit first opened its doors, pianist Andile Yenana and trumpeter Feya Faku were the performers.

Mama says one of the highlights of the festival will be the reunion of the legendary jazz quintet 'Voice', featuring Yenana, trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, saxophonist Sydney Mnisi, bass player Herbie Tsoaeli and drummer Morabo Morojele. They haven’t played together in a decade.

Also performing will be new band 'Trio Grande' featuring Faku, Paul Hanmer and Louis Mhlanga.

Also on the line up for the week are: Sibongile Khumalo, The Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra, Tlale Makhene’s Swazi Gold, Steve Dyer’s Mantswe a Marabi and Luyanda Madope’s Connecting Generations.


Sibongile Khumalo

For a live music venue to celebrate its fourth anniversary is a fantastic milestone, especially considering the temporary nature of such spaces in South Africa.

For a jazz club to keep it doors open for so many years is truly a feat worth celebrating.

A quick survey of jazz music venues in South Africa will net you so few names that you could probably count them on one hand.

Refine that list to venues that offer live music almost every night and you’ll find only one: The Orbit.

Kevin Naidoo, an owner of the club in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, says “pure determination” is the only reason the venue has reached its fourth year.

“I have to admit that it’s quite a difficult task to keep a club like The Orbit going, but we understand the significant role that a club like ours has in carrying on the great tradition of South African jazz and music.”

Naidoo said keeping the doors open had been a lot tougher than it might have looked to outsiders. The biggest challenge? Ensuring the profitability and sustainability of The Orbit.

“We have not actually succeeded in doing this, but we’ve gotten far closer to succeeding and have learnt many hard lessons on the way.”

When asked about The Orbit’s role in the South African jazz landscape, Johannesburg-based jazz musicians had mixed responses.

Many sang the club’s praises and said their performances at the venue proved lucrative.

Other musicians bemoaned the club’s revenue split. The club took the greater share of the door revenue and all the money from food and alcohol sales.

Others complained that they weren’t given weekend gigs and were instead offered midweek shows with smaller audiences.

Some musicians had fallen out with management and decided not to perform there any longer.

Despite their misgivings, however, most musicians acknowledged that having a jazz club in Johannesburg that hosted shows six nights a week was vital for their industry.

Sibongakonke Mama took over as music director at The Orbit in November 2016. She said having a functioning jazz club meant that musicians could bank on getting shows at least a few times a year.


Sibongakonke Mama

“It’s rare to find a jazz musician making a living just from jazz,” she said.

When I asked Mama how many of The Orbit’s audiences were loyal to the performing artists and how many were loyal to the venue, she said it was a combination of the two.

“The established jazz musicians like Feya Faku, Carlo Mombelli and Andile Yenana have very loyal audiences.


Feya Faku

Mama said lesser-known or emerging acts had much smaller followings.

“South Africa has a strange culture, where audiences only check out what they already know. They are somewhat reluctant to check out someone new.”

She said there were examples of young jazz artists developing their own loyal fans. Pianist Thandi Ntuli was one such star on the rise.

“A few years ago, my cousin had no idea who Thandi Ntuli was. Now she is sending me her music,” Mama said.

Naidoo boasted that The Orbit had been voted among the top 200 jazz rooms in the world by Downbeat magazine.

“We’ve been in their top jazz clubs for the third year running. We stand for South African excellence and feel proud to put a homegrown brand such as The Orbit on the same list as the Village Vanguard in New York or Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London.”

Mama said The Orbit had a role to play in breaking down the clichés and stereotypes that exist about jazz audiences.

“You hear people say ‘jazz is for Sundays’, ‘jazz is for old people’, ‘jazz is for educated, sophisticated people’.

“We have to challenge these misconceptions.

“You can watch jazz in your All Star sneakers and jeans,” she said.

What to expect at The Orbit Festival

The Orbit Anniversary Festival, this year dubbed #The4thMovement, takes place from March 13 to 18.

Mama said that much like the fourth movement of a symphony explores themes from the first movement, The Orbit’s celebration would be about the last four years.

When The Orbit first opened its doors, pianist Andile Yenana and trumpeter Feya Faku were the performers on opening night.

Mama said one of the highlights of the festival would be the reunion of the legendary jazz quintet Voice, featuring Yenana, trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, saxophonist Sydney Mnisi, bass player Herbie Tsoaeli and drummer Morabo Morojele. They hadn’t played together in a decade.

Also performing would be new band Trio Grande featuring Faku, Paul Hanmer and Louis Mhlanga.

Also on the line up for the week were: Sibongile Khumalo, The Blue Notes Tribute Orkestra, Tlale Makhene’s Swazi Gold, Steve Dyer’s Mantswe a Marabi and Luyanda Madope’s Connecting Generations.

  • For a full programme go to http://www.theorbit.co.za/program-calendar/
  • Bookings can be made in advance on info@theorbit.co.za or by phone +27(0)11 339 6645 or +27 (0) 81 53 42 867. Tickets can also be bought by contactingt their Guest Relations Manager on info@theorbit.co.za, by phone +27(0)11 339 6645 or at the door on the day of the event.

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