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South Africa’s Calabash festival expands, secures stars

Robbie Williams and Green Day have been revealed as Calabash South Africa’s headliners for the touring festival’s second edition, set for January 2025.

Landing in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, the touring event is stretching to two days across two weekends next year, doubling from its single-day programme in the same cities.

The Big Concerts-promoted outing is set to visit Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium (94,736-capacity) — Africa’s biggest stadium — from 18-19 January 2025 and Cape Town’s DHL Stadium (55,000) from 22-23 January 2025. The festival announced the 2025 event aspires to etch “a new chapter in South Africa’s rock ‘n’ roll legacy.”

UK superstar Williams’ headlining set marks his first gigs in the country since 2006, when he opened his Close Encounters world tour with three sold-out stadium shows in Pretoria, Cape Town, and Durban.

The festival will mark Green Day’s inaugural show in the country. In May, the Grammy-award-winning group will embark on The Savior Tour, performing across US stadiums and UK/European festivals throughout the year.

American punk band The Offspring and local rockers Fokofpolisiekar are set to join the Calabash bill with Green Day, with additional acts to be announced for both days.

“We expeect touring to expand across Africa, with new markets and new venues being added to the touring circuit”

Earlier this year, Maroon 5 led the debut of the festival and was joined by local and international artists including Will Linley, Keane, and Ava Max, among others.

The expansion of the festival could signal a new era for international acts visiting the African nation, with Big Concerts CEO Justin Van Wyk telling IQ the future looks bright for the African market.

“We anticipate a boom in new venue development and also expect touring to expand across Africa, with new markets and new venues being added to the touring circuit to bolster the economics for tours,” he says.

Big Concerts, which was acquired by Live Nation in 2016, is promoting shows by James Blunt, Kool & The Gang, and Cigarettes After Sex within the next year.

A new two-day country music festival, the ‘biggest outside the US’, will also take place in Cape Town’s DHL Stadium this October.


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Big Concerts ‘ecstatic’ as SA drops restrictions

South Africa’s largest promoter Big Concerts has spoken of its relief after the government finally dropped the country’s remaining coronavirus measures.

Restrictions had included mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public spaces, border checks for Covid-19 and – most pertinently for the live music business – capacity limits of 1,000 people indoors and 2,000 people outdoors.

Live Nation-owned Big Concerts has upcoming dates scheduled with the likes of OneRepublic, David Gray and Foreigner, as well as two huge shows with Justin Bieber at Cape Town’s DHL Stadium (28 September) and FNB Stadium in Johannesburg (1 October).

“The road to economic recovery starts today”

“It was nerve-wracking because our timing was impeccable,” says Big Concerts CEO Justin van Wyk, reports Eyewitness News. “We had just announced Justin Bieber and two weeks later, our scientists announced Omicron. We are ecstatic with this news, it is going to be a great summer. The road to economic recovery starts today.”

According to Reuters, the lifting of measures followed a decline in the number of Covid infections and deaths.

Big Concerts has been involved in nearly every major international live event promoted in South Africa since the 1990s, including the 1992 concert by Paul Simon which marked the end of a 10-year international ban on foreign artists during the Apartheid era.

Live Nation acquired a controlling interest in the Cape Town-based promoter in 2016. The two companies have been working together since mid-2009, when Big Concerts became exclusive promotion partner for all LN tours in South Africa.

Ticketmaster expanded to South Africa earlier this year, opening a new headquarters in Cape Town.


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Ed Sheeran performs record-breaking South African shows

Ed Sheeran performed his first-ever headline shows in South Africa in March, breaking existing ticket sales records to put on the biggest concerts in South African history.

The AEG Presents-promoted shows sold 230,000 tickets across four dates, breaking the previous ticket sales record by 30,000.

The South African shows were part of Sheeran’s worldwide ÷ tour, which has consistently broken ticket sales records and ended 2018 as the highest-grossing tour of the last 30 years.

The British singer-songwriter performed two shows as at the 55,000-capacity Cape Town Stadium and two at Johannesburg’s 94,736-capacity First National Bank (FNB) Stadium.

Simon Jones, senior vice president of live music international at AEG Presents UK, promoted the shows in partnership with South Africa’s largest promoter, Live Nation-owned Big Concerts.

“With the South African stadium tour we were taking him [Ed Sheeran] to a new audience who hadn’t experienced him live and the appetite to come to the shows was enormous”

“Ed is an artist who makes universal and timeless music and that’s why he is a global phenomenon. With the South African stadium tour we were taking him to a new audience who hadn’t experienced him live and the appetite to come to the shows was enormous,” says Jones.

“The operation to ensure all Ed’s fans were able to enjoy the concerts in an extremely safe environment was huge. Along with our partners Big Concerts, the cooperation from all relevant government services to achieve this was fantastic and showed what a brilliant destination South Africa is for international touring artists.

“We are really proud to have worked on the shows with Ed and his team and to deliver something very special in a brand new territory,” comments Jones.

Sheeran’s tour has now travelled to Asia, last week kicking off in Taoyuan, Taiwan. The artist will play a full stadium and greenfield tour in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand (Bangkok) and Indonesia (Jakarta).

These shows account for a further 350,000 ticket sales across the region.


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Rigger dies amid turbulent Global Citizen: Mandela 100

A rigger who lost his life setting up Sunday’s Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in Johannesburg has been named as Siyabonga Ngodze.

Ngodze, an experienced rigger who formed part of the charity concert’s production team, plummeted to his death on Saturday 1 December. He was helping to set up the stage for the mega-event, hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah and headlined by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, at FNB Stadium (94,736-cap.) in the Soweto township.

Global Citizen spokesperson Andrew Kirk says the festival is looking into the circumstances surrounding Ngodze’s death. “A rigger working on behalf of a production partner for the Global Citizen Festival suffered fatal injuries arising from a fall at the site,” he tells South Africa’s Sunday Times.

“Global Citizen has been advised that the deceased was an experienced rigger and was wearing all appropriate safety gear and equipment. The circumstances around his death are being investigated.

“Global Citizen extends our deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased and all of his colleagues and friends.”

The free-ticketed Mandela 100 event – which also featured performances by Ed Sheeran, Eddie Vedder, Pharrell Williams and Chris Martin, Wizkid, Usher, Femi Kuti and Cassper Nyovest – aimed to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, the late Marxist revolutionary and former South African president, and continue his fight against extreme poverty.

“Global Citizen extends our deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased”

Current South African president Cyril Ramaphosa used the festival to pledge significant commitments towards education (R60 billion/US$4.4bn and youth projects (R2bn/$147.5m).

“Nelson Mandela has taught us that it is not the influential, the rich or the powerful who make history, but those citizens who are determined to make a difference,” he said.

Actions taken by ‘Global Citizens’ in the run-up to the event are additionally worth nearly R100bn ($7bn), according to the Global Poverty Project, the organisation behind Global Citizen.

Despite the positive economic impact, the Mandela 100 event was also marred by reports of violent assaults and thefts on concertgoers exiting the stadium. “The criminals were basically having a field day,” said Zikhona Tshona, a reporter for the South African news outlet eNCA, the Associated Press reports.

Jacques Grobbelaar of the venue’s operator, Stadium Management, blames the muggings on the lack of police presence, saying while security was tight when the festival kicked off, it thinned out as the evening wore on.

“What we saw happen last night in the precinct is a direct result of the lack of resources in the parking areas, on roads in, near and adjacent to the stadium and the road functions,” he tells Eyewitness News, “which in terms of the planning, were meant to be executed by the JMPD [Johannesburg Metro Police Department] and the South African Police Service.”


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Big Concerts mobilises lawyers over Sara ‘racism’ claims

South Africa’s biggest promoter, Big Concerts, is considering taking legal action against the South African Roadies Association (Sara) and its president, Freddie Nyathela, over allegedly defamatory remarks posted about the company on social media.

Nyathela has used the impending visit of Global Citizen Festival, the UN-backed series of benefit concerts, to South Africa (Beyoncé and Jay-Z will headline Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, held in Johannesburg on 2 December) to once more draw attention to what he sees as the company’s failure to nurture young – especially black – backstage talent in the country.

The dispute dates back to at least the turn of the millennium, with a report in the 3 April 2000 issue of Pollstar reporting Sara – which provides young people with accredited training in ‘backstage’ skills including lighting, sound, staging, power, rigging, AV and production – had organised protests against the alleged “racist activities of Big Concerts”. “Big Concerts doesn’t want visiting personnel to conduct workshops for the disadvantaged,” said Nyathela at the time.

“They’re against technical and production skills development, and the sharing of information.”

Both Nyathela and Sara have spent the past two weeks furiously tweeting at Global Citizen, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and Big Concerts and its parent company, Live Nation, accusing them of, among other things, “systemic racism” and “Apartheid”-like conduct for their alleged support for “the development of the industry and youth empowerment in Europe/UK and [the] Americas but not in Africa”.

In a latter dated 23 August 2018, Big Concerts’ lawyers, George van Niekerk and Wim Steyn of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENSafrica), accuse Nyathela and Sara of conducting an “extensive and malicious smear campaign against our clients” and Attie Van Wyk, Big Concerts’ founder and chairman, “with the view to extorting some undisclosed benefit, probably of a selfish financial nature.”

ENSafrica gave Nyathela and Sara until today (31 August) to withdraw their “defamatory” statements and publish an apology, or face “urgent legal action”.

According to Sara’s lawyer, Graeme Gilfillan of Nisa Global Entertainment, the association won’t be doing so, and is “obliged to defend” its case in a court of law.

Recalling Linkin Park’s visit to Sara in 2012, Gilfillan says Sara alleges Big Concerts has previously tried to block artists and organisations from working with it. “You may recall Linkin Park were out in South Africa and wanted to do a workshop for Sara,” he tells IQ. “Big Concerts, who were the promoters, refused to have the workshop at the venue – and tried their level best to block the workshop. Undeterred, Linkin Park left the venue and went to Sara House to conduct the workshop.”

“In the current instance,” he continues, “after Sara had initiated communication direct with Global Citizen, who indicated a keenness to include skills development, Global Citizen advised that they would be consulting their production partner in South Africa: Big Concerts. True to form, Big Concerts were having no Sara, no skills development or the like, and the impact was such that Global Citizen disappeared without a single response. Five unanswered emails later, and the penny dropped.”

“This allegation or insinuation is without merit”

Justin van Wyk, son of Attie and Big Concerts’ CEO, dismisses Sara’s allegations as baseless, pointing to Global Citizen’s training scheme for South Africa, the Global Citizen Skills Training Program, which includes an event management and production element – and which the promoter “intends to get behind in a big way”.

“Global Citizen published a request for proposals on 20 August,” van Wyk explains. “Mr Nyathela knows, or should know, that interested parties have until 3 September to submit their proposals, and that after a review of the proposals by a selection panel, shortlisted organisations will be asked to interview in mid-September, and the final selection will occur by the end of September.

“We’re not on the selection panel – and it’s obvious that it is not 3 September, nor the end of September, as yet – so this allegation or insinuation is without merit.”

Gilfillan says Sara disagrees, explaining that the Global Citizen Skills Training Program was not launched until 20 August – Sara has been speaking to Global Citizen since late July – and is therefore, in its opinion, “a Johnny-come-lately, knee-jerk reaction” to “Sara taking to social media”. “The Global Citizen Skills Training Program is not accredited under SAQA (the South African Qualification Authority) in respect of event, technical and production skills, and is viewed as a sloppy attempt, it is alleged, to parade a development agenda that is doomed to fail,” he adds.

Both parties have said they reserve the right to make representations to South Africa’s Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts

That’s far wide of the mark, counters Van Wyk, who says the programme is, “in our considered opinion as the market leader for the past 29 years, the most comprehensive skills transfer programme ever undertaken for the live music industry in South Africa, and they [Sara] should fully support it if their intentions are indeed skills development and transformation of the technical and production industry.

“That’s what we’re going to be doing, and have been doing long before the most recent round of vitriol from Mr Nyathela and the extensive and malicious smear campaign that he is engaged in.”

“We are very proud of our association with Gearhouse South Africa,” he adds, “and our ongoing support of the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy, which is an accredited training provider that offers a free-of-charge, in-house annual learnership and trains technica- and production industry entrants to globally recognised best practice. To date, the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy has produced more than 450 graduates who have participated in skills transfer opportunities and skills transfer situations with international production teams at many of the first-class productions presented by Big Concerts.”

With the dispute looking increasingly likely to head to court, both parties have also said they reserve the right to make representations to South Africa’s Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts.

Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, produced in partnership with Big Concerts, will take place on 2 December at FNB Stadium (94,736-cap.) in Johannesburg. Other performers include Usher, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Femi Kuti and Pharrell Williams with Chris Martin (Coldplay).


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