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Report lifts lid on ‘South Africa’s Fyre Festival’

A new report has shed fresh light on a failed music spectacular in South Africa that was abruptly cancelled days before it was due to take place, drawing comparisons with the disastrous Fyre Festival.

The 100,000-cap TribeOne Dinokeng Festival was scheduled to be staged in Dinokeng, near Cullinan, from 26-28 September 2014 – pre-dating the Fyre fiasco by almost three years – but was pulled by organisers after selling just a few hundred tickets.

The project, billed as “Africa’s biggest festival”, was to be hosted by the City of Tshwane and helmed by Sony Music Entertainment (SME) and its partner, pan-African music and entertainment production, content and events firm Rockstar 4000.

Hundreds of artists, including headliner Nicki Minaj, Wizkid, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kid Ink and J-Cole, were set to perform on three main stages at the festival.

But with tens of millions of rands of public money already spent, the event – led by Sony executive (now SME Africa MD) Sean Watson and Rockstar 4000 founder and CEO Jandre Louw – was axed, with promoters saying the host city had failed to meet infrastructure deadlines.

With three weeks to go until the event, organisers said only 4,000 tickets had been sold. It later emerged the actual total was 318

“Site preparation and related infrastructure development required to host the festival… fell behind schedule to a material extent, such that it was no longer realistically possible to stage and deliver the festival to the scale and quality that the organisers had always planned,” said a statement at the time.

However, nine years on, an exhaustive investigation by the Daily Maverick has uncovered more comprehensive details of the failed festival.

According to leaked documents, the mayoral committee pledged up to R20 million (€964,000) in public funds to build the festival’s infrastructure, with an additional R25m (€1.2m) to be paid to a “Sony Joint Venture” – thought to be Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd, a company registered by Louw in 2012 – for the first year of a three-year, three-festival deal. But despite the city being unable to bear the costs alone, the agreement contained “no specific financial obligations” for the music executives.

Alarm bells rang among city officials in mid-June, around three months before the festival, when the City of Tshwane Group head of communications, marketing and events wrote to Louw expressing fears that their plans appeared to be in disarray – amid concerns over the progress of promised sponsorships and marketing – and ticket prices not even set.

Tickets did not go on sale until 12 August. With three weeks to go until the event, organisers said only 4,000 tickets had been sold (it later emerged the actual total was 318). Nine days after Louw had approached the city to underwrite a further R20m to help cover the financial shortfall, Louw and Watson cancelled the contract on 12 September and allegedly refused to negotiate a postponement or relocation.

Investigators criticised the event as “risky, ill-conceived and poorly executed”

The City of Tshwane went to the high court in a bid to compel the staging of the festival, but withdrew its application after learning that Watson and Louw had already cancelled the entire line-up.

“Emails from a number of booking agents… [indicated] that artists were booked, but that the deposit was still outstanding or that the artist has not received the balance of the amount due,” wrote investigators, who criticised the event as “risky, ill-conceived and poorly executed by inexperienced music executives”, in their forensic report.

Many of the suppliers, other companies and individuals left with unpaid invoices were reportedly told that Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd had collapsed and could not fulfil its financial obligations.

Sony, Watson and Louw did not respond to DM‘s requests for interviews.

Legal action initiated by the City of Tshwane against Watson, Louw, Sony and Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd is still pending.


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