An effort is being made to establish a cultural exchange programme between the governments of Jamaica and South Africa, according to Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, the minister with portfolio responsibility for entertainment.
“The Ministry of Culture is presently in discussion with a private sector entity that can work along with government in this initiative,” Grange told the Sunday Observer. “We are hoping that this relationship will establish a strong link with the South African marketplace for the exposure and show promotion of reggae music and brand Jamaica.”
To this end, a leading show promoter from Soweto, South Africa visited the island recently at the invitation of Minister Grange.
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the minister of culture here to discuss the cultural exchange programme and the support of the Jamaican Government in staging the Soweto International Jazz Festival, which we plan to make an annual affair,” Thabo Rangwaga, CEO of the company Proudly Sowetian, explained.
“The aim is to bring African people from all over the world to come and celebrate their heritage, culture, cuisine and music. And we’re well on the way”, added Rangwaga whose visit was co-ordinated by acting director for entertainment policy in the Ministry of Culture, Colin Leslie.
The forthcoming jazz festival in Soweto, which hopefully will evolve into the first of the activities in the potential exchange programmes between both countries, is slated for April, and is centred around celebrating that township for which the month of April holds historical significance.
“The reason we chose April, apart from the fact that the weather is good in South Africa, is the fact that April is the month in which Soweto was named Soweto back in 1963, so next year Soweto will be 45 years old,” said Rangwaga.
“Yes, it (Soweto) was built in 1901, but the township remained unnamed until 1963. And it took only about 12 years for the township to actually hit the international stage with the 1976 riots and the revolution. this is, of course, where Nelson Mandela comes from, where Desmond Tutu comes from and they come from the same street which happens to be the only street in the world where you have two Nobel Prize winners residing,” added Rangwaga.
Grange confirmed her ministry’s involvement in the venture and told the Sunday Observer that she is currently sending off a letter to the South African Government affirming Jamaica’s partnership in the project.
“My role is to assist in identifying artistes to go to South Africa and to be involved in the overall presentation of the event,” Minister Grange said.
Emphasising the importance of the project, Leslie pointed to the pride of place that Soweto enjoys on the African continent. “The heart of South Africa is really Soweto,” he argued. “The creative and spiritual heart of it, because when you check it out, all the people that we know, the Hugh Masakelas, the Miriam Makebas, all came out of Soweto. So it’s like we’re trying to create an interest around that. It’s a very positive thing, and I’m looking forward to what’s coming up, what’s ahead.”
Rangwaga said he did show for Oprah Winfrey on New Year’s Eve, adding that the guest list was like the who’s who in international entertainment. Among the celebrities present, he said, were Mariah Carey, Quincy Jones, John Travolta and Baby Face.
“We had to basically showcase what South Africa is now in terms of arts and culture. And we pulled that off successfully, and at the end of the day, she thanked us for doing the work that we did,” recalled Rangwaga.
“South Africa is very close to Oprah’s heart,” he added. “She got some projects. She just built a school called Oprah’s Leadership Academy For Girls, and one of the main visions of Proudly Sowetians is to build a leadership academy for boys.”
Rangwaga said that he once worked for one of the major banks in South Africa for about seven-and-a-half years before he decided to quit, because he always wanted to be involved in the performing arts.
“After I left, I started a company, and now I’m into getting a database of artistes because I saw a lot of local talents that were not exposed,” he explained. “I met my business partner, who came from the arts world, and with me coming from the business world, I said okay, let’s team up and start a company. So we are basically a link between the arts world and the corporate world and as a result, we do a lot of corporate shows.”