Treasure Islandby Andy Davis, images Pascal Quiquempoix / 20.06.2011
Every year on the tropical Indian Ocean island of Reunion there’s a music festival called Sakifo. And every year, without fail, the organisers invite a selection of contemporary South African musicians to participate. Over the years the invitees read like an honours list of the South African music industry from Johnny Clegg to the original Max Normal, from Lark to 340ml and where did you think Tumi and the Volume inked their French record deal? Yip, don’t be fooled by the laidback vibes, there’s serious business going on at Sakifo. The festival basically levers on its position as a springboard between the developed markets of France and Europe and the under appreciated talent of Africa and the Indian Ocean. Each year they brings the very best alternative French pop, a smattering of international A-listers and mix it up with more underground island reggae vibes and a whole bunch of contemporary African musicians. And this year, as is their custom, they invited Mix ‘n Blend and EJ von Lyrik to woo their crowds.
And to build on the concept of Sakifo as a springboard to lucrative European markets and audiences, they launched the Indian Ocean Music Market at this year’s festival, to further facilitate the cross-pollination between festivals, musicians and booking agents in Africa, France and the Indian Ocean Islands.
“I always invite artists from South Africa because there’s a lot of good music.” Explains Sakifo festival director Jerome Galabert. “Also I have always believed that we should increase exchanges between Reunion and South Africa… There are no rules for choosing the bands and building up the line up for Sakifo. It’s a matter of feeling, opportunities, and money too. The only rule is that the festival guideline is eclecticism. I like the idea of mixing artists of different influences, different styles and diferents countries. Difference is our power.”
“It was dope!” Says South African music promoter and networker extraordinaire, Hardy McQueen who was invited to the IOMMA. “I think the main purpose was to connect all the music professionals in this region. Opportunities need to be created for music to be exported, artists to travel and perform as well as distribution channels for hot new genres. We got to engage promoters, talent buyers, record company professionals from across the Indian Ocean region. This will open up opportunities for all types of genres and artists to travel and export their product in this region that includes substantial markets in Australia, China and India amongst others.”
“It was a unique opportunity to make the contacts and get insight and open gateways into new markets in other parts of the world.” Reckons Brian Little from Rocking the Daisies. “What impressed me the most was the depth of government support, development and appreciation of the music that comes out of this region. With under a million inhabitants, the island has a thriving music scene. Sakifo attracts around 30 000 people a day and it runs for a whole week!”
Some French Nietzsche Pop from Stromae.
“It’s an amazing place to throw a festival, right next to the ocean.” says Mix n Blend’s Jonathan Arnold. “The acts they book are really interesting and diverse, and the people are really supportive, and are really broadminded about what they’ll enjoy. From Alice Russell to people like Speech Debelle last year to Cesaria Evora to bands like Bombay Royale, listening to various Maloya acts, through to EJ von Lyrik, Teba and the Champions band and then us, they really will go crazy for anything if they feel a vibe is there.”
“It was pure awesomeness!” EJ von Lyrik continues. “We played a show with Mix ‘n Blend and the roof came off! Then we spent some time with a local hip hop crew called Kolektif Sud recording a few tracks once the festival ended. On top of that I got to see Tony Allen and Alice Russell. Asian Dub Foundation rocked as well and if you ever get the chance to see Blue King Brown, please do. The only downer was that I was too busy to see more bands and artists do their thing.”
“So how did you get invited?” I ask.
“Ag, we met Jerome and chatted,” says Jonathan. “Dropped him a polite email with links to our album tracks and after not hearing anything for a few weeks, suddenly got a mail inviting us to take the band setup over there.”
Sean Ou Tim is a repeat Sakifo offender, first having visited the island with Max Normal and then returning habitually with his different projects. “Sakifo was really cool. It has moved from the St Leu to the town of St Pierre, so the festival layout had improved dramatically. There are 4 stages ranging from small, to medium, to large to OMG.”
Not to mention that Sakifo Records have just signed Finley Quaye, some pedigree to sit right alongside Tumi and the Volume and island reggae outfit Toguna on their books. As the closest “1st world” country to South Africa, Reunion island seems destined to become a major backdoor conduit for South African and African artists to tiger strike those lucrative European markets. As Sakifo director Jerome Galabert explains: “The label is an accident it’s been created more with the idea of getting better exposure for great artists, that we like. The guys from 340ml introduced us to Tumi and the Volume. We licensed the first TATV album and then produced the second one. The albums are more a support for touring these days. And TATV have done many, many shows over the past four years. Now 340ml are also working with a Reunion based label, and starting to tour, which is great. Reunion can be a good solution to rich French and Europeen markets.”
*All images © Pascal Quiquempoix.