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March 2017. Interview by Mies Jacobs. Cover: Billy Domingo - Courtesy of Kaz Henderson

Cape Town International Jazz Festival director Billy Domingo has long been a force behind-the-scenes and and has in recent years taken on a more prominent public role in the festival. I recently spoke to Billy about his role as director as well as the perks of having Cape Town as backdrop to this world-renowned event.

How did you first get involved with the festival?

Billy Domingo: Rashid Lombard, who is an old friend of mine, came to me many years ago and said he wanted to start a jazz festival. He thought of me because I had the practical expertise of running a show since I've been in the events industry for about fifty years. We got the jazz festival up and running eighteen years ago and the rest is history.

The jazz festival is a lifestyle festival, people come to meet family, they come because it's a destination. It is also a platform and a conduit for entertainment. You don't have to go there for jazz per se, some people don't like jazz, some people do like jazz. It's more about the experience and that's what we pride ourselves on.

“...The jazz festival is a lifestyle festival...” - Billy Domingo

How do you go about choosing the artist line-up?

Billy Domingo: It takes a village to raise a child, you can't just be on your own. There is a whole focus group, Shadow Twala is on there as well as a couple of other people. I listen to them and make a decision based on the strenghts and the merit. After fifty years in events planning and producing shows I hope I know enough, and with the help of the team, that we can create a world class event.

Three years ago I said let's do something for the legends, and the first year was Mahotella Queens. Last year was Dorothy Masuku and Abigail Khubeka and I've never seen that place so packed. This year is going to be Jonas Gwangwa who will be celebrating his 80th birthday this year.

What has been the reception from the international community?

Billy Domingo: It is unreal. I've just been up north of Africa to attend a seminar and had to address almost a hundred people representing festivals around the world who were saying they know the festival and they want their artists to perform here. From Burkina Faso to Côte d'Ivoire, it's just amazing. It's bigger than individual names, it's about a festival that has now got legs.

We're playing on a global stage which is great, we're not coming in as a third-world music event, we're coming in as first-class. People come and see me and say hey, we've got these artists, please can they play on your stage. I think we've paid our dues, eighteen years is a long time.

It must be a thrill to host the festival in Cape Town?

Billy Domingo: We were voted the best festival in Africa which is absolutely amazing. People come for the music, the wine, the beaches, they come to visit Table mountain. The Cape Town International Jazz Festival encompasses that whole experience. People don't only come for the festival, they spend four days or five days just experiencing Cape Town. Now isn't that a major thing for tourism? Isn't that a major thing for the country? And that's what it's about.