Saturday, May 3, 2014

Our stories are the equalisers

Have you tried to find snoek in a restaurant in the Central City? What about umngqusho or chakalaka? Why is it that if you want `culture' you visit a township? Why is a City Tour a tour of only the original Cape Town city, and not the broader city, as if nothing out of the City Bowl is Cape Town? Why is the East City the neighbourhood surrounding the City Hall and the Granary, and not as far as Khayelitsha and Muizenberg?

Can we change the city by changing the language we use to describe it? Can we tell its story well if we as citizens are excluded from the narrative?

Cape Town is a great place to be, don't get me wrong. One of the reason's it is great is that it's a city that demands a lot of questions, which makes it challenging and stimulating. And isn't that fantastically, disgustingly, middle class? That the extremes of the city make it stimulating? How different would the perspective be of someone who lives on the poor extreme, where the quest is for survival.

I'm constantly uneasy in this place I call home. We have not done enough to unengineer what apartheid created. We haven't done enough to discover each other across real and imagined boundaries. It's so difficult to get lost in that incredible glass of our region's wine, when almost next to me someone else can't offer their child a proper meal.

Don't say `that's just the reality of the world, live with it', no don't tell me that. This is not simply the reality of the world. This is our creation. And we have to change it. Can we change it by having a glass of wine? Can we change it be eschewing all things wonderful?

This is responsible tourism - the attempt to answer the questions of how we make this place better. And this is where tourism in Cape Town is such an interesting conundrum. I got into the travel business a) to create a job for myself, and b) because I recognised the power of a new approach to tourism to create change by centering our offerings around our stories. Historically, the economically empowered have dictated the narrative; how can tourism create a groundswell where even the least economically empowered can position a story in the mainstream?

A great city for me is one where the stories of the city are everywhere. Where local food is easier to find than food from elsewhere. Where mobility is not an issue. Where safety is not an issue. Where failure to make something of your life is due to squandered opportunity instead of lack of opportunity.

A great city is a city where every facet of the city's life is built around what is needed to continue to keep that city great.

Cape Town is a great city in many ways. I won't waste space here detailing them. Rather let me look at some of the failings. One of Cape Town's greatest failings as a city is that it is a city of parallel universes, and as a result, its tourism happens in parallel rather than in conjunction. In Manenberg, a tough ghetto just about in the middle of the metropole, there is a mural, painted by school kids, that says `tourism is everybody's business'. And in the `story' model of tourism this is dead right. But in its current form, tourism takes place mainly in a layer of its own, detached from the city, almost in spite of the city; with scant regard for the needs of the city.

We know that the trend in tourism is for humanising experiences; is for the beach and game reserve experience, as well as the experience that connects the traveller to people and stories. In a city like Cape Town, this is tourism's great opportunity. In the knowledge economy, our stories are the equalisers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New York Times features Cape Town Beer Route

Our Beer Route, launched in November 2011, was featured in a story in the New York Times on 10 August about the explosion of craft beer in South Africa.

Beer Route in New York Times

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is goema?

Goema is a music of liberation. 

It is a music of transcendence.

Cape Town is a pirate city. We are a pirate of cultures. It's like Cape Town has pirated pieces of the whole world. Everything is gathered here. Cape Town is a port city after all, absorbing the world over hundreds of years. It's a touch of Europe, a little bit of India and Malaysia, it is a piece of Africa, there's Brazil in here and there's America and Israel and Maputo. Cape Town is not one thing: it is many things in one.

The music of this city with multiple identities is called goema. The name originates with the Khoe people. The Khoe women played a drum, it was called a goma, because of the ox skin that covered the drum. The women would play and the men would dance.

Over hundreds of years, bantu tribes migrated south, missionaries arrived, colonisers laid claim and slaves were imported to the city. As the music of these worlds collided and became a common language, the goma became goema.

Think of samba. It emerged in the favelas, the slums, out of hundreds of years of oppression, and now it infuses everything in the Brazilian nation. Goema is our samba. It is our blues, it is our rebel music. It is our home. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Goemarati - a music strategy as design

Goemarati - you are welcome.
Designing an inclusive intervention

I'm not a designer. I trained as an actor and film-maker, and became an entrepreneur.

But I've learned that design is at the heart of everything that we do - if not always entirely by design. So that makes us all designers, in an unconscious way.

In people's homes, decisions have been made about where to put this painting in relation to that picture, where the chair stands in relation to the sofa, the pot plant in relation to the graduation certificate. These are all design decisions, but very few people doing this would consider themselves as designers. 
Enjoying the foodcourt at the
Manenberg Goemarati
I watch my son, he's 14 months old, plot his routes. Even at this early stage of life, design is central. When we walk out of the apartment, he has a specific routine. He always turns right out of the door. He touches the geyser outlet pipe on the wall. He touches the neighbour's gate. He stops at Leon's bamboo wind chimes, flicks it, and when it sounds, he laughs and turns to me. Then he grabs a stone from the pot plant and hands it to me. Every time, exactly the same. He has designed a set of rituals. And the design process is unconscious.

So I have realised that everyone is a designer. Some design unconsciously by virtue of being alive, and others design by design, as practicioners.

Some star power, Akin Omotoso
loved the Goemarati

In 2007 I produced a project called Goemarati. The roleplayers were Coffeebeans Routes, working with Creative Cape Town, the Cape Town Partnership and Lunch Communications, with funding from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism. We designed an intervention for the music industry of the Western Cape built around the distinctly Cape Town music called goema.
And I use the term design very deliberately, as we were consciously designing a solution to a problem. It just so happened that the design solution wasn't a manufacturable outcome.

Goemarati had four primary components:

1. thirteen live performances, one each month on Church Square in the central city, one in a suburb of the Cape Flats.
2. an online sales portal for Cape Town music and creative products
3. a street level mobile shop, an extension of the online shop, in the form of a loud tricycle
4. a monthly `zine', an edgy monochrome fold out magazine designed by Lunch, profiling the featured artists for the month, the Cape Town product available for sale, and celebrating a different facet of Cape Town’s history, especially stories from the era of slavery.

Take a look here at the full online report:

So we designed an umbrella marketing campaign for music and other creative products from Cape Town, using monthly live shows as the leverage, alongside local and global sales platforms and a dedicated monthly publication. 

Kalkfontein Goemarati at the taxi rank, great turnout

And one of the core elements underpinning the musical strategy, was a spatial strategy: connecting the central city as a site of heritage with sites in the Cape Flats, and by doing so attempting to create the basis for stronger linkages and movements of people and ideas. We wanted to link across apartheid boundaries and beyond cultural disconnects. Had the project lived beyond its pilot phase, this would have been a significant long term device for shifting some of the parameters of apartheid town planning and mental ghettos.

The tagline for the initiative was `You are Welcome’, and the entire project was designed to be inclusive. The criteria to be featured for performance was that you had to have product, in any form, whether it be an MP3 song or poem. The open mic session surprised us, it was oversubscribed for all performances except one, and turned out to the be most significant performance element of the project. It made us realise that if Cape Town doesn’t create spaces for its young people to be heard in public forums, we are incubating a time bomb. 

The project’s success was also its failure. You can’t measure on paper the value of the open mic sessions, the hunger to get on stage and be heard. You can’t make tangible in a report the effect on children of seeing a local star perform in the rain at the taxi rank close to their home. Except for the stats of the project - audience numbers, financial benefit to the industry, units of product sold etc - you can’t adequately measure the extent of the impact of such a project in its first few years.

We designed a powerful initiative, but one that couldn’t leave permanence after its pilot 8 months, one that wasn’t designed to leave permanence. Politicians in their 5 year stints need to tick boxes, show legacy, and a culture project is too difficult to measure and therefore that money is diverted to more tangible, measurable activities. That was the thinking behind not continuing after the pilot. That, and the instability of the Western Cape's politics at that time, shifting so constantly between political masters. This is one of the crises of South African government: it does not, in any of its designations, know what to do with culture. Identity, how we perceive ourselves, is a crucial economic cog.

And so there lies one of Goemarati's crucial design flaws: we couldn’t measure cultural impact. And its something that needs to be worked on. Any suggestions would be welcome! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Secrets of the Baxter

Dirty secrets? Not really. The Baxter is a public entity, audited, all dirty washing aired, and or turned into a production.

No, the Secrets of the Baxter is a new experience that I'm excited about, something that Coffeebeans Routes has created in partnership with the Baxter Theatre.

Sometime in 2010, Michelle Constant, CEO of Business Arts South Africa, joined one of our Jazz Safaris, and shortly after met with Baxter Theatre CEO Lara Foot. Michelle called me after the meeting and said Iain you have to have to have to meet with Lara and talk about creating a theatre tour together.

So Lara and I met. And then months later, after lots of thought, myself and Lana Paries started putting things together. Very quickly we hit on the right mix, and in June this year we tested it out.

Below is what it looks like, we think its a winner, will be interesting to see over the coming summer season how it does. Expect to see a lot about it in the media over the next year. We anticipate that by the summer of the 2012/2013 season, if a tsunami hasn't moved us all to the highlands of Zimbabwe, we will not be able to meet the demand.

Look out soon for another theatre experience we are creating, together with the Out the Box Festival (early September 2011), and the Handspring Puppet Company. That will be something that debuts with the festival and runs regularly thereafter. Will post on that as soon as we are ready.

Regards to everyone, I hope your families are happy.

Secrets of the Baxter
A Baxter Theatre Centre and Coffeebeans Routes collaboration

Secrets of the Baxter takes `Dinner and a show' to a new level. If you've always wanted to stand on a theatre stage, hear rapturous applause and experience the bright lights, then this is for you. If the idea of a behind-the-scenes tour of a bustling theatre thrills you, then book Secrets of the Baxter.

For a limited-edition specialist theatre experience, guests will get a backstage pass to the Baxter Theatre Centre in Rondebosch. Coffeebeans Routes collects guests from their hotels and welcomes them into the Baxter's lounge. Over a glass of wine, we meet the Baxter Theatre Centre's host for the night, take a guided tour of the complex and discover what happens behind the scenes. See artists in preparation. Hear the stories that have made the Baxter what it is today. Step onto a stage and experience the sensation of being in front of a full house!

For dinner, in the recently renovated restaurant run by The Forum, enjoy a Taste of the Cape, featuring highlights of the Cape's traditional menu.

And then it's time for the show. Secrets of the Baxter will feature cutting-edge productions, focusing on original local theatre, showcasing South African stories.

After the show, how about a drink at the Play bar, and maybe a chat with the performers who regularly gather here after coming off the stage!

Thereafter, Coffeebeans Routes will escort you back to your accommodation, having drunk deeply on our stories, and having discovered the Secrets of the Baxter!

Places on Secrets of the Baxter are limited, and advance booking is essential. Secrets of the Baxter takes  place on certain nights during the run of selected productions, and numbers are limited to 14 per night.

For updates, follow @coffeebeansrout and @BaxterTheatre on Twitter, and `Like' Coffeebeans Routes and Baxter Theatre on Facebook

All bookings through Coffeebeans Routes
+27 21 424 3572

R795 per person including transfers, welcome drink, Taste of the Cape dinner, tour and show. The tour is hosted by a Baxter Theatre Centre host, and a Coffeebeans Routes guide.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Creating a Pan-African Festival Travel Circuit

The St Louis Jazz Festival,
in St Louis, Senegal

Back in 1999, I attended the WOMEX World Music Conference and Marketplace in Berlin. One of the most interesting sessions there was one looking at creating a pan-African festival circuit, much like what Europe has, with festivals connecting, and making it possible for artists to tour festivals in Africa.

12 years later, we're perhaps marginally closer to that, but we certainly haven't made the kind of progress that was anticipated. Political instability is one reason, funding another, but one of the most crucial, I believe, is the lack of good, cost-effective, regional travel options in Africa. As you know, it is damn expensive to travel within Africa, far more so that to travel from somewhere in Africa to Europe.

From the Sauti za Busara festival, Zanzibar, Tanzania, East Africa's most important festival

 That is now starting to change. Once upon a time, there was Air Afrique, which made a lot of things possible. But they went bust. Only in the last two years or so have South African low cost carriers started offering flights to other parts of Africa, and other African national carriers are starting to do the same. The costs are coming down. The frequencies getting better.

And so we are looking more capable - from a mobility point of view - of achieving some of the goals laid out in 1999. There are some other areas that are not looking so good, still, and that's the topic for another post sometime.

There's not much tourism to Angola at this point, but the possibilities are huge. This festival opens up a lot
of opportunities, for the country and the region

Since that time my interest has shifted from being exclusively pan-African music to a combination of pan-African music and travel. And the opportunities for pan-African festival travel packages are hot.

In 2009 Coffeebeans Routes put together a business plan for the creation of a set of such festival packages, working with the Arterial Network. It was an insightful process. While there are thousands and thousands of safari offerings and safari operators and agents, there are some five entities offering festival packages in Africa. It's a wide open space. And of those offerings, none of them offer much more than flights, hotel and tickets. Pretty much nothing that gets you inside the city you are going to.

Fespaco, Africa's most
important film festival, in
Ouagadougou, Burkina

And so I am delighted that, in alliance with the Out of the Box Festival in Cape Town, we have now made a start on realising our goal of offering a variety of Coffeebeans Routes pan-African festival travel packages. Eventually you will be able to book a package with Coffeebeans to experience - very deeply - some incredible festivals in Africa:

- Fespaco Film Festival, Ougadougou, Burkina Faso- Sauti za Basura, Zanzibar, Tanzania - Cape Town International Jazz Festival
- Maputo International Jazz Festival
- Luanda International Jazz Festival
- Mawazine, Rabat, Morocco
- St Louis Jazz Festival, St Louis, Senegal
- Ethiopian Music Festival, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- HIFA, Zimbabwe

It'll take some time before we are offering packages around the whole lot, but that is the goal. And there are others too...

Int'l music festival in Morocco

This September of 2011, the process begins with the 9 day Out of the Box Festival in Cape Town, a festival of puppetry, physical theatre and cinema. Coffeebeans will be offering a small selection of small-group travelling theatre experiences as part of the festival. And in 2012 we plan to be offering full packages with accommodation, tickets, behind the scenes experiences, tours etc.

Here is the little press release that went out on Tue the 14th at the press launch for the Out the Box Festival.

Thanks for listening

Out the Box Festival September 2011

Coffeebeans Routes is delighted to be a part of the 2011 Out of the Box Festival. It is a part of our strategy, as a pioneering cultural travel company, to work with pan-African festivals, finding novel ways to bring storytelling into the tourism economy. 

The long term goal of the alliance is for Coffeebeans to offer international travellers compelling packages around the festival, including flights, accommodation, tickets, `behind the scenes' festival activities, as well as tours. This would ultimately form part of our pan-African circuit of festival packages, including festivals such as the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Sauti za Busara Zanzibar and the Addis Ababa International Music Festival. 

As a starting point in 2011, Coffeebeans will be curating a set of `fringe' theatre experiences, working with community theatre organisations that have been through the Unima Active Puppets programme. Available to very small groups of up to 12 guests per event, Coffeebeans will take guests to unusual spaces for short form performances by township-based physical and puppet theatre practitioners. 

Closer to the time more detail will be announced. 

In the meantime, take a look at what Coffeebeans does by visiting

Watch for updates on the festival activities.
And follow @
 for Twitter updates

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Please don't feed the whales

Hermanus is the armpit of the Western Cape, isn't it. What a way to destroy a coastline. We scream and shout about coastal mining or other issues, but I haven't heard an outcry about Hermanus. Hermanus is what fracking looks like. That coastal walk isn't enough to save it. And nor are the whales. Like the UAE, Hermanus needs to consider what it becomes when the whales (or oil) have gone. Just a coastline, endless bad food and tacky B&Bs with lots of dos and don'ts.

And it's not just Hermanus, it's that whole strip from just after Hawston - Onrus right through to Hermanus is just an industrial wasteland of malls and warehouses and Tuscan retirement Villas on the N2. Graceless and creedless.

(Do a quick search in your favourite search engine for Hermanus. You will find nothing that shows town centre, it's all sea and coast and hotels, and just about nothing featuring people, except for some archive portraits, click for BING and GOOGLE results

But that coastline is beautiful. It was wild and cold on the day I was there, and magnificent.

I was staying around the corner in Elgin, at the Old Mac Daddy. I think it's one of the country's best little escapes. Much much better than the Grand Daddy version on top of the Grand Daddy hotel. The combination of whim and nature is a killer. I rolled out of the Mills and Boone airstream, onto a deck that opened into a sky of apple orchards. I want to come back in summer.

Elgin is getting sharp with packaging and presenting itself. I didn't realise there were so many wine estates here. The Ross Glower Cab Sav is a fine glass of wine, at R40 per glass at the Old Mac Daddy's restaurant, Brinny Breez. The estate is one door down from the Mac, so to speak. Everything is nicely signposted in a unified attempt to present the area. The Orchards farmstall has gone to hell, but Peregrines, which I remember years ago as being the dogs ass of the area, is now the bees knees. And they were busy busy busy. And serving good coffee, they're proudly, almost smugly, using Origin Coffee, and I couldn't help wondering how much of an impact the hipsters draw to the Old Mac Daddy have made on the region's tourism decisions.

(check out the Old Mac Daddy at, book as soon as you can)

Hermanus, by contrast, is still on its National Party 99 year lease scheme, and stinks of arrogance and short termism and ex pat paternalism. There's nothing hip about it except the book shop on a strip of sly 4 star hotels. Back at Coffeebeans HQ a while back we did some research on non-whale related tourism activities in Hermanus, and apart from a beer tour and some wine tastings at estates in the region, and don't forget the boat trips to get closeup to the whales, there was nothing worth mentioning.

Which doesn't mean that it isn't getting the visitors. In spite of the horror that is itself, its pumping with tourists. But they're not coming for Hermanus stories. It is presently impossible to hear any above the din of a town becoming a concrete slum. Hermanus is eating itself from the inside out.

Is there a plan to change the course of Hermanus?
So what is being put in place to provide alternatives?

Cape Town Tourism has signed an agreement with the Overberg region to work together to develop and refine tourism opportunities beyond the whales, but what is local government doing to develop innovation and change beyond the status quo of circa 1989 mentality and tuscan architecture?

Pretty soon there'll be signs saying don't feed the whales...