Music interview: Aymeric Péguillan talks about the hybrid Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival, 2020 at Spier and the jazz scene in South Africa

Who: Aymeric Péguillan What: Producer, promoter Based: South Africa Website:
Current project: Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival Vol 2 at Spier, South Africa When: November 28, 2020 Format: In-person & streaming Bookings: Quicket Tickets: R125-R380

Johannesburg based promoter, Aymeric Péguillan is co-producing The Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival Vol 2 at Spier, 2020, South Africa. This is the 2nd edition of this festival which launched last year [2019] and took place in the Spier Ampitheatre. It is a glorious setting in the Cape Winelands for a festival which brings together jazz and classical music on an innovative platform. The 2nd edition features luminaries like Paul Hanmer, Neo Muyanga, Kyle Shepherd and Sisonke Xonti. The opening act is Spha Mdlalose. It is a brilliant lineup in the year of Covid.

Aymeric Péguillan talks about The Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival Vol 2 – the Covid edition:

TheCapeRobyn: You and co-producer Aki Khan, are embracing a hybrid format – in-person (350 seats) and live streaming. Reflections on that? A year ago – that definitely wasn’t on the cards?

Aymeric Péguillan: Indeed that was not on the cards last year. This new situation, this pandemic has taught us quite a lot actually. We have had to adapt and now live streaming of events is likely to become a norm in the industry. It caters for the needs of many. The live audience remains very important for an event like ours so I am really happy that at least we can get 350 lucky people who will be there to enjoy this festival in such an extraordinary setting.  

TheCapeRobyn: Will the recording will be available as video-on-demand, afterwards?

Aymeric Péguillan: Yes, it will be available for 72 hours after the show for purchase online. It is also important for us as producers, to try and get a wider audience beyond SA’s borders. We also feel that it is important to cater for those who are too far and cannot make trip to Stellenbosch. 

TheCapeRobyn: The festival brings together jazz and classical from the afternoon to the night. There are breaks in between. How do you work this with the live stream? Will there be pre-recorded footage, screened during the breaks?

Aymeric Péguillan: We will have a mix of footage of previous concerts and still boards with music in the background, during breaks. Viewers on line also need to take breaks.  

TheCapeRobyn: Can you give us insights into the amazing line-up?

Aymeric Péguillan: Putting together the line-up is a rather difficult task. Firstly we are a bit spoilt for choice in SA, as there are so many talented artists and to pick just five acts is not easy. The important thing for this festival, from a curation point of view, is that we want to present recent and exciting work. Give the compositions centre stage as much as the artists who wrote and perform them. I think it is really critical that the creativity is recognised and enjoyed. I have been to many festivals where artists are booked on the basis of their name, the hits they have produced. But artists feed us their creations based on what they seem what they hear, what they feel and experience, and we want to hear that creative work and make sure it is shared with audiences timely. All these five acts have come up with a great concepts and I am so happy that we can present them at the festival this year. Having Paul and Neo performing together in conversation is a bit of a dream come true. They have been talking about collaborating for a long time and now the opportunity is here, it’s magical. As for Sisonke, he is really a phenomenal artist- a great horn player and a very nice person too. He is also originally for Cape Town -like the late great Winston Mankunku Ngozi whom I think he is following on the footsteps- so it is a kind of home coming. 

TheCapeRobyn: I love the notion of ‘conversation’ live on stage– with pianist Paul Hanmer and guitarist and singer Neo Muyanga ‘In Conversation’. For much of the year- performing artists have been performing at home – alone – and then popping up on screen in zoom bubbles. Comment?

Aymeric Péguillan: Yes, I so agree with you. It has been such a tough year where conversations of all nature have been happening under imposed formats due to the context, where it has been hard to feel alive and free. So having a live set of conversations between these artists is so needed and so exciting. There is nothing like it really. I think we are in for something really special. 

TheCapeRobyn: The logistics of putting this festival together in lockdown level 1, must be huge. Are all the artists Cape Town based?

Aymeric Péguillan: Yes indeed. We have to adapt, and the experience of the team at Spier and Eastern Acoustics has great value here. We will need to continue being careful and respectful of regulations, for everyone’s comfort and safety. I am Joburg based and so are a few of the musicians like Spha, Paul (although from Cape Town), Siya and Mpumi. But most are Cape Town based. 

TheCapeRobyn: You have been and are an important producer on the music scene. You ran two jazz clubs – including the iconic Orbit and you have worked extensively with Médecins Sans Frontières. Please tell us about Aymeric Péguillan?

Aymeric Péguillan: I was born in Paris, but my roots are in the South West of France, the Cognac region, and the deeper South West close to the Pyrenees mountains. My initial training is in the hospitality industry. I have a Technical University Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, and a Masters in Hospitality Management. I then did an honours degree in International Relations at Wits in 2000. I always enjoyed the world of hospitality but did not work in it for very long. In fact I wanted to travel early and went on to join a film production company doing logistics, that took me to Sahel countries, and that is where I came to meet Médecins Sans Frontières teams in Chad. A year later, I applied and joined as a logistics and admin officer and left for Sierra Leone, catering for Liberian refugees during the first war. I always jokingly say that there is nothing that looks more like a hotel than…a hospital. After working in different capacity in different countries as well as the HQ in Geneva, I still work with the Geneva Operational Centre as a trainer, flying from country to country -although now it is Zooming from country to country. MSF still keeps me very busy at the moment. We have had to adapt a lot our trainings in recent months due to Covid. I am currently coordinating trainings with our team in Burkina Faso. 

Music came in my life when I was seven. I started the classical violin and did a bit of jazz too with my cousin who was playing guitar.  I never worked hard enough to make a profession of it, but always enjoyed from an early age going to classical and jazz concerts. Jazz hit me when I was 12 and I never looked back. It is also partly what attracted me about SA. The jazz is so rich and different here. I frequented a lot the jazz scene here in Joburg, 1994 to 2004 where vibrant years, and there were many clubs. That is when we started a small Jazz Social Club in Troyeville (2000 to 2002) with three other silent partners, I wanted to be part of the mix. I was working in advertising from Monday to Thursday, and at the club from Thursday night till Sunday night. Exciting and crazy times. I had landed in advertising by accident, like many. I was a voice over artist for French speaking markets and still am. I became a copywriter and also got involved in planning, client service and network management. I did a lot of work with my boss and friend Jonny Cohen at Leo Burnett Africa in African markets – excluding SA. I had my first child. The agency wanted me to travel to markets. It was becoming impossible. So I stopped the club but promised myself I would start something bigger and better later. 

I left in 2004 to Geneva and was back for work with MSF end of 2007 in eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). My contacts in SA, musicians mostly, were saying that the jazz scene was dying, no more clubs to perform at. So when we came back to South Africa, in 2012, I embarked on the Jazz Club project that became the Orbit. It was like bringing together again my love for jazz and my love for service and hospitality. It was five years of my life that were amazing and also very stressful. And although the partnership did not end well, and the club ended up closing two years after I sold my shares in it. It was a fantastic adventure and created some incredible memories of fabulous concerts.

TheCapeRobyn: Did you train in film and advertising?

Aymeric Péguillan: Not at all, really accident. A series of lucky events that led me to apply one day for a job at a big network that was looking for a bilingual copywriter. 

TheCapeRobyn: Can you tell us about the projects that you have been involved with, during lockdown? You were involved with Urban Sessions JHB – Gauteng – May 2020 – live streamed and pay-per-view concerts recorded in live in studio – produced by Militia Broadcast. How did that go? Any other lockdown concerts you want to talk about?

Aymeric Péguillan: Yes, Urban Sessions has also been an incredible adventure. Eban Olivier, the MD at Militia Broadcast and I worked together at the second anniversary festival at The Orbit and later in the Downtown Jazz Sessions for Mzansi Magic in 2017, soon after I left The Orbit. Two great productions thanks to Eban and his team’s talent and dedication. So the lockdown happened, Eban contacted a few of us with various skills and networks, and we started Urban Sessions and I was focusing on all the jazz recordings. We did more than 40 all in all, with more or less success. Great productions but there is a lot of free online content firstly, so pricing is really important, and also data cost and quality of networks is a real issue in SA. If your connection is not great like fibre, you might struggle watching the content. But overall a success and a great library of great concerts produced at a very special time. 

TheCapeRobyn: Live performance has taken a huge knock during the pandemic and even now, people are anxious about going out – even to outdoor events. Jazz/classical is a harder sell so, it is great that you have a hybrid format?

Aymeric Péguillan: Yes it is a challenge, and it will be for a while. It seems like the individual solo artist is benefiting more than the rest. We do realise that many are still hesitant, but we feel we have a super line up of artists, a great production team, a fantastic location and a great variety of hospitality offering. 

TheCapeRobyn: Let’s talk about the jazz scene, now, November 2020, South Africa. You ran the Orbit in Joburg, which no longer exists. Are there any jazz purposed venues in Joburg at the moment? There is not a lot of happening in terms of jazz dedicated venues at the moment?

Aymeric Péguillan: Joburg does not really have a new Orbit. It has few venues that do jazz gigs occasionally, with more or less success and with set up that are not always well adapted for listening.

SA music audiences tend to like once-off events. They support festivals that happen monthly or yearly but the numbers are not big enough in terms of attending a live music club that stages five or six gigs a week. With Covid, and into early 2021, it will probably get worse – with people reluctant to go to live venues – or they may not have the funds to go out.

It is hard to get loyalty and support over long periods. In spite of the long jazz history in SA, the jazz scene has never managed to infiltrate society like choir music, gospel or hip hop has done.  A few new spaces are now emerging, which stage occasional gigs. But it will take a long time I think before we see another Orbit. It is a tough business.  If you want to do things right and produce great concerts; you need a very dedicated team all around; people who truly are dedicated to the art form and who are ready to respect set quality standards day in day out. 

TheCapeRobyn: Back to the Spier Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival – an ambitious undertaking, during Covid. It is a time when so much is on pause. Kirstenbosch cancelled its entire 2020/21 season. Here you are – Aki Kahn and you – producing an epic scale event? 

Aymeric Péguillan: It is a risk we take of course, but worth taking we think. I believe that there are a number of people out there who are craving for live music and are ready to do so wearing a mask and go out, with social distancing. We started on such a nice footing last year. We thought, with Aki and the management at Spier that we would give it a good shot and let the story continue.  Artists need it. They make our lives so much more special when we can enjoy their creations. Long live the arts! Let us always keep the arts at the centre of our lives, art tells us so much about who we are and where we come from. 

Related coverage of the Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival Vol 2, 2020 at Spier, South Africa

“The live audience remains very important for an event like ours so I am really happy that at least we can get 350 lucky people who will be there to enjoy this festival in such an extraordinary setting.” Johannesburg based promoter, Aymeric Péguillan, who is co-producing The Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival Vol 2 at Spier, November 28, 2020, South Africa. The festival will be held live on stage and will be live streamed. The stream is not geo-locked and may be accessed by audiences all over the globe.

Image credit: Photo of Aymeric Péguillan, taken in 2019 at The Jazz & Classical Encounters Festival Vol 1 at Spier. The 2nd edition takes place at Spier on November 28, 2020. Photo supplied.