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Sunday, December 6, 2020


(The Durban International Blues Festival at Rhumbelow Theatre. Pic by Harry Lock)

So is the trimmed down and no-fuss 2020 Durban International Blues festival a success? I would give it a resounding YES! (Review by Keith Millar)

This year from December 4 to 6, marks the 16th anniversary of the Durban International Blues Festival.

It was founded in 2005 by a brains trust which included the likes of the late Durban theatre practitioner Themi Venturas, Tanya van Agthoven Marais, and Durban’s much-loved diva Pinkie Mtshali who sadly passed away earlier this year.

The aim? To make Durban the blues capital of South Africa. And going on the success achieved by the festival over the years, one could say that they have gone some way in achieving that goal.

(Left: Festival Director Will Wallace keeping blues alive in Durban. Pic by Harry Lock)

However, come 2020 and come Covid-19, and the directors of the festival, Will Wallace and Tania Van Agthoven Marais, were faced with a whole new set of problems.

The festival has had several homes over the years which are now unavailable for various reasons. 

Sneddon Theatre (closed because of Covid), The Catalina Theatre (closed down), Zacks at Wilsons Wharf and S13 in Station Road (both victims of Covid).

So, who better to step up and take the festival under his wing than Roland Stansell and his Rhumbelow Theatre?

This quirky, rustic venue is an ideal fit for the laid-back nature of blues music, and the result has been a fabulous celebration of great music and good vibes.

This year, due to Covid, the international contribution has been via video clips of good wishes and performances from some of the artists who have appeared at the festival in the past.

The live music contribution has been restricted to local artists but from what I saw on Saturday night, to no detriment of the festival.

(Left: Bobby & The Dynamites. Pic by Harry Lock)

First up was Bobby & The Dynamites. A seasoned Durban combination who are well-known for their blues evenings at the now-defunct Zacks at Wilson’s Wharf. 

Led by the legendary Durban guitarist Will Wallace, they gave their usual skilled performance.

Following them was The Smoke Train, or to give them their full title The Smoke Train Blues Movement.

(Right: Smoke of The Smoke Train. Pic by Harry Lock)

Anyone who feels that blues music is a bit samey and repetitive have not heard this combo yet.

They took the concert by the scruff of its neck and shook the hell out of it. It was without doubt one of the most vibrant, foot stomping and kick-ass sets I have seen at the Rhumbelow theatre in many a long year.

They will not be back at the festival this year but if ever you get the opportunity to see this band, and consider yourselves blues fans, do not miss it! They are marvellous.

(Left: Rorke Kemp. Pic by Harry Lock)

Others who are featured at the festival are The Rorke Kemp band, Sea Level (featuring Lance Goodman), The Reals, and Blues Summit (The Reals backing invited solo artists).

So is the trimmed-down and no-fuss 2020 Durban International Blues festival a success? I would give it a resounding YES!

Roll on 2021.

The Durban International Blues Festival is sponsored by The Department of Arts And Culture.

Sunday’s performances (today) at the festival are sold out. – Keith Millar

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