Billy Domingo hands over the CTJIF baton

Billy Domingo’s vast experience in the music industry, was of great appeal, as too his expertise such as being part of the tour management team of the late reggae star Lucky Dube (1964-2007) for 30 years. Photo: Supplied

Billy Domingo’s vast experience in the music industry, was of great appeal, as too his expertise such as being part of the tour management team of the late reggae star Lucky Dube (1964-2007) for 30 years. Photo: Supplied

Published Nov 6, 2022


After 21 exciting years as the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) Director, Billy Domingo, the highly respected music impresario, hangs up his hat, in favour of a golf club (or two).

The festival’s organising company, espAfrika, announced his retirement last week Wednesday when revealing the date for the 2023 jazz fest.

Domingo’s involvement with the festival began two years before the event’s inception when the then espAfrika board, approached him to join the team.

Domingo’s vast experience in the music industry, was of great appeal, as too his expertise such as being part of the tour management team of the late reggae star Lucky Dube (1964-2007) for 30 years.

“I had just retired as the head of entertainment at SunCity Resort after 20 years. I was in limbo when the company approached me to bring the skills I had acquired over the years to the festival and help bring it to life,” Domingo said.

Nearly two decades in, Domingo and team positioned the internationally acclaimed festival as a platform to promote the concept of Africanism and African artists. He said his first love was Africa and its people.

In honouring this love for African musicians, espAfrika shared that the 2023 staging of the CTIJF would be a tribute to Domingo, with a programme showcasing his love of promoting African artists and CTIJF’s reputation as a place to discover incredible talent.

Looking back, Domingo said he had faced many highs and lows in his career. The biggest challenge of delivering a world-class festival, for him, was meeting festivalgoers' expectations, giving them their money’s worth, and ensuring that they were not disappointed.

“The second challenge was artists’ cancellations. I remember when Jill Scott cancelled, and we brought Lauryn Hill over in her place. Also, ensuring that we get the right programming mix for the entire event. It has been difficult over the years to find the right mix that everyone loves, because everybody wants a lot of jazz, but nobody wants too much jazz,” he said.

Domingo’s voice during our chat, completely changed when he talked about his unforgettable moments. The joy and excitement in his tone were impossible to ignore. He cherished being part of creating an event that is held in such high regard.

“Helping to create an incredible global event that has become iconic, is one of my many highs. The other factor was the training and development aspect of the festival. You must give something back, and that was important to me. Also, the people’s concert on Greenmarket square was another high for me, seeing people from all over, people who could not possibly attend the event, spending the night watching international performers, that meant so much to me,” he said.

He reminisced about how breath-taking it was to watch the late Tsepo Tshola (1953-2021) perform live in 2017.

“I insisted that Tsepo play at the festival because my first love is Africa and its artists. And I watched how people embraced his performance. How they sang along to every song as he performed, and I cried. After his performance, he came and hugged me and said eish, bra Bill, kea leboga (thank you),” he said.

Domingo also shared how, “watching African artists such as Abigail Kubeka, Dorothy Masuka, and The Soil, among others, perform on the same global stage as the other international acts each year. While using the same equipment, giving the same vibe as the crowd was dancing along made the festival even more memorable.

“The show belongs to the people. They made us who we are, and we must never forget that,” adding that people had embraced the festival culture and made it their own.

Another one of his outstanding memorable moments was when he and British actor, Idris Elba, who played former president Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) in the Long Walk to Freedom biopic, on a stage walkabout of the festival one year, walked across the stage, with Elba mimicking the Madiba dance (from the movie). Elba also suggested they should talk about Billy winning an Oscar in the future.

As the curtains to his performance at espAfrika lowers, Domingo said he would miss giving back to the community through the festival and working with the world’s most fantastic team. He is, however, looking forward to playing golf, going to theatre shows, enjoying motor racing, being a guest at the event and seeing it from a different perspective. Most importantly, though, Domingo looks forward to spending more time with his family.

“I’m going to embrace the family life every day. I know waking up and being with my family, my wife and children would warm my heart. This is because when you work on shows and events, you do not have time to be a husband and a father or a hands-on parent, because the focus is on the role you must play, ensuring that these events are a success. Now in retirement, I get to slow it down at 71 years of age, so I can enjoy life more,” he said.

Though Domingo has closed the festival organising chapter, he still has some tricks up his sleeve. He would not divulge more details but promised something thrilling. For now, he has bowed out but wishes his former teammates all the best.

“With the next person coming in, they, too, have an opportunity to take the festival to new heights because of the new beautiful music that is out there right now and which can attract a younger audience. With the direction they want to take, the new leadership is bound to make the festival greater and bigger for the next 21 years. Big mic drop and Billy is out. I’m done.” he said.

Cape Town - 27 March 2019. Crowds at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival's free concert in Greenmarket Square. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

Sunday Independent