Trust to help musos avoid singing the poverty blues

Four months after major surgery, the late Zayn Adam was back on stage at a venue in Durbanville.

From the outset, fellow musician and friend Sammy Webber knew something was wrong. The singer, songwriter and guitarist who had effortlessly captivated national and international audiences for more than five decades could barely make it past the first two lines of his opening song.

The Salt River-born Adam was out of breath and struggling, yet there was no option. In order for his extensive hospital bills to be paid, the show had to go on.

“There simply was no way he should have been on stage. Zayn should have been off for at least a year. He should have been taken care of. We lost him because he had to get up and pay his bills,” Mr Webber said.

Adam’s death as a result of heart complications in February sent shock waves around the country, and served as a stark reminder of the difficulties the country’s musicians face. The entertainment industry may be worth billions of rand annually, but for the artists and performers who drive it, a dire lack of financial support in the form of medical aid and pension fund schemes necessitates that they are forced to work, even when chronic illnesses may result in a loss of life.

Mr Webber’s moving recollection of his friend’s final months was one of several testimonies given at the Kaleidoscope Cafe in Claremont on Monday June 20, and formed part of the launch of the newly-formed African Musicians Trust.

The trust aims to not only provide musicians access to financial instruments that are able to give them peace of mind in times of unemployment, illness and retirement, but also gives them career support in the form of management and marketing strategies.

In addition, the trust seeks to assist with funding of other organisations, such as the Delft Big Band, while also assisting musicians to leave a healthy heritage and legacy of their works for future generations.

The fund is the brainchild of well-known Cape Town jazz musician Glenn Robertson, who had seen too many jazz legends die in poverty despite their prodigious talent.

Mr Robertson, who is also a minister, said the idea had first come to him while officiating at the funeral of Carmen Jansen, wife of the late Cape Town music legend Robbie Jansen.

“We clubbed together to raise money for Robbie following Carmen’s death. It was about R3 000. When I informed Robbie we would be placing the money in his bank account, he told me he didn’t have one. Here was this legend, 55 years old, and he didn’t have a bank account. That was when I realised I had to do something for our musicians,” he said.

Although Mr Robertson had drawn up the basic outlines of a trust in 2000, it was only when he met businesswoman Ros Dantu in October 2012 that the wheels were truly set in motion. Ms Dantu introduced him to Claremont-based attorney Jose Delgado, who assisted in formalising the fund.

Mr Webber has also been a victim of a career-threatening illness, having suffered deteriorating eyesight in recent years. However he has been one of the “lucky ones”, thanks to a decision to manage his finances well in earlier life.

He has, however, also been assisted in covering his chronic medication by Sekunjalo Investment, thanks to the trust’s work.

“A month or so ago I was with my wife at Cosy Corner in Wynberg. There was this 19-year-old boy there, and all of a sudden he came up to me and asked if I was Sammy Webber. He told me I was the reason he was playing bass guitar today. I am just so fortunate that I am still able to play and instil this inspiration in people’s lives,” he said.

“I tell you this story so you can appreciate just what the trust can do. I ask that everyone gets behind this trust to make this thing work.”

A musician-focused financial product, resulting from a collaboration between Futura Wealth and Capital Alliance, was also unveiled at the launch, offering life assurance, capital disability cover and trauma or critical illness cover.

A number of Cape Town’s leading artists, including popular band Faze 4 as well as 16-year-old guitar wunderkind Timothy Ehrenreich, were also on hand to entertain guests.