Brian Weinronk is a cultural maverick and founder of eponymous eighties multimedia and inter-racial venue Club Indaba. He is also known as the brains behind City Late, Roxy Cafe, and the Coffee Lounge. I interviewed him back in 2005 to find out a little more about Cape Town’s unofficial history of dance culture.
You are Cape Town’s mother of reinvention. How did you get into dance-culture?
I was working very much in isolation in a workshop and wanted to interact much more with people. I didn’t want to be the lonely artist, so I met up with some people through a cousin of mine who had a defunct club called Offbeat. It had been a gay club and it wasn’t happening and there were three partners. It was all counterculture. It wasn’t the mainstream disco circuit. I suppose Charlie Parkers would have been mainstream disco, or Raffles.
Where did you come up with the name Indaba Project?
Funny enough it was before Gatsha Buthelezi hijacked it from us, with the Indaba and the Inkatha Movement. [laughs] He started an Indaba and people started to think we were involved with the Inkatha Freedom Party. I think it was the name of people coming together. What we wanted was a whole fusion of people and music and cultures and local talent. The whole emphasis was on live music although we had a DJ and a dancefloor.
And the venue?
We found this place in Wale Street. It was a nice venue. We weren’t empressarios, we helped to host people with media, like artists and musicians, helping each other basically a space where anything could happen. A performer-friendly, audience-friendly space.
Did you have any problems with group areas, racial segregation?
Hazel Mill, she ran Hazels. It was the first coffee bar that served alchohol to black people. It wasn’t allowed and they had lots of trouble. Anyway, Hazel became a hidden away partner. We couldn’t get a liquor licences, there was no such thing a shabeen licence because tried to get a shabeen licence but that didn’t work.
What was your involvement with the cross-pollination that was happening at the time with Johannesburg bands like Benny B Funk coming down to Cape Town?
A lot of the alternative bands that played at Jamesons got to hear about us. Especially in summer, they would come and do a couple of sets at Indaba and The Base. I don’t think anybody got wealthy, but some of them got quite famous, like Peto. The sad thing is how few professional musicians have stayed on, stalwarts like Robbie Jansen.
Any acts that you would say came out of Indaba Project?
The Genuines played a helleveh lot there, I think they got exposed to an audience. They weren’t unknowns but they were more known on the Cape Flats than in town. So I think that’s where they got their break. The whole idea was to foster new talent, bands that weren’t necessarily well-known but had a following.
Your project had a philosophy?
We had a theatre that sometimes operated, we had a few very fringe, hectic lesbian plays. We had one room where we had art exhibitions and Beezy Bailey painted a whole wall – an amazing acid trip of personal stuff.
Any brushes with the authorities?
There was a story that one of the patrons had had a bomb in a suitcase. But there was generally an incredible atmosphere of paranoia in 1986/87. Scary times.
How did the State of Emergency effect you?
The feeling that your phone is probably tapped but trying not to buy into it too much. Everything cautious. We weren’t mainstream politicos, we were a nightclub.
What kind of people went there?
Generally a crosscultural fusion.
Well mon, A + B = C, see? It doesn’t always happen. Fusion, certianly cultural fusion is where you get a new mass coming out of the blending of different music, different styles, world music, it creates something new. Its not just white kids dancing to black music. Probably a lot of things that we had no idea were going on. It wasn’t a trendy club. It didn’t matter what you were wearing.
Your relationship to media guru Samten De Wet?
We had a photocopy evening. The guy who did our flyers donated a whole lot of photocopy machines and Samten arranged an art evening with his friend Nat Tardrew, and people could do anything from sitting with a naked bum on a copy machine to expressing different forms of art. Samten then put it into handmade books. Which is right up his street. Robyin Orlin also did something.
What did you think when you saw scene change, the ravers?
There was a lot more ugliness, the drug scene is uglier. At indaba people smoked dope. I’m sure there were probably things going on in the toilets that nobody knew about but the worst you could see was dope.
What was the sex like?
We had a huge bed area off the dance floor where people used to go. It was a chill-out area before chill-out but very loud and onto the dancefloor and I remember there would be times, with everbody else dancing around and bopping and there would be times when it was used as a bed.
Any advice to the children of today what would your advice be?
Do what you’re passionate about and if things are not working out as you would like them to work out, know when to close the door and open a new door. Don’t be scared to actually re-invent yourself.
Tell us about your other projects like the Coffee Lounge and Roxy’s?
I think there’s a constancy in all of them, they’re all platforms not for me, not necessarily to perform myself but to nurture talent. I think it combines business sense and altruism by giving somebody else a platform and it creates audience and everybody wants to hear new talent. People are scared to take those chances and I don’t know why. Perhaps we need business people behind these things.
Was Roxy’s a success?
Very. It had no cultural pretension at anything. It was just a friendly place. We once tried to have Ian Fraser and we tried the idea of him doing a bit of impromptu but it didn’t work because there were all these little rooms. But it worked just for its atmosphere.
Disco, any thoughts?
I remember my father saying he couldn’t understand my generation. He used to twist but with disco you don’t actually hold your partner. The whole thing about dance was that it was intimate. He couldn’t understand our generation that we could get off on dance where you interact with your partner but you don’t necessarily hold them. Its quite interesting. That whole thing about Saturday Night Fever and Ritas. It became fine to dance for your own self-expression, if you interacted with you partner and got into some kind intimate thing it was a bonus.
DRL June 1 2005