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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Johannesburg's new vibe
Kanda Bongoman
Congolese group Kanda Bongoman at the Turbine Hall

Thousands of delegates are flooding into Johannesburg for the World Development Summit. But there's far more happening in the "city of gold" than just talks in the rich suburb of Sandton - the busy downtown area has a vibe beyond its crime-ridden reputation.

"Ek se mamela!" scream the billboards. "Just listen! It's our music!" And it's great music. It's Kwaito, it's Sokous, it's Kwasa-Kwasa - it's even hip-hop and good old traditional jazz. It's the best in African music and dance and it's filling the clubs and venues of downtown Jo'burg.

Marquees fill Newtown square - the artistic and cultural heart of Jozi - the young black South Africans' name for the city built on gold.

The famous jazz hall Kippies sits close-by the Horror Café and a huge new venue, the Turbine Hall. It would be a fantastic concert space anywhere in the world, but there's something special about the vast high-roofed hall of the old power station and the fantastic music the Arts Alive festival has brought to its stage.

Turbine Hall
The Turbine Hall's entrance
Perhaps it's history. Apartheid shaped Johannesburg - from the Carlton Tower, still the tallest building in Africa, to the futuristic glass skyscrapers, now abandoned by white big business who robbed the heart from Jo'burg, starving out the theatres, the movie houses and the expensive restaurants as they fled north to Sandton's luxury malls.

Curfew

Every night at seven the power station's siren would wail, the beginning of the evening for the mink-clad white elite and the start of the curfew for the black workers bussed out to their homes in Soweto and banned from their city.

As businesses left taking their money with them and the city declined, the Turbine Hall fell into ruin and became a squat - a den of drugs and crime - but the Newtown developers had their sights set on an arts space, and now it's hosting big names like Ladysmith Black Mambazo and giving a platform for young South African talent.

"If you're not here, you'll be missing out," says Reggy Zikalala, Arts Alive festival producer.

"It's a fantastic events venue - it was a beautiful idea to transform this old building. Everyone coming here agrees it's one hell of a venue - it's outstanding and they think it's out of this world."

Newtown wall art
Wall art is spreading in Newtown
"We have a huge international billing where we have African artists working together with a theme around African music. We're making Newtown a cultural destination - if you come to Jo'burg this is the place you've got to come for culture."

Johannesburg has a reputation for violent crime - and there's no doubt it is a dangerous city.

But a lot is being done, especially while the summit is in town, to bring people into the centre of the city they're skirting by staying in Sandton - and to bring in plenty of extra police to make the hotspots as safe as possible.

Posters

For two weeks, venues across the city are packing in the big name African acts, a showcase to the thousands of summit delegates.

On the day around 100 world leaders jet in to join the summit, the Zoo Lake park, just outside downtown will take centre stage with thousands of people expected. Hugh Masekela, the Soweto String Quartet lead a purely African bill.

Turbine Hall
Music is luring people back
Music isn't the only lure to bring people into the city - the sides of buildings are being decorated by massive posters, displaying contemporary African art and some from the city gallery's classic collection.

Murals decorate the arts studios and galleries in Newtown and even small wooden sculptures sit on street furniture in the revamped squares.

It's going to take a lot to revive downtown Johannesburg - the money is in Sandton and the high walls people surround their homes with show just how nervous South Africans are about their city.

But it's a vibrant place and is fast becoming a cultural heartland for Jozi - the lively African city it never was under the falsehoods of apartheid.


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