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Of Pandemics and Artistry

Between pandemic lines

I like lines.

Depending on who you are, where you are from, and what you do for recreational or income purposes, these three words could mean anything to you. I only typed them out because I couldn’t settle on which quote to open with and I’m big on quotes. Everything I’d thought I’d pen down almost disappears as I hear the infamous A-Reece line echo in my head… “everyone a dope rapper until I rap after”. It suddenly hits me, ‘you’re writing a think piece after the Pope of cultural think pieces (Stogie T)… you should have rapped first and upheld the young king’s prophecy. No lines can save you from the paling comparison to follow.’ I quickly console myself with a cliché about what a great honour it is and continue my attempt at making my thoughts make sense.

The mind has had to fly far and wide during this period to collect its sanity from any quarters that offer consolation or inspiration depending on the day.

My mind but won’t shake off the word “lines”. I miss lines, I miss people in lines, standing in lines at an entrance, reciting lines in the front row of a show, lines at the bar, helping clients read in between the lines; drawing the proverbial line in the sand during alternative dispute resolution or a pointless argument over after-work drinks. Lines are clear, they are definitive, they are consistent and it is not so much the lines I miss but what they represent. Lines are a guarantee, beginning, end, route.

The days are colder, the internet gets weirder but the lines that give me comfort and certainty remain blurred. The lines that marked the clear road to success in entertainment have been washed away overnight and the navigation of that journey has demanded so much more concentration to merely get a vague idea of where the road lead to before and where it leads to now. Nothing is clear.

My personal one liners were quite endearing coming into the lockdown period.

To the HomeComing staff, I said, “Stay on the phone with everybody, keep them warm, we’ll be back soon”. To the Tailormade clients, I said, “Don’t stress, this is a good time to catch up on admin,” and to myself, I said, “stick to this 12-hour daily schedule so you come out of this looking like Hercules”. All those lines sound, look and feel blurry. Their value disappeared with the speed of the Rand falling as we all came to realise… this is business unusual and new lines need to be drawn.

Artists and entertainers had the lines of government clearly drawn up for them as it was made clear that only the super politically connected would have their plight heard and share in the honey of the relief fund pots. For the rest, the lines were drawn; you are not compliant, your cowboy industry is not organized, you are on the outside. As levels began to be drawn up, the lines became clearer. Not only will the government not help you through this period but you will also be last on the list of those given an opportunity to help themselves in the absence of any other salvation. Harrowing, daunting, blurry.

My good friend Neo Moela quips in the last staff meeting of 2020 (BL: Before Lockdown), “there is opportunity in chaos”. This one-liner becomes clearer (almost inspirational) as I slowly drag myself out of a psychological depression, mid lockdown, that saw me sit out work for two weeks, the same inspiration that has me up at 6 am writing this article.

I’ve seen it in action; the opportunity in chaos, with two different types on entertainers on two different sides of this invisible line.

As an entertainment law consultant, I now find myself having to point out the world of opportunity outside of performances for clients. I know I’ve preached, until purple in the face, about collecting royalties and ancillary incomes but this is the chaos that provides the opportunity for clients to finally sit down and look at the more professional side of their careers. We may not be negotiating bigger performance fees today but we are definitely mapping careers, selling albums, restructuring digital income mechanisms.

The ability of others to navigate the blurry lines of economies shrunk by pandemics gives me a lifeline. The opportunistic optimists are working and this is my opportunity in chaos, somebody has to draft these agreements and negotiate these deals.

Other clients are idle, waiting for the rain to pass, hoping for the best because sadly arks are built when the weather is good. And let’s just say, Noah would still be considered a mad man in certain quarters today. It’s a painful reality, to deal with people on two sides of what could be argued a psychological line in the same industry. These are the entertainers who had convinced themselves that show money is the only money and now they sit with no money. They have no appreciation for the opportunity provided by chaos. These are the most painful to interact with because you cannot lament them, this is a vis majeure and we are not all wired to respond the same.

It has been a marvel to watch as HomeComing Events with its beloved TshwaneFontein et al. has to fight back to reclaim space from people who don’t host better events than us, but who started the race to the online event moon while we were trying to figure out the lines. This has characterized COVID19 in entertainment. Some have taken long to figure out that there aren’t really any lines and everybody ought to be painting the path to their own salvation.

It is business unusual, there is no “new” normal because everything is abnormal, no guarantees, no certainty, no idea what tomorrow looks like. No more clear lines. Just chaos and opportunity.

In Al Pacino’s final speech as Tony D’amato, acting in the movie “Any Given Sunday”, he makes a compelling argument which convicts me as much today as it did when I first heard it. He passionately urges:

You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one-half step too late or too early
you don’t quite make it.
One-half second too slow or too fast
and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game
every minute, every second.”

Entertainment, law and eventing, are no different to life and football. The inches we need are everywhere around us, we just need to find them, fight for them and draw new lines.

Katlego Malatji

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