THE familiar war of words about "jazz" festivals, starring generous public funding and contested paper trails, has erupted again.
The subject this time is June's Port Shepstone Ugu Jazz Festival, but stereotyped media coverage has simply swapped the title from some previous, identical tale.
The newspapers cling to tired reporting tropes as if they were life belts in a stormy sea: the programme does not really feature jazz; promises about facilities, audience and artist payments have allegedly been broken; no one appears to know how the promoters concerned got the contract, and so on. Subsequently, politicians A, B, and C are quoted demanding reasons why the money was allocated to an "unworthy" cause such as music rather than to a "worthy" cause such as sport.
The issues merit consideration, but the real problem is not with jazz festivals, but with the press.
The "not enough jazz" argument is a chestnut. Nobody owns the word, and in many African contexts the jazz label legitimately signifies modern urban music or (in Cape Town) simply music you can "jazz" to. Further, jazz is a small audience niche; a bigger ticket-income cushion may be needed to support the artists genre purists want to see.
But if the subject matter were, say, school textbooks, editors would be assigning their investigative team to get answers to most of those questions rather than lazily permitting showbiz writers simply to ask them.
Potentially wasted public money, the allocation of contracts, the making and breaking of promises; the how and why of it all - these should be the meat and potatoes of media seeking to serve their communities. Their public interest is no smaller because they relate to a music festival. Innuendo about role-players unsupported by investigation is no less defamatory in this context either.
It is a tragic commentary on the status some editors accord to the arts that such stories are never allocated investigative resources or senior reporters trained to follow paper trails rather than music trends. Investigation is a specialist reporting skill and, without additional training, even the best arts writer may not possess it.
With consistent digging, perhaps the dots of individual festival debacles could be joined into a pattern revealing the real track record of some role-players.
But even if such work uncovered contracts cavalierly awarded to known villains, it would not automatically condemn music events as "unworthy" recipients of public funds.
Properly managed, the creative industries are employment creators. They have significant export potential. They embody heritage and values, can open important public debates and build social cohesion. They provide intellectual and aesthetic experiences vital for an innovative nation.
Editors who cared about balance would ensure their coverage dealt with those aspects too.
THE live music event of this week, is, I am glad to say, unlikely to be beset by this kind of controversy.
Cape-based guitarist and composer Derek Gripper is rarely heard in Johannesburg, but on Sunday the Lucky Bean in Melville hosts a one-night solo recital from him, starting at 7pm.
Gripper is a player for the world of music: he has studied classical violin, South Indian Carnatic music and the traditional genres of the Cape, these last explored memorably on his 2002 collaboration with the late trumpeter Alex van Heerden, Sagtevlei. This event is a launch for his latest release, One Night on Earth, which engages with the melodies of Mali as interpreted by Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Ballake Sissoko and Sissoko's collaborator the French cellist Vincent Segal. Gripper's shimmering, meditative guitar tones are beautifully suited to this music, but his often edgy creativity makes the recording (and will make the evening) not a set of readings but what he calls "a conversation between the composers of kora music interpreted by the guitar". Bookings are essential and can be made on (011) 482-5572.
For the rest, Sibongile Khumalo reprises her show, Reflect, Celebrate, Live, previewed last week, at Cape Town's Baxter Concert Hall on Saturday at 8pm.
Theatre Talipot's !Aia - From Cave to Sky continues at the Market Theatre, with its final performance also on Saturday.