By Sarah Fenwick, co-founder Sarah’s Jazz Club, Editor CyprusNewsReport.com. The below is a follow-up to this article.
Quality Acoustic Music Takes a Step Forward in Nicosia
Everyone told me that starting a jazz club in Nicosia would be difficult, nearly impossible because of the Kafkaesque licensing system designed to trap you into fines and legal dead ends. Many venues operate without licenses because of the complexities and expense. It’s simpler to just pay the fines and put it down to the cost of doing business, they think.
I was scared, to be honest. The considerable financial and legal risks involved in starting a place that would host live jazz and blues loomed large in my mind. There were three reasons we decided not to play it safe. The first was my passion and mission to promote the music. The second was the support of my family, and of Mayor Yiorgadjis and the Municipal Council. The third was my intuition that Nicosia could be a great musical capital of the EU based on the high level of talent we have here.
The whole process of licensing didn’t disappoint my low expectations. Even Kafka would have been impressed by the sheer level of stonewalling we encountered. One civil servant pointed me in the direction of the other until I was dizzy from going around in circles. The process gained traction when the health inspector visited the premises of Sarah’s Jazz Club and approved us after considerable lobbying and letter writing. Logically, that should have led us to the second license; the alcohol license, which is conditional on the health license. That didn’t happen though, even though the CTO expressed no objection to us receiving the relevant license, our application was rejected in another stonewalling exercise. By that time I was just determined to get it sorted out. Putting aside my disappointment and inclination to give up, I started another letter writing campaign, along with personal visits to persuade the civil servants of the value of good quality acoustic music.
The panic over this non-transparent and time-consuming process was only alleviated by the live jazz concerts we have the privilege of hosting. Even the constant harassment by the police, who insisted on fining us for not having an alcohol license in spite of our explanations that we were expecting it, didn’t dim the pleasure of this beautiful music. I decided to go to court over the fine on March 12th, and was impressed with Judge Mathikoloni, who listened carefully to my excellent lawyer Sergis Hadjisergis’ argument that Sarah’s Jazz Club promotes live jazz and contributes to the city’s cultural life. That it helps to bring tourism to the city. She took into account that we had been responsible in trying to get all our licenses and indeed, were in possession of the alcohol license after much delay.
My lawyer argued that Sarah’s Jazz Club is a serious artistic venture presenting jazz music, which is related to classical music. That I am a believer in Nicosia becoming a great musical capital of the EU with the right cultural development. That the municipality’s licensing departments had delayed the alcohol license and the police had fined us during a concert. That the police came another four or five times after that even though they knew we had an alcohol license, interrupting the concerts. Judge Mathikoloni ruled that I would not be fined. She found that I am 53 years old with a good character based on my clean criminal record, that I respect the law and am presenting serious music. She directed me to sign a financial guarantee that I would continue to respect Cyprus’ laws, which I duly did. It sets a precedent that a defendant accepts the charge but is not fined due to the circumstances around the police and municipality’s actions. I believe it vindicates my reasonable position that we had done nothing to deserve such censure, which from an artist’s point of view adds up to indirect censorship.
I am satisfied that Cyprus’ justice is fair and feel very encouraged to continue this difficult artistic project.
I hope the municipality’s civil service can become as supportive of genuine artistic ventures as his Honour the Mayor, the Municipal Council and music lovers. My peaceful petition to streamline the artistic venue licenses and make Nicosia into a great musical capital of the EU has reached 950 signatures. There is clearly popular demand for quality entertainment like live acoustic music. I remind the readers that the EU’s Creative City benchmark shows the close links between strong economic performance and creativity in cities.
Last week, we responsibly submitted the application to renew our alcohol license before the deadline. We hope all will go well from here onwards and that we can carry on bringing great jazz musicians to the stage here in the old city. I remark also here that jazz is spreading in popularity and features in many of the venues in Nicosia now – that is a GOOD thing! The stronger the quality music scene becomes, the more people will go out, enjoy their evenings and bring business to the city. The more demand for quality live music there is, the more work the musicians will have, and the more incentives to create, record, perform, open venues and do what they love.
If the musical talent we have in Nicosia and the rest of the island were recognised as the treasure it really is, it would be valued as highly as any other asset. Indeed, musical and artistic talent is more rare than gold, and perhaps more precious than anything tangible, because it transforms the heart and mind, inspiring us with universal energy and expressing our common humanity.