15 October 2015


Durban will make history when it hosts the annual international Essence Festival in 2016 and 2017. Hosting the festival is the culmination of a three-year partnership between sister cities eThekwini and New Orleans in the United States.

EThekwini in partnership with Time Inc.’s Essence will host the Essence Festival in Durban. The festival has a rich history and was started 21 years ago to empower African American women and youth. It features a number of acclaimed artists in concerts every night. Training workshops are held during the day to equip and empower delegates to bring about tangible change in their lives.

The festival has grown over the years and now attracts over 500 000 visitors to the four-day event and generates a turnover of over $250 million (US Dollars). It has become a major economic driving force for New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. It is anticipated eThekwini will experience similar positive spinoffs.

The partnership was announced at the official launch at City Hall today, 15 October 2015 where Municipal officials and a delegation from New Orleans expressed their delight at the partnering. The numerous economic and social benefits eThekwini will experience as a result of hosting the festival was also highlighted at the launch.

EThekwini Mayor Cllr James Nxumalo said hosting the festival was just one way of improving economic development in the City using innovative ventures.

“We need to cultivate young minds to further drive economic development. We welcome this partnership with open arms. It will also expose women and youth to new opportunities. I know this partnership will grow from strength to strength,” Nxumalo said.

City Manager Sibusiso Sithole said this was a historic moment for the City. He said hosting the festival would promote the City internationally which would result in increased international visitors to the City to reach the target of five million visitors by 2020.

“This festival builds on other major milestones the City has achieved including being awarded the rights to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. It shows what we as a City can accomplish,” she said.

Sithole said the City would be investing R18 million over the next three years to host the festival but were also looking for other sponsors to partner with.

He said the benefits of hosting the festival far outweighed the investment the City would be making.

“The festival will have great economic and social benefits. Many economic opportunities will be made available to residents. The festival promotes the transfer of skills through capacity building and empowerment for local businesses. There will also be creative and talent development workshops for local and international artists,” he said.

Sithole added that there will also be motivational talks to empower women as well.

“There will be skills transfer by providing a platform for musicians and artists to network as well as artist development for both upcoming and established artists. The musical concert at the festival will feature local artists, from Africa and international artists across the different genres,” said Sithole.

He added that attendance at some of the events would be free while others would be reasonably priced to ensure the public would be able to attend.

Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala said the people of eThekwini would greatly benefit from this festival.

“The streets of New Orleans were alive and buzzing during the festival. We want the same experience here. There will also be a market for the informal street traders to capitalise on the opportunity. This project will leave a legacy in the City,” she said.

The delegation from New Orleans included Essence President Michelle Ebanks, Essence General Manager Joy Collins, US civil rights activist and television host Revered Al Sharpton and US singer Kelly Price.

Ebanks said the event has grown from being a small event to a major economic engine for the city of New Orleans. A number of high profile artists have performed at the Essence Festivals including Prince, Beyoncé, Tamia, Mary J. Blige and Lionel Richie to name a few.
She said over 500 000 people attend the four day event and generate a turnover of over $250 million (US dollars) during the festival. The festival also has great benefits in term of employment.

“The festival is also about the programmes held during the day to equip people to be able to change their lives once they go back to their communities,” said Ebanks.

She said they were happy the opportunity to host the festival in Durban availed itself.

“We are pleased that the festival has found a home here in this rich, warm, open and culturally diverse City of Durban,” Ebanks said.
Reverend Sharpton, who has attended all 21 festivals in New Orleans, said he was excited at the historic union.

“For us to come across the Atlantic and unite with our African brothers and sisters means so much to us. Hotels had a 2 percent occupancy when the festival started and now you can’t find accommodation anywhere in the region. I guarantee it will be the same here when the festival is hosted. We will be here to consume and drink in the cultural and economic benefits of the City,” Sharpton said.


Issued by eThekwini Municipality’s Communications Head, Tozi Mthethwa.

For more information members of the media can contact Gugu Sisilana on 031 311 4855 or email: or Princess Nkabane on 031 311 4818 or