The Shabs’ Jon Shaban talks cancelling their biggest Euro tour to date and how the effects of COVID-19 has sent them into R100k debt

The entertainment industry has been reeling in the wake of president Cyril Ramaphosa’s address on Sunday evening that saw multiple restrictions laid out to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

But there was no way of predicting or preparing ourselves for the massive blow that the entertainment industry was about to be dealt, come Monday morning, courtesy of the coronavirus.

Every new email in my inbox and every new Facebook notification was a gig cancellation. But it wasn’t until I set a status reaching out to the bookers, venue owners, bands, DJs, festivals, photographers, and promoters that I began to understand the far-reaching effects that this virus and, subsequently, these restrictions would have on our industry.

Just three weeks ago I spoke to Jon Shaban about his involvement as Sit The Folk Down Studios’ Sound Engineer. In the interview, Shaban expressed the excitement that he and his band, The Shabs, had for the Euro-tour they were days away from embarking on.

Now in isolation, back home in South Africa, with no gigs but all the time in the world, I touch base with Shaban about their failed tour experience. 

The Shabs — composed of Jon Shaban (guitar and vocals), Ryan McArthur (double bass and vocals), Jon Case (drums) and Angela de Klerk (touring vocalist, guitaris, and melodica-player, stand-in for Sophie Doherty) — arrived in Prague on the 4th of March, with a fresh new single, “To the Streets”, and a 24-show tour lined up across the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

Despite the coronavirus putting the world in a panic, their first couple of shows went down well. There were a few show cancellations in The Czech Republic, but the rest were scheduled to go ahead as planned.

They kept their cool and took to the road for their next couple of shows, Hamburg being their next stop. With a heaviness in his voice Shaban explains, “We were driving quite a far drive and listening to the radio and our tour manager was translating everything, and just more and more gigs were being cancelled.”

Shaban shares the moment everything fell apart, “Two hours before the gig [in Hamburg] the venue pulled the plug, and we had a bit of a wake up call. We were like, ‘Well shit, maybe we need to get home before we can’t any more.”

They were experiencing the panic in real time, with countries closing borders and allowing only citizens back in. Because of this, they were forced to leave behind borrowed gear, McArthur’s double bass, and even their rental car.

Just nine days into what was supposed to be their biggest tour yet, they announced the cancellation of the rest of their dates. Airlines weren’t keeping up with political travel implications, so they were forced to buy new, last-minute tickets — an additional expense. And on the 13th of March, they arrived back in South Africa, despondent and deep in debt.

Shaban explains the complicated position that independent musos are in when it comes to touring, especially overseas, “You just spend so much money: you’ve gotta buy flights, book rental cars upfront and you’ve gotta print all your merch. And then you’ve gotta start earning that back. If you’re lucky, like two thirds into your tour you start making a bit of profit.”

But they didn’t make it a third of the way in, “We put everything that we had into this tour, and before we could even make a dent in the debt, we had to pull the plug.”

The band weren’t the only ones who made a loss. They were not able to pay their tour manager, Julie Bonheur. They had to send Angela home with a defeated, ‘Ange, sorry, it’s over now’, and while the bookers and promoters for all the canceled shows were understanding, they felt the financial repercussions as well.

Shaban shocks me with the reality of the band’s financial situation, a loss somewhere in the region of R100 000.00, a bill that most musicians cannot afford to foot. To offset these exorbitant costs, The Shabs will be launching a crowd-funding campaign currently in review, due to go live in the next couple of days.

“The point of the crowdfunding campaign is just so that we can make some of it back but obviously it’s not like a charity thing. We’ve got a shit load of merch and designs and songs and other concepts that we’ve put together so that people who contribute can at least get something cool out of it, you know? It’s not like we just want people to throw money at us,” Shaban elaborates.

He expresses his solidarity with the entertainment industry the world over as he concludes, “I think we also wanna really stress that we are not the only people who are struggling, who have been affected by this thing. This is definitely one of the biggest stumbling blocks [the entertainment industry] has experienced but at the same time I think that if we support each other however we can, we can get through this, and we’ll be okay.”

Find out more about how you can help The Shabs and the lekker rewards you can get, check out their Thundafund page and pledge.