Swiss watch brand Raymond Weil gets behind ‘Africa’s grandest gathering’

Debbie Hathway talks to Elie Bernheim, CEO at the music-loving watchmaker, ahead of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, for which the brand is the official timing partner

By Debbie Hathway
Zoë Modiga

Bob Marley, The Beatles, AC-DC, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix – while these artists may occupy hallowed space in the annals of musical history, they are not names you’d automatically link to Swiss watchmaking. Yet, they represent partnerships combining watchmaking excellence with music inspiration since Mr Raymond Weil founded his company in 1976.

The independent watchmaker is one of Switzerland’s precious few family-owned horological institutions. Raymond Weil is managed in succession by the founder’s son, Olivier Bernheim, and grandson, Elie Bernheim, whom I interviewed recently at Watches and Wonders.

Elie, the CEO, is also a pianist and cellist. He shares his family’s love of music and continues his grandfather’s legacy by supporting initiatives like the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF). Raymond Weil Geneve is the official timing partner for the prestigious event, which will be held in the Mother City on May 3-4, 2024.

Freelancer Basquiat Special Edition Men’s Automatic © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

The watchmaker says music has been part of the brand since the beginning. “My grandfather founded the brand in 1976. In the 80s, marketing and communication became more important in our industry. He mentioned that he was looking for a collaboration and thinking about what to do… my grandfather was a music lover, so why not be involved with something he truly loves and enjoys? “That’s how he started getting involved in music festivals. Music is part of our brand DNA. It’s our territory,” he says.

Raymond Weil themed its watches around music like the Amadeus Chronograph from 1983, the maestro The Beatles ‘Let It Be’ limited edition timepiece, Tango GMT Bob Marley, and the Freelancer line with Bowie, Hendrix and AC/DC. “All those famous music names, some less classic than those my grandfather used to partner with,” Elie adds.

Elie Bernheim, CEO of Raymond Weil, wears the Freelancer Basquiat Special Edition

The brand recently launched another Freelancer with Jean-Michel Basquiat, the neo-expressionist American painter. The Freelancer Basquiat Special Edition Men’s Automatic Watch, 43.5 mm, features his artwork on a dial encased in titanium with a black ceramic tachymeter bezel. It is fitted with a black leather strap. Availability is limited. “The art and culture world is wider than just music. We’re exploring that world more,” says Elie. “As we honour Basquiat’s genius, this watch is a testament to our commitment to innovation and artistic appreciation.”The appreciation is mutual, as Jean-Michel says: “Art is how we decorate space; music is how we decorate time.”

On that note, jazz festival patrons can look forward to a star-studded lineup for the 21st edition of ‘Africa’s grandest gathering’ after a four-year hiatus thanks to Covid. The programme features renowned UK group Matt Bianco, bassist and composer Benjamin Jephta, guitarist, composer and producer Billy Monama, bassist Carlo Mombelli & The Prisoners of Strange, London-based Kokoroko known for their fusion of jazz and Afrobeats, Cape-based black band music proponents Kujenga and multi-award-winning trumpeter vocalist and composer Mandisi Dyantyis. The Nduduzo Makhathini Trio featuring Omagugu is not to be missed.

Then there’s jazz pianist Radio Sechaba, The Yussef Dayes Experience led by the South London-raised producer, composer and drummer of the same name, award-winning songstresses Zoë Modiga and Ami Faku, vocalist and songwriter Daliwonga, the Darshan Doshi Trio featuring saxophonist Mark Hartsuch and bassist Tony Grey, Italian singer, songwriter and guitarist Francesca Biancoli and the legendary hometown attraction, Hilton Schilder, described as a pianist/keyboards multi-instrumentalist.

Hilton Schilder

Jazz pianist Mervyn Africa, acclaimed songstress Judith Sephuma, Mi Casa, Grammy award-winning American bassist and experimental musician MonoNeon, alternative R&B, neo-soul group Moonchild, singer Thandi Ntuli, British singer-songwriter of Nigerian descent Tunde Baiyewu of Lighthouse Family, DJ sensations Clint L, Jab a Jaw, and MÖRDA complete an impressive list that should more than whet your appetite.

But that’s not all. The organisers recently announced that Grammy-nominated vocalist Gretchen Parlato, along with acclaimed guitarist Lionel Loueke, will perform their long-awaited collaboration, ‘Lean In’, which earned Gretchen the 2024 Grammy Nominee nod for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke

Finally, the much-loved award-winning virtuoso guitarist Jimmy Dludlu will entertain with his distinctive style rooted in the fusion of jazz with traditional African rhythms and melodies.

Jimmy Dludlu

“Each artist on this year’s lineup brings a unique perspective and unparalleled talent to the stage, collectively embodying the spirit of creativity and innovation that has defined this festival over the years,” says Lindsay Rhoda, Head of Talent at the CTIJF.

“Jazz is a multi-faced genre, and we have a diverse audience. This year’s festival is a representation of music that will appeal to jazz aficionados and those who are just beginning with their jazz exploration and journey. The lineup does justice to our return, which we are very much looking forward to sharing with Festinos very soon.” Visit www.capetownjazzfest.com for more information and Ticketmaster to book

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