Making Light Work of Kilimanjaro

February 03, 2003

Melrose Arch, the new and exclusive walled business district in Johannesburg’s Athol Oaklands area, is rapidly becoming the new haven for Gauteng’s monied set. If you venture into the heart of this paean to private enterprise, you will happen upon a red carpet that sweeps up to an enormous, hand-carved wooden door. The exclusive club, in which you now find yourself, is called Kilimanjaro – the culmination of a dream for Gambian born Seedy Lette. No stranger to the entertainment business, Lette has staged some 600 concerts in various parts of the globe. Between 1980 and 1993 he was the Cultural and Entertainment Director of the club Kilimanjaro in Washington DC. 

Standing in the entrance to Kilimanjaro, you’re encased in a double-level metallic-mesh ‘hut’. The interior of Kilimanjaro is all about texture; carved wood, glass, rough plaster – all manner of tactile sensation, tickled by fluctuating pulses of multi-hued light.

The minds behind
The creative force behind the architecture and interior design of this inviting shrine to hedonism is co-director Trevor Julius. Trevor met Seedy eight years ago at his wedding in Lesotho, and they’ve been hatching plans ever since. Another of the company’s very active directors is Michel Thuysbaert, a Belgian entrepreneur with a very colorful background. 

He was so enthralled with the concept of the club that he bought into the vision immediately and joined Seedy and Trevor and later welcomed aboard Gavin Pieterse (CEO of African Renaissance Holdings) and the well-traveled local musician, Lebo M.

Technical magic
John Roughly of Vedatec was responsible for the lighting design, programming and running of the show on the official opening of the club. Kilimanjaro features RoboScan Pro 918 scanners, MAC 250 profiles, MiniMAC Wash, and MiniMAC Profile all controlled via a Martin Case Pro I console. A host of conventional luminaries are also a part of the lighting rig. Atmospheric smoke effects are from a Jem StageHazer and Jem TechnoFog. All lighting and smoke equipment was supplied by Martin’s South African distributor Electrosonic and project-managed by Electrosonic’s Duncan Riley.

The lighting installation must have been a mammoth task because the club’s lighting is an integral part of the décor – a surface in itself. For example, off to one side of the dance floor is a huge sheet of frosted glass. Sometimes it’s a video projection screen; at other times, with subtle lighting changes, it’s a translucent wall. One entire wall of the venue is striped with backlit ribbons of wavy metal – like some gigantic, high-tech basket weave.

An astonishing variety of surfaces are either backlit (if glass) or front-lit in such a way that the wall coverings are shown to their best advantage. To achieve all this, Duncan and his team worked with lighting consultant Paul Pamboukian, who has 20 years experience at Pretoria’s State Theatre and has also consulted on prestige contracts such as the Canal Walk shopping complex and Planet Hollywood in Cape Town.

“What we’ve achieved here,” states Duncan, “is the laying down of a basic ‘backbone’ – a network of cables and international-standard connection points. That way, if a lighting crew – such as, let’s say, MJ Lighting – is brought in for a show or event, all they need do is ‘connect and go’.Their set-up and striking times (and therefore the inconvenience and cost to the club) are hugely reduced.”

And what was it like working with the interior designer? “Trevor is a hard taskmaster, make no mistake,” he grins, “but you have to respect the integrity of his vision. While we had a fair share of install-and-re-installs, we can now stand back – as you have – and go ‘Wow’!”

A stunning achievement
Certainly, no one involved with this mammoth project can walk away less than proud of what has been achieved. Michel sums up his – and his co-directors’ – feelings pretty neatly when he asserts: “This is a place where forces meet, where deals are made, where friendships are forged – away from all those petty and useless notions such as nationality and race. Here, you can tuck into our African-inspired cuisine, enjoy cocktails from around the world, meet with your business associates, but – most importantly – celebrate everything that is positive about this wonderful country.”