Harare: hungry for culture

Harare is obviously a city hungry for culture. In the week before the start of the annual Harare International Festival of the Arts, the impending shows were all anyone could talk about.

A Local Choir Performs their rendition of Queen's 'Somebody To Love'.
A Local Choir Performs their rendition of Queen’s ‘Somebody To Love’.

The opening ceremony, at the Main Stage in Harare Gardens, drew a crowd of several thousand. Indeed, a HIFA official remarked that the massive attendance had not been expected, and the ceremony drew one of the largest audiences ever. For the organisers, the surge in interest was a pleasant surprise.

Long queues snaked down either side of the walkway separating the Main Stage from the Coca Cola Green for well over an hour before the gates were opened, with an impromptu performance from the Tonga Ngoma Buntime Music Group helping to entertain the impatient throng of spectators.

There was barely any room to move on the grass lawns in front of the visually-imposing main stage. Despite some overcrowding issues, with some spectators shimmying up the small trees dotted around the edge of the arena, an extraordinary show went off without a hitch.

The ensemble performance included spoken word, dance, and contributions from several local musicians. A choral cover of Queen's 'Somebody to Love' and a barnstorming rendition of The Cat Empire's 'Chariot' added a contemporary, international and inclusive flavour to proceedings. All the acts involved stormed the stage to close the show under a jaw-dropping fireworks display against the backdrop of the distinctive Crown Plaza Hotel and a starry, cloudless night.

The ceremony was the brainchild of Neville Campbell, the founding artistic director of Tumbuka Contemporary Dance Company, who returned to Zimbabwe to direct a memorable night, while local musician Vee Mukarati obviously performed a strong role as the show's musical director. If Tuesday night was a hint of things to come, Harare is in for an exciting week.

A phalanx of artists, actors, designers, musicians, poets and painters have descended upon a city buzzing with expectation. A small army of technicians worked feverishly around the Main Stage all of Monday, while a stone's throw away at the festival's main office, the phones barely stopped ringing for a moment while preparations were being completed.

HIFA has always been about more than just the music, but the artists garnering the most attention this year are the ones who will be performing at the main stages – and the popular Coca-Cola Green.

That's not to say that other acts have gone unnoticed. Comrade Fatso and Outspoken made their lyrical mark as spoken word artists, but the duo have broken new ground and forged unique identities with their satirical news broadcast stage show, Zambezi News, both showings of which were sold out a week before the festival even started.

Theatre usually attracts something of a niche audience, but a variety of stage performances this year has something for every palate. Three venues – Reps, The Standard Theatre and 7 Arts, which has clung to life despite the death of the Avondale cinema complex – will host this year's theatre line-up.

Danai Gurira's new play, Eclipsed, is being shown in Zimbabwe for the first time. The Bed In Her Head, directed by Leeroy Gono and Melissa Eveleigh, features a strong Zimbabwean cast, while The 24 Hour Theatre Challenge, in which five 10-minute plays will be written and rehearsed the day before the performance, promises exciting and unpredictable results. The eye-catching one-man show Leo, from German theatre company Circle of Eleven, is already attracting attention, and there’s plenty more to see besides – although showings are selling out fast. A bursting dance schedule includes acts from Zimbabwe, South Africa, India, the USA and several international collaborations.

Oliver Mtukudzi's festival-closing show at the main stage promises to be a must-see, despite the $20 entrance fee, and his performance is preceded on Saturday by the return of Ismael Lo to HIFA’s Main Stage.

These two iconic musicians are accompanied by an impressive number of local musicians, including Edith Weutonga, Alexio, Chiwoniso Maraire, John Pfumojena, Winky D, Mokoomba, Hope Masike, Netsayi Chigwendere, and Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana. A full international complement of musicians complete a truly varied line-up.

As is always the case in Harare, word-of-mouth has been far more powerful than the posters plastered on the walls, trees and lamp-posts

– an increasingly peculiar presence whose primary use is now advertising in a city that turns pitch-black after sunset. One band that everyone has been talking about is German Rock/Ska/Reggae fusion group Jamaram, who will perform a free show with the ZGS Acoustic Artists on the Coca Cola Green on Tuesday night and a $10 show with local reggae artist Mic Inity on the Main Stage on Wednesday evening.

While the festival is undoubtedly centred upon the cluster of stages that fall under the shadow of the Crown Plaza, an effort has been made to branch out into the surrounding communities. Interactive performances will take place at the First Street Platform and artists will present workshops and performances at various community centres and free venues around Harare, while a large-scale mural is being developed in Mbare. A full Spoken Word programme at the HIVOS Poetry Café behind the National Gallery – and extensive exhibitions inside the gallery – complete an inviting programme.

Post published in: Arts

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