Questions around African identity and belonging are woven into this year’s programme for the National Arts Festival, with continental representation from countries such as Botswana, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
This year’s celebration of Africa Day takes on special significance in South Africa, where a recent upsurge in xenophobic violence has affected the country’s relationship with its neighbours and friends across the continent.
Africa Day, held annually on 25 May, is a commemoration of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (later the African Union) in 1963, and is widely regarded as a reminder of the continent’s quest for unity and peace.
As South African struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada said at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Qunu in the Transkei, ‘Xenophobia, racism and sexism must be fought with tenacity, wisdom and enlightenment. Anything that defines someone else as “the other” has to go. Tolerance and understanding must flourish and grow.’
And it is these bridge-building questions of identity, belonging and what it means to be African that artists from around the continent will bring to the stage during this year’s National Arts Festival, which runs from 2 to 12 July in Grahamstown.
Issues of reconciliation and forgiveness are at the heart of the remarkable one-woman show, ‘Miracle in Rwanda’. Co-created and acted by Leslie Lewis Sword, it tells the story of Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculé Ilibagiza, a 22-year-old Tutsi who hid with seven other women in the bathroom of a local Hutu pastor’s home.
Despite the tragedy and horror, Ilibagiza’s life remains one of personal empowerment and of finding peace of mind despite unbelievable hardship. “It’s completely revolutionary to go through a genocide and forgive the people who massacred your family,” Lewis has said of Ilibagiza, who now lives in New York City. “It’s a quiet revolution.”
Zimbabwean identity will be explored through dance, movement and space by Tumbuka, who will present ‘Portrait of Myself as my Father’, an interrogation into masculinity, performance and the Zimbabwean self.
But it is in music where Africans seem to most easily find common ground. Madagascar’s Eusèbe Jaojoby brings his country’s unique salegy sound to the Grahamstown stage. The singer – dubbed the King of Salegy – is known for his willingness to experiment, blending the Malagasy genre with soul, rock, funk and other Western musical styles.
Watch Eusèbe Jaojoby on tour in New York in 2012: https://youtu.be/02lXAjnhkk8
Also mixing it up will be Botswana’s Chasing Jaykb. Trans vocalist Kat Kai Kol-Kes heads up this funky post-folk African pop group, who will be performing in South Africa for the first time.
Listen to Chasing Jaykb sing ‘My Body’ here: https://soundcloud.com/afropop-worldwide/kat-kai-kol-kes-and-chasing-jakyb-my-body
Malawi will be represented by Masauko Chipembere, whom South Africans will recall as a member of the 1990’s acoustic duo Blk Sonshine.
Watch Masauko Chipembere perform ‘Soul Smile’: youtu.be/MG-9zn6WRuU
More traditional African music will be celebrated when Rhodes University’s International Library of African Music (ILAM) marks its 60th anniversary with ‘Celebrating African Music’. Expect fascinating music performed on a wide range of traditional and contemporary instruments, accompanied by spectacular dance by local groups. Prof Emeritus Andrew Tracey, ILAM’s retired director, will make a special appearance.
The Standard Bank Jazz programme expertly creates the space for some of Africa’s top musicians to collaborate with their South African counterparts. Playing with Dave Reynolds and Pops Mohamed are Sylvain Baloubeta (bass – Congo), Frank Paco (drums – Mozambique). Also in the line-up are Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, Benin-native guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke, Botswanan-born Bokani Dyer and Nigerian guitarist Kunle Ayo.
Watch Lionel Loueke perform Nonvignon: youtu.be/vYeno9Y1G1Q
Challenging transnational collaborations are on the Festival’s Film programme too: ‘The Gods of Water (Los Dioses de Agua)’ is the first-ever Angolan-Argentinian co-production. Directed by Pablo César, the film tells the story of an Argentinian anthropologist who travels to Africa to understand the origins of the secrets held by the Dogon, a Malian tribe.
Watch the trailer for The Gods of Water: youtu.be/PtCV36u9qFg
And, as always with film, it’s just a small skip from there to murder and mayhem in a Nigerian jungle with ‘Bleeding Rose’. Director Chucks Mordi’s film about a group of botany students searching for a healing plant in an evil forest, offers South African audiences the chance to see the kind of film wildly popular in the West African country. It won Best Feature Film at the 2007 International Film Festival in Lagos.
‘Miracle in Rwanda’ is at the Hangar on 4 July at 4pm, 5 July at 10am and 7.30pm, 6 July at 5pm and 9.30pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/miracle-in-rwanda/
Tumbuka performs ‘Portrait of Myself as My Father’ at Alec Mullins on 3 July at 12 noon and 4pm, and on 4 July at 12 noon and 8pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/portrait-of-myself-as-my-father/
Eusèbe Jaojoby at the Transnet Great Hall on 7 July at 8pm and at Fingo Square on 8 July at 2pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/jaojoby-king-of-salegy/
Chasing Jaykb at The Vic on 6 July at 10pm, 8 July at 8pm, 9 July at 9pm and 11 July at 6pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/chasing-jaykb/
Masauko Chipembere of Blk Sonshine at The Vic on 3 July at 7pm, 5 July at 10pm, 6 July at 8pm and 7 July at 10pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/masauko-chipembere-of-blk-sonshine/
‘Celebrating African Music – A 60th Anniversary Concert’ is at the Transnet Great Hall on 4 July at 8pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/celebrating-african-music/
Dave Reynolds and Pops Mohamed (with Sylvain Baloubeta and Frank Paco) at the DSG Hall on 7 and 8 July at 5pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/dave-reynolds-pops-mohamed/
Oliver Mtukudzi performs at the DSG Hall on 10 July at 5pm and 11 July at 9pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/oliver-mtukudzi/
Lionel Loueke in Concert with Concord Nkabinde (bass) at the DSG Hall on 3 July at 7.30pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/lionel-loueke-in-concert/
Lionel Loueke in collaboration with Siya Makuzeni (vocals), Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Shane Cooper (bass), Ayanda Sikade (drums) at the DSG Hall on 4 July at 10pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/lionel-loueke-in-collaboration/
Bokani Dyer Quintet at the DSG Hall on 2 July at 5pm and 4 July at 5pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/bokani-dyer-quintet/
Kunle Ayo at the DSG Hall on 11 July at 5pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/kunle-ayo/
‘The Gods of Water’ will be screened at Oliver Schreiner Hall on 8 July at 7.30pm and on 9 July at 7.30pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/the-gods-of-water-los-dioses-de-agua/
‘Bleeding Rose’ will be screened at Oliver Schreiner Hall on 10 July at 5pm.
Book here: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/events/bleeding-rose/
Author: Gilly Hemphill
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