As one of the 140 characters on Twitter cheekily put it, it’s officially HIFA week a.k.a. “White people’s annual pilgrimage into the Harare CBD.” It’s a funny if not crude observation of part of the craziness that is HIFA week. Only on Twitter.
HIFA is so much more that just that though. The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA ) is the premier arts and culture event on the Zimbabwean social calendar.
HIFA was recently listed by CNN as one of the top 7 festivals on the African continent. CNN refers to HIFA as the “Glastonbury” of African festivals. Other festivals on the list include the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (South Africa), Marrakesh Popular Festival of the Arts (Morocco), Sauti Za Busara Festival (Tanzania) and the Lake Of Stars Festival (Malawi) to mention a few.
CNN goes further to give this profile on HIFA
‘Established in 1999, the festival takes place each year in late April or early May in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. The week-long festival encompasses five principal disciplines: theater, music, dance, fine art, and poetry. Attendees can take djembe drumming lessons, take in a poetry session, fashion show or catch their favourite artists performing.
HIFA is probably the most innovative in terms of social media use; last year, the festival had a screen that showed attendees’ tweets. Another great thing about HIFA is that you pay per event, according to your interest, unlike other festivals where a standard price is paid for all events. (29 April – 4 May)’
According to the HIFA website, ‘HIFA has come to be seen as an important symbol of something positive about Zimbabwe, unifying socially and culturally disparate groups of Zimbabweans at a time of ideological conflict and political uncertainty bringing huge audiences together to celebrate something positive – the healing and constructive capacity of the arts.’
This year’s theme, ‘Switch On’ is inspired by the resilience of Zimbabwe’s artistic community, from their communal search for enlightenment, and from Doris Lessing’s short story, ‘The Sun Between Their Feet’ which tells of the repeated determined attempts of two dung beetles to scale the heights of a rock with their precarious cargo.
“HIFA is a call to ignite our potential for luminous transformation and this year, it highlights our capacities and aims to radiate our communal light around the world, the positive rays of HIFA 2014 will open eyes and open hearts,” read a statement from HIFA. Festival founding artistic director, Manuel Bagorro goes on to describe this year’s programme as ‘diverse, innovative, prestigious and adventurous. It demonstrates the broad range of our audiences.’International acts include Dobet Gnahore (Ivory Coast), Maneli Jamal (Canada), Tcheka (Cape Verde), Black Bazar (Congo), Njabulo Mdlala (SA) and Toya Delazy (SA)
Because I spent the last decade living in the Diaspora I never got an opportunity to attend HIFA. I had to contend to living vicariously through the experience of family and friends who were fortunate enough to be in Zimbabwe during HIFA. That all changed for me last year when I finally got a chance to attend a handful of shows at HIFA. All I can say is that it definitely lived up to its billing. What stood out for me was how organised everything was and my initial reaction to my first HIFA experience was it’s the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, The Cape Town International Jazz Festival and Infecting The City (Cape Town) all rolled up in one uniquely Zimbabwean setting. HIFA embodied all the things I loved about the festivals I had been privileged to attend before. This is something that Robert Grieg wrote about in South African newspaper Sunday Independent saying “The Harare International Festival of the Arts is probably the best organised festival in the sub continent and one of the most manageable diverse.”
My only regret was that I missed out on quite a few of the marquee shows because I didn’t get my tickets on time. Such is the popularity of HIFA that by the time the opening show starts tickets to a vast majority of the shows for the rest of the week would have already sold out at the box office. This is even more impressive when you take into account the economic struggles the vast majority of Zimbabweans having been facing over the last couple of years. This year is no different. Despite ‘Liquidity crunch’ being the buzz word even among financially illiterate Zimbo’s like myself it looks like the same trend will follow this year. This time though I am more prepared for shenanigans of HIFA week. HIFA week is going to my belated 30th birthday present to myself. I plan on attending as many shows as is practical. From the opening show on Tuesday to the closing ceremony on Sunday featuring Freshlyground an award winning South African group I am going to be living, breathing and eating all things HIFA. I have every intention of spoiling the struggling culture vulture in me rotten.
For most of this year I have been in a self imposed ‘turn up’ hibernation, with one eye on the madness and awesomeness that is HIFA.
There are also a few creative workshops that will be running during HIFA week, meaning even the ‘Intellectual Property Developer’ in me is going to get some action. So you can only imagine how amped up I am about it. An added bonus is that one of my good friends who recently returned home will be having his first HIFA experience so it is going to be amazing sharing that experience with him.
If you are in Harare this week, hopefully I will run into you at one of the many HIFA events. And for the rest who are not going to be in Harare see you all on the other side of HIFA … Boo yah!
Last but not least here are some HIFA TIPS FROM A FESTIVAL GURU …