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Switching off HIFA 2014 week: The BIG Write Up

 

All is well with my soul. HIFA week has come and gone and what a week it was. Six days of art, theatre, poetry, live music, laughter, drinking (shout out to the Pump Price Boys), joy, friendship and … one memorable night of unbelievable ratios. There are levels to this whole culture vulture shindig and the past week is right up there in the upper echelons of this culture vultures greatest hits. So much so that writing this I feel a quite sensation of satisfaction at the week that was the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA). It was definitely worth the wait and it was full of pleasant surprises. Over 1600 artists from Indonesia, Ireland, Cote D’ivoire, Germany, USA, China, Malawi, Netherlands, Greece, South Africa, UK and DRC just to mention a few descended upon the Harare Gardens and the surrounding areas and served a gourmet feast of arts and culture for the thousands of revelers to gorge on. By the end of the week even the most gluttonous of culture vultures were satisfied.

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

 

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

Acrobats perform during HIFA opening ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Zimbo Jam)

Zimbabwean music legend Oliver 'Tuku' Mtukudzi performs during the HIFA opening ceremony with Ammara Brown Nad Cynthia Mare ( Photo courtesy of ZImbo Jam)

Zimbabwean music legend Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi performs during the HIFA opening ceremony with Ammara Brown Nad Cynthia Mare ( Photo courtesy of ZImbo Jam)

My first HIFA experience last year was limited to taking in a handful of live performances over the course of weekend. This year I made a concerted effort to turn my HIFA experience into a weeklong event. And now armed with the benefit of hindsight I realize how much I shortchanged myself last year. This year I took in more of the theatre program than I did live music. I stepped out of the luscious green confines of the Harare Gardens and into the intimate spaces of the Reps, Standard and 7 Arts theatres, as well as The National Art Gallery Of Zimbabwe. My HIFA experience was so much richer for it.

 

'The Drinking Hole' The Pariah State bar  stand on the Coca Cola Green

‘The Watering Hole’ The Pariah State bar stand on the Coca Cola Green

Revelers having a jolly good time at HIFA ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Revelers having a jolly good time at HIFA ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Fesival goers enjoy the HIFA entertainment on the Coca Cola Green ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Festival goers enjoy the HIFA entertainment on the Coca Cola Green ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

 

The highlight of the week for me was a play entitled ‘The Gods They Have Built For Us.’ It stands as probably the best, most engaging, thought provoking, enthralling and enlightening live theatre experiences I have had in the last couple of years. It reminded me of how much I loved and missed theatre. Other highlights included the opening ceremony which featured acrobats, b boy dancers, the legendary Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi, The Cool Crooners and Steve Dyer. As the week progressed I was pleasantly surprised by Zimababwean Hip Hop artist Synik live set, UK based Malawian Standup comedian Daliso Chiponda, Belarusian solo guitarist Maneli Jamal, South African musician Toya Delazy and German reggae /jazz fusion band Jamarama. The week was not without its controversies as protesters and some parts of the media tried to get the play ‘Lovers in Time’ which re-imagines the spirit mediums trajectory if they had not been executed during the First Chimurenga struggle.

 

Mbuya Nehanda in the play "Lovers In Time". Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

Mbuya Nehanda in the play “Lovers In Time”. Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

 

Ivorian musician Dobet Gnahore leaps during her live performance at HIFA  Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

Ivorian musician Dobet Gnahore leaps during her live performance at HIFA Photo credit: Fungai Tichawangana

Belarusian Solo Guitarist Maneli Jamal performs on The Lays Global stage

Belarusian Solo Guitarist Maneli Jamal performs on The Lays Global stage

 

The controversy was focused on the portrayal of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi as transgender as well as white Zimbabweans in their reincarnations. Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi were stalwarts of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and they inspired the generation of Zimbabweans who finally freed Zimbabwe from the shackles of colonialism. As such some sections of Zimbabwean society did not take to kindly or appreciate the artistic merit of the play. It did get the directors great publicity and it was only because of the controversy that I ended up attending the play.

One of my favourite spots during HIFA that I only discovered much later in the week was the Craft and Design Centre which was supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. The Craft and Design Centre provided a space for local artist and designers to showcase their work to HIFA goers. The Craft and Design Centre had some interesting events including live graffiti and painting. Environmentally sensitive artists who use recycled material including bottles, cans, plastics and even bottle tops were busy with their displays.

The Design and Craft Centre displays a ceiling made from discarded plastic bottles. (Photo credit :Farai Dauramanzi)

The Design and Craft Centre displays a ceiling made from discarded plastic bottles. (Photo credit: Farai Dauramazi)

he HIFA grafitti wall in the Desing and Craft Centre gives space for the expression of what is traditionally street art

he HIFA grafitti wall in the Design and Craft Centre gives space for the expression of what is traditionally street art Photo credit: Farai Dauramanzi

Mbira, Drums, Hosho and various other crafts on sale in Design and Craft Centre ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

Mbira, Drums, Hosho and various other crafts on sale in Design and Craft Centre ( Photo courtesy of HIFA)

 

My only regret from this year’s HIFA experience is that aside from the opening ceremony I didn’t get a chance to take in some of the dance acts but that will be on the top of the agenda come HIFA next year.

The only blemish from this years festival was that the South African Afro-fusion musical group Freshlyground denied entry into Zimbabwe. HIFA organisers allegedly left it to the 11th hour to apply for work permits for the group. Subsequently the group was turned away at the Harare international airport when they arrived without the necessary documentation.

Overall though it was still a great week, and HIFA definitely stands among the best festivals I have been privileged to attend.

Below I have written reviews for some of the shows that moved me.

Show Reviews
Opening Ceremony: Lighting Up the Darkness – Telecel Main Stage
For the opening ceremony the stage was set against the iconic backdrop of the Cityscape and the leafy bamboo walls with the natural glow of flaming torches, lighting up the darkness. The opening ceremony provided a highlight reel of the performances that would take place during the week. It involved poetry reading, live music from legends such as Steve Dyer, Tuku & The Cool Crooners. The musical curation was matched by the dance that followed from acrobatics to b-boying intensity. And to end of the night the beautiful Harare skyline reflected the colour, passion and light that came from the Opening show: Light Up The Darkness as fireworks light up the Harare skyline.

HIFA 2014 Opening Ceremony : he show, titled ‘Light up the Darkness’ followed the story of two dung beetles fighting hard to get their precious cargo up a rock.

HIFA 2014 Opening Ceremony : The show, titled ‘Light up the Darkness’ followed the story of two dung beetles fighting hard to get their precious cargo up a rock. Photo credit :Verity Norman

The Gods You’ve Built – Reps Theatre

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This play was based on three unlikely characters, the founder of an anonymous online community (for people who question religion and the meaning of life) who happens to be a bored accountant pretending to be a policeman for most of the play, a pregnant nun and her philosophy professor lover who has lost faith in his own philosophies. The drama unfolds out in a dilapidated public toilet that is decorated with graffiti and used condoms on the floor. To quote one of the lines by the actors “It is classic in a sanitary kind of way.” The play explores the complexity of existence. It seeks to understand the purpose of life and poses questions such as whether there is a perfect way out of misery. It served up a theatrical journey that left me mulling on play long after I had left the theatre. I found the play full of witty, insightful dialogue and musings. Some of the memorable quotes from the play are “We are all trying to find order in randomness’, “We were all Catholic at one time” and “Prayer is like insurance. People take out insurance not because they think their house is going to burn down. They take out insurance just in case their house burns down.” One of the more thought provoking questions the play posed to the audience and deals succinctly with the thrust of the play was this: Imagine if one morning you woke up and God was standing at your door and he said to you, ‘There is no heaven and there is no hell. No reward for the good you have done. And no punishment for the evil you have done. But I am God. Love me and worship me.” Would you do it?

 

 The Reps Theatre - A scene from the play 'They God's You've Built For Us' ( Photo credit Ron Senderayi)

A scene from the play ‘They God’s You’ve Built For Us’ (Photo credit: Ron Senderayi)

This play was undoubtedly one of the top highlights of my HIFA experience.

Synik (Award winning Zimbo Hip Hop artist) – Coca Cola Green

Zimbabwean Hip Hop artist'Outspoken & Synik do a final soundcheck before Synik's Live set on The Coca Cola Green (Phot credit: Ron Senderai)

Zimbabwean Hip Hop artist’Outspoken & Synik do a final soundcheck before Synik’s Live set on The Coca Cola Green (Photo credit: Ron Senderayi)

 

Zimbabwean rapper Synik has a confident flow that immediately commands your attention from the get go. His energy was as infectious as it was organic with the audience vibing along to his crystal clear and at times poignant rhymes. For his live performance he was accompanied by a flawless live band that was reminiscent of American live Hip Hop band ‘The Roots’. Prior to his set I was not very familiar with most of his catalogue. I had only heard whispers on the Twitters streets but even that could not have prepared me for the musical vortex Synik sucked me into. I have not listened to a more authentic and talented Hip Hop musician live in a long time. Despite this being basically my first listen his cooly delivered lyrics resonated viscerally with m. His subject matter appealed both to the patriotic Zimbabwean in me as well the man still desperately trying to find my place in the world. His raps took me on a journey that transfixed me into a reflection of my past and future struggles to feeling like an outsider in my own country. In his own way Synik gave the soundtrack to my homecoming that I never had. A soundtrack I didn’t know I needed. Did I mention how organic his energy was on stage? There was a very Rock feel to his performance. And his interaction with the crowd revealed a humble and grounded young man. A rarity in Hip Hop circles. I am a fan. Over the course of this coming week I will be definitely marinating on his album with an eye on penning a full review at the end of the week.

Daliso Chiponda : Barely Legal (UK based Malawian Standup comedian)- 7 Arts Theatre

Daliso performs his stand up routine 'Barely Legal' at the & Arts Theatre ( Photo courtesy Of Zimbo Jam)

Daliso performs his stand up routine ‘Barely Legal’ at the & Arts Theatre ( Photo courtesy Of Zimbo Jam)

Daliso Chiponda’s stand up routine ‘Barely Legal’ had me and the rest of the audience laughing at our own collective idiosycransies. I have always admired how socially intelligent most comedians are and Daliso was no exception. During his set he made fun of Zimbabwe having a raunchy pole dancer/stripper Beverly Sibanda as a ‘celebrity’. He expressed shock on how Bev is considered a superstar in Zimbabwe saying in other parts of the world a stripper is on the lowest of the social ladder. Daliso also joked about Bev’s use of a beer bottle during her dancing routines by quizzing the audience how she discovered the “trick.”“Is it that Bev tripped and fell on a bottle that she discovered she could dance on top of it?.” “How does one discover such a talent of dancing on a bottle,” he quizzed.

He also went after Prophet Eubert Angel musing on whether he and his prophetess wife have arguments about things that haven’t happened yet. He alsojoked about the upcoming South African election featuring Julius Malema, the time he was almost arrested for ridiculing the government of Malawi, corrupt African leaders as well as bizarre sex laws in Europe. All in all he served up laughs galore.

Lovers In Time – The Standard Theatre 

The Standard Theatre - The Cast of the controversial play "Lovers In TIme" which was based on the reimaninging of the Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi story

The Standard Theatre – The Cast of the controversial play “Lovers In TIme” which was based on the reimaninging of the Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi story (Photo credit : Ron Senderayi)

This was one of the more controversial performances of this years HIFA week.I will admit I was only drawn to watch it after the catching wind of the inevitable publicity the controversy stirred. Conceptually I loved the premise of the play. The play aimed to retell the story of the spirit mediums Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, two of the most iconic figures in Zimbabwe’s fight for freedom. The play imagines what would have happened had they not be captured and hanged by the colonial regime.

How different would our history have been? How would they feel about the current state of affairs in a free Zimbabawe, that they died for? Those are some of the questions the play attempts to answer. To achieve this the writer’s and director of the play reincarnated Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi and switched their bodies. The spirit of Mbuya Nehanda came back as a man and that of Sekuru Kaguvi as a transgender woman. Both spirits are reincarnated at different stages of Zimbabwe’s history including Zimbabawe’s independence in which they were in the form of the two Bob’s , Marley and Mugabe. at one stage the spirit mediums come back as two white Zimbabwean and it is this that seems to have been the trigger for all the controversy surrounding the play. Those protesting against it argued that it mocked the legacy of the two spirit mediums. Personally I loved the idea of having the opportunity to imagine the beautiful possibility of what their lives could have been like had they not been captured. What I did not like was the execution of that idea.  The acting and the dialogue itself left me underwhelmed. And despite the noble efforts of the directors to promote racial harmony I felt they missed the mark as some of the scenes especially towards the end felt contrived. Also leaving the play I felt the play itself had lacked a focus as well as a clear message.

 

That’s all for this years show folks.

Look at these two struggling culture vultures a.k.a. The 'Pump Price'boys a.k.a "The Usual Suspects' a.k.a "What you know about pi?" ...  We turnt all the way up this past HIFA week though.

Look at these two struggling culture vultures a.k.a. The ‘Pump Priceboys’ a.k.a “The Usual Suspects’ a.k.a “What you know about pi?” … We turnt all the way up this past HIFA week though.

 

Written by Tafadzwa Tichawangana

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Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Culture Vulture

 

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HIFA Week 2014 : ‘ Switch on’

HIFA

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)’

CNN – 7 African Music Festivals You Really Have To See

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 …

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Mbira: The Music Of Zimbabwe

Religion, language and music are some of the key ingredients that make up most cultures in the world. It is easy for us to associate or identify cultures with any of these markers. A language can give you a window into the speaker’s culture in the same way that the music of the culture serves to market the culture to the rest of the world. Shona music was and is so much more than what Westerners associate with “music”. The “traditional” music of Zimbabwe reveals our forefather’s spiritual beliefs, their modes of expression, patterns of communication and forms of entertainment, in as much as present day contemporary music reveals a lot about our present lives and past experiences. For example, traditional Shona songs were a medium of instruction through which young boys and girls were taught the values and expectations of adulthood. All social relationships were sealed, bonded and regulated through songs. Through songs, a daughter-in-law would express her bitterness against a horrible mother-in-law, a bitter wife against a greedy husband, and the whole community would protest against an unjust chief, hence there is a tradition of Shona protest songs. There were songs to praise, urge, ridicule and reprimand. Most means of communication in the pre-literate and oral African societies were musical in one way or another.

When it comes to traditional Shona culture, the music most associated with the culture is Mbira music. Mbira music has been contemporarised by artists such Ambuya Stella Chiweshe and the late Chiwoniso Maraire. Both artists have travelled and toured the world playing the Mbira. Traditionally only men played the Mbira in Shona society. Women were not allowed to play the Mbira. It is a testament to the dynamic nature of culture then two of the more well known Mbira artists today are women. Some Zimbabwean electric bands also infuse the Mbira into their music. Today the Mbira is a positive symbol of cultural identity for most Zimbabweans.

Mbira refers to the name of both the instrument and the music. The Mbira instrument is a hand held piano like instrument with the keys being made of metal. Mbira the genre is mystical music which has been played for over a thousand years by certain tribes of the Shona people. The Shona form the vast majority of the population of Zimbabwe. Mbira pervades all aspects of Shona culture, both sacred and secular. Its most important function is as a “telephone to the spirits”, used to contact both deceased ancestors and tribal guardians, at all-night bira (pl. mapira) ceremonies. At these ceremonies, vadzimu, including midzimu (spirits of family ancestors), mhondoro (spirits of deceased chiefs) and makombwe (the most powerful guardian spirits of the Shona), give guidance on family and community matters and exert power over weather and health.

Mbira

The Mbira is a positive symbol of cultural identity for most Zimbabweans.

Mbira is required to bring rain during drought, stop rain during floods, and bring clouds when crops are burned by the sun. Mbira is used to chase away harmful spirits, and to cure illnesses with or without a n’anga (traditional diviner/herbalist). Mbira is included in celebrations of all kinds, including weddings, installation of new chiefs, and, more recently, government events such as independence day and international conferences.
Mbira is also required at death ceremonies, and is played for a week following a chief’s death before the community is informed of his passing. At the guva ceremony, approximately one year after a person’s physical death, mbira is used to welcome that individual’s spirit back to the community.
In previous centuries, court musicians played mbira for Shona kings and their diviners. Although the mbira was originally used in a limited number of Shona areas, today it is popular throughout Zimbabwe. Mbira is desired for the general qualities it imparts: peaceful mind and strong life force.

You can listen to Chiwoniso Maraire’s ‘Ancient Voices’ to understand what i am talking about  here  

During the colonial era the traditional role of music as a medium of instruction was replaced by the introduction of a formal education system which was closely linked to the new Christian religion. The introduction of the Christian religion on the other hand changed the people’s religious songs and ritual music. Recognising the close relationship between the people’s religion and music, Christian missionaries, ensured a fast decline in traditional culture and religion. Missionaries castigated the use of the Mbira instrument in church ceremonies and dismissed it as unholy and heathen. Christian converts were usually forbidden to play traditional musical instruments. The Mbira and the drum which had carried the tradition of the Shona people’s music for a long time were dismissed as unholy.

It is fitting then that in the fight for independence (known as the Chimurenga) music played an important part in the struggle. Popular and traditional songs with hidden meaning; helped galvanize mass opinion; spirit mediums were leaders in the war against white privilege. After decades of denigration by some Africans who had lost faith in traditional culture, The mbira becomes a positive symbol of cultural identity. And today it is enjoying a new lease of life at the forefront of Shona music and culture.

 

I will sign off with some beautiful words from Zimbababwean Mbira Queen  Ambuya Stella Chiweshe as she plays the Mbira and shares her insights on the spirituality and materialism of the Shona in 21st century. Enjoy.

 

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Culture Vulture

 

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