Zimbabwe’s premier arts showcase, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), comes to an end today with splendid shows lined up for the day at its traditional home, Harare Gardens, and surrounding venues across the capital.
BY WINSTONE ANTONIO/KENNEDY NYAVAYA
The 18th edition of the arts extravaganza, rated as one of the most vibrant festivals on the continent showcasing works in theatre, music, dance, fine arts and poetry, was running under the theme, We Count.
For once Harare resembled a rainbow city as people from different ethnicities, race and colour converged at venues dotted across the capital for the arts blockbuster.
This year’s edition of the festival, unlike the previous one, opened on a low note as over 100 singers, dancers, acrobats and puppeteers from various parts of the world failed to thrill the crowd to galvanise the festivity mood.
The atmosphere on the night was not electric as the performers failed to connect well with the crowd bringing the efforts and ability of the show director James Blaszko, Blessing Chimanga, who was the show’s musical director, Soukaina Edom alongside the AfriKera team of Maylene Chenjerayi, Victor Peturo and Blessed Rukweza, who were the dance curators and choreographers respectively, under scrutiny to have delivered on a show of such magnitude.
Representing Zimbabwe on the night were jazz sensation Prudence Katomeni, Dereck Mpofu, Masa Caroleen, Hope Masike and the Zimspiration Choir as they shared the stage with Haitian-American vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles and American pianist Jarrett Cherner.
Even the fireworks display at the end of the show also lacked the “wow” factor that usually invites cheerful screams from the crowds.
After such a pathetic opening, smiles were brought on the festival goers on the third day of the fiesta as famous South African singer Lerato “Lira” Molapo pulled off a mesmeric performance that will linger in the hearts of the many who attended the show.
The multiple award-winning Afro-soul singer, who staged her debut performance at the festival courtesy of mobile network operator NetOne, was full of energy and was a marvel to watch proving why she is rated among the best not only in Mzansi, but also internationally.
Dancehall musician Winky D proved that he was one of the greatest performers when he gave a five-star performance on Friday night.
At last year’s Hifa, Gafa’s fans left the ZOL Main Stage bitter as they felt cheated after the chanter’s cameo appearance during legendary singer Oliver Mtukudzi’s slot to sing their Panorwadza Moyo collaboration.
However, on Friday, Winky D was out to emphasise the fiesta’s theme We Count as he repaid a pleasant visit to the main stage where he kept the packed venue alive for over an hour.
Clad in all-white and supported by the often overlooked but solid band, the Ngirozi hit maker catalysed a frenzied mood among the diverse crowd of cross-cutting ages.
Before Winky D’s performance, returning South African pop band Beatenberg rekindled memories from 2015 when they made a lasting impression on the same stage.
It felt like déjà vu for many although the trio of Matthew Field, Robin Brink, and Ross Dorkin managed to keep fans engaged, especially when they sang hits, including Pluto, Rafael, Beauty Like a Tightened Bow and Southern Suburbs.
While the festival should be commended for bringing together artistes of various genres forming a spirit of synergy and synchronisation, dancehall fans seemed to be left in the cold as only Winky D performed at the event.
This year’s edition of the festival attracted a number of international comedians, including Kavin Jay from Malaysia, Salvado from Uganda and South Africa’s Nqoba Ngcobo. Local top comedian Carl Joshua Ncube co-ordinated the jamboree’s comedy programme.
The comedy programme started with a teaser show featuring Jay, Ngcobo and Ncube, which was well-received as the comics got to market their individual repertoires.
“The Hifa comedy programme has been amazing. It was also interesting to see the festival organisers giving us non-traditional comedy venues like Girls High School.
Although the starting times for the shows were very late, we maintained using this as a challenge to do the best we could do under the new conditions,” Ncube said.
“The audiences have embraced the new venues and the late times and we have had very encouraging turnouts.”
On the dance front, among the notable groups that put up top-notch performances were Malaysian outfit Aswara, who performed at The Standard Complex, Harare Girls High School. The group’s performance, dubbed Tapestry of Malaysia, was characterised by playfull teasing couple of dances, robust bravado male dances and demure female-only dances.
Local arts critic Plot Mhako said the once-great festival needs renewal of ideas and programming to bring back the wow factor.
“Well-done to Hifa for defying the hardships and staging the festival. However, the once great festival needs renewal of ideas and programming. This year we saw a lot of repeat artistes who performed at the festival not so long ago. The opening act is getting routine and tired and needs new energy and thought,” he said.
“The emergence of a fringe festival running next door [Theatre in the Park, Harare Gardens] and concurrently with Hifa says a lot and I hope they take heed and correct some critical things, especially concerns from local artistes.”
Meanwhile, as the curtain comes down today, this afternoon there are a number of performances that include internationally-acclaimed gospel choir Zimpraise who will perform at the ZOL Main Stage and Vabati VaJehova will perform at the Coca Cola Green.
Jazz fanatics will be in for a treat as they will be entertained by Township Jazz and Jive at the Global Stage.
Among the artistes who are also set to perform are Mozambican singer and song writer Dino Miranda, local reggae outfit Transit Crew, song diva Tamy Moyo and rising Afro-fusion star Mbeu.
The zenith of the festival will see award-winning South African music outfit Freshlyground bringing down the curtain with a performance at the ZOL Main Stage and are expected to wow thousands that will possibly throng the venue.
The Afro-fusion group, which will also share the stage with Mbira queen Hope Masike, makes a return to the festival after their failure to make it in 2014 as they were deported by former president Robert Mugabe’s government.
While the festival’s opening fireworks failed to illuminate the atmosphere, hopefully there will be an improvement tonight on the closing fireworks so as to mark the end of the festival in style.
Hifa’s associate executive director Tafadzwa Simba said the fiesta had gone on well.
“The festival has gone well this week. It is the property of the whole country and this is witnessed by the massive support received from the artistes, general public as well as the corporate and diplomatic partners. It has been an incredible sight to see audiences being quite adamant in staying at outdoor venues even when it was raining,” Simba said.
“The rain, of course, has affected attendance, but the show has gone on and Hifa is grateful to all its stakeholders for making it a success even in wet conditions.”