Last week Harare was the scene of one of the largest, most prestigious urban festivals in Africa. The city hosted the 15th edition of the Harare International Festival of the Arts, better known by its acronym HIFA, and considered by many as the Glastonbury of southern Africa, under the theme “switch on.”
During this six-day multidisciplinary festival, which has been celebrated since 1999, the main stage at Harare Gardens hosted music, theatre, dance, visual arts and poetry. Featured artists included Ivorian vocalist and dancer Dobet Ngahoré, South African sensations Toya Delazy and the John Wizards, Cape Verdean songwriter Tcheka, the British new talent of Josephine, and Portuguese duet Maria Joâo and Mário Laginha as main courses. And we can’t fail to mention the presence of internationally acclaimed veteran Oliver Mtukudzi, who opened the festival. South African afro-pop group Freshly Ground was supposed to play but was denied entry into the country.
Although music is at the core of this huge event, theater and circus also feature prominently. Plays included Madonna of Excelsior (an adaptation of Zakes Mda‘s novel about sex scandals during Apartheid) and She & He (a love story about a Haitian-American woman and Zimbabwean man). Dance and spoken word were not overlooked. Collectives like the youth Zimbabwean dance company 8 Count and the Sierra Leonian Dunia Dance Theatre also made their mark.
At the same time, a family event could not happen without the Youth Zone, where a wide range of opportunities for children were offered. Events like the Poetry Café program, organized by Hivos, fashion sessions and exhibitions from Harare’s top emerging contemporary artists happened in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. In addition, a series of workshops were on offer, including one on urban recycling.
But can everyone in Harare access this type of arts festivals? With tickets ranging between $5.73 and $24.83, depending on the performance, one of the major criticisms of the recent edition of HIFA is that it is exclusive with its audience reinforcing a kind of a classism in the city. However, the organizers can’t be said to be lacking initiative when it comes to opening HIFA to Harare’s less fortunate. According to ZimEye, they dished out 595 free tickets to orphans in the city. Nevertheless, the pictures posted on HIFA’s facebook page show a rather homogeneous picture of the type of audience that attended the festival. Wealthy and international audiences bring revenue to the city, but while it may not be central to the festival’s planning process, the question of whether the poor can access the cultural sector is likely going to be one of the key points when evaluating the impact of HIFA 2014.
This year’s festival is over but Harare’s lights shouldn’t “switch off.” The arts and culture scene is alive in Harare the rest of the year, with the Shoko Festival, Zimbabwe International Film Festival and Zimbabwe Fashion Week still on the horizon. There are also several organizations, institutions, NGOs, individual artists and cultural spaces like The Mannenberg Jazz Club, The Book Café and a growing range of nightclubs offering entertainment 365 days per year in Zimbabwe’s capital city.
Gemma Solés i Coll holds an M.A. in Social Science of Development South of the Sahara (URV) and graduated in Philosophy (UB). She specializes in artistic and cultural trends and urban dynamics in Africa. She serves as chief editor for the music and performing arts section of Spanish online magazine WIRIKO, of which she is the founder.
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