A visual and music feast
National Arts Festival underlines its position as one of the leading events of its kind
AFTER 67 main programme productions, 283 fringe offerings, 23 films, 65 talks and workshops and 47 jazz shows, the National Arts Festival (NAF) is drawing to a close.
And after 11 days of some of the finest arts creations being featured on stages in the charming town of Grahamstown, the annual festival has once again stamped its position as one of the leading arts gatherings in the country.
From the smooth sounds of the Blue Note Tribute Orchestra, the magic of musician Nduduzo Makhathini to the stage shows of Mamela Nyamza, the event provided a veritable visual and music feast for all in attendance.
Watching Phuma-Langa, a dance piece conceptualised and choreographed by Nyamza that gives expression to issues of identity and the current state of the country, it felt as if the work appealed to one’s conscience. Choreographer and dancer Nyamza – selected as the featured artist of the festival – aims to create conversations about social cohesion in a country fraught with tension and where people are unable to communicate frankly with one another.
Deliberate even in how it is named, Nyamza’s work entertained, informed and spoke truths many are too afraid to discuss. Another of her productions, Hatched, a piece she created some 10 years ago, was also staged.
This year’s festival programme included talks, photographic exhibitions, conversations and workshops on many subjects, including land reform, a discussion that featured retired Judge Albie Sachs.
Some of the more popular shows and performers this year included: Doghouse, The Borrow Pit, Amanda Black, The Gala Concert, AGAIN!, Hatched, Alphonse, Feather on the Breath of God, Caliente, Stuart Lightbody, Vusi Mahlasela and Suzanne Vega.
Now in its 44th year, the festival brings more than cultural value to the Eastern Cape; its financial impact is of great importance, too.
According to a 2016 study, it contributed R94.4 million to the Grahamstown economy and R377.15m to the economy of the Eastern Cape that year, creating 400 direct jobs. Many other jobs are created within the tourism and hospitality industries. The study found visitors, on average, stayed in the town for six days during the event. It’s believed that about R13m is disbursed to artists, performers, writers and choreographers each year to allow them to participate in the festival. The event also has a ripple effect in the arts, with shows moving to other local, and international, festivals.Ahead of the 2019 event, festival organisers said they were looking to strengthen their two new initiatives: the moving of the Village Green Market and the introduction of the Creativate Digital Arts Festival.
Given the current economic climate, the organisers are also trying to keep ticket prices as accessible as possible, and to attract many first-time visitors to the NAF. “We have a whole lot of… ideas and projects in the pipeline that we look forward to talking about when ready to do so. We have already called for artistic proposals for 2019 and are looking forward to being inspired by the work and proposals from our artists once more,” said NAF chief executive Tony Lankester.
A scene from ‘Xhosa Chronicles’, performed at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.