Eleven “AMAZING” days is how the 2012 National Arts Festival held in Grahamstown, South Africa is billed. This is the largest arts festival on the continent entering its 38th year providing the Eastern Cape with a much needed boost. Grahamstown is nestled in the rolling hills of the region which provides a perfect backdrop for this event.
I have been fortunate enough to attend multiple days of the festival to take in dance, jazz and comedic performances, in addition to film screenings. When I arrived last Sunday for the day I took in a dance performance by the Thabiasong Song & Dance Troupe performing African Rhythms described as “a vibrant dance musical that fuses a wide range of dance styles, including gumboots, kofifi, and pantsula, to create an exciting expression of African culture.” The hour long performance treated us to many contemporary and traditional dances with an outstanding concluding performance depicting a fight with a chief and his constituents.
I also had the pleasure to attend the Standard Bank Jazz Festival, an off-shoot of the National Arts Festival. I grooved to the interpretations of five musicians who had never played together before to form a one-time only combo to celebrate the standards. The performance hall was packed to the point of having some audience members taking a spot on the floor. This was a great Sunday afternoon performance of classic jazz material.
The film I screened, Ha Jabulane is still lingering in my mind, not so much because of it’s brilliance, but because I am am still confused about the plot and purpose. I left the 22 minute film wanting to have a discussion with the screenwriter and director to understand their position and what they intended audiences to take away from the film. It is described as “Our townships have certain things in common. For instance, some people go to taverns and night clubs, while others choose to go to a ‘spot’ or ‘spottong’. All of these people meet at Jabulane’s Place.” from what I gathered from the movie is that there are three plot lines following the waitron at Jabulane’s, a woman and her cousin, and her ex-boyfriend. The waitron was working when his wife showed up to Jabulane’s with their child. The woman shows up to Jabulane’s with her date and cousin in tow to spy on her ex-boyfriend. Little does the ex know, but the woman and her cousin have set him up with a transgender male. As quickly as this happens, the film ends even quicker showing the woman, her date, and transgender man laughing at the ex-boyfriend over his frustration of the situation while the waitron’s wife is now accusing him of sleeping with Jabulane, essentially now putting his sexuality in question. Is there a deeper meaning? I don’t know. If you know, or know Jabulane or the writer/director, please tell them I have questions, a lot of them. And I kind of want my 22 minutes back.
My last performance of the festival was the comedy performance Race Card by Siv Ngesi based on his bestseller The Racist’s Guide to the People of South Africa. Ngesi’s hour long set tackled tough issues concerning race with a humorous edge. He commented, somewhat stereotypically, on the blacks, coloreds, British whites, Afrikaaner whites, and Indians. I laughed along with the crowd, but found the most poignant moment of the night in his closing when he provided a real and brief social commentary on the state of racial relations in the country to the effect that people should be able to unite through humor to find similarities with each other to move the country forward as ONE South Africa. I think I will be purchasing his book when I return stateside to read more of his commentary.
Attending this event has really sparked my interest in the arts even more! I’ll be back, Grahamstown!