Zimbabwe’s Global Art Festival

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Zimbabweans cast away their economic woes and enjoyed six glorious days and eventful nights at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), one of the most prestigious cultural event on the African continent and calendar.

The festival which ran from April 25 to 30 under the theme: "hAND in hAND" featured a world class line up of music artists, dance groups, African traditional music dancers, poets, opera and the showcasing of various visual art works from Zimbabwe and various parts of the world.

A galaxy of local and international artists included Zimbabwe's music icon Oliver Mtukudzi, the Celebration Choir, the multi-talented Lokua Kanza (La Voix) from the Demcoratic Republic of Congo, main star attraction Angelique Kijo of Benin, Louis Sophr String Quartet, Pastor G, Antonio Forcione, ZimZim Acrobats, Opera Interludes, The Chipolatas, Ntiwatiwa Nyau Dancers, Matthias Julius -a dancer, Tumbuka Dance Company, Tony Cox and Brazilian percussionist -Adriano Pinto.

The La Voix (the voice) program, a collaboration between the French Embassy in Harare and Hifa, enabled the multicultural audience that thronged the Harare Gardens in the city centre to enjoy music from the Grammy Award Nominee Kidjo of Benin, Rex Omar from Ghana, Kanza of the DRC and Asha and Mike Ibrahim both from Nigeria.

The grand opening ceremony was dubbed the "7th Heaven-Opening Concert" and opened the roads to the womb of the extravaganza which saw local music icon Mtukudzi and Zimbabwe jazz song bird Dudu Manhenga enthralling the audience which came from as far afield as France, Germany, Britain, US, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and other parts of the world.

"I predict that in years to come a high percentage of those who attended will recall this Tuesday (April 25) opening night as one of the highlights of their lives," says Joel White, an arts columnist.

"What a pleasure for me to watch as they observed the true, noble and engulfing spirit which passed as a wave over the tumultuous crowd. We were all truly hAnd-in-hAND and united Zimbabweans for a never-to-be-forgotten period of our lives. Recognizing this, the last words of Pastor Forcione's farewell as he sent us on our way, was that we exalt in our 'unity and diversity,' White says.

There was also an uplifting and memorable performance by Kidjo, the Unicef Goodwill Ambassador who many art critics say 'left no doubt about her pedigree,' and Omar who put up a good show and launched himself firmly on the path to musical fame.

Zimbabwean-born South African acoustic guitarist and Sama award winner Tony Cox, Gazza of Namibia, Natasha Jouhl from the US and Mark Luther from the UK also sent crowds wild with their clinical performances.

Jazz song bird Dudu Manhenga, Sister Flame, The Collaboration and jazz outfit Summer Breeze, Mawungira Enharira -one of the country's finest mbira music players also carved their place at the festival with their memorable antics and colorful acts.

Theatre was also one of the main attractions at Hifa with the Zambia play titled 'Madame President' wooing the crowds for its fascinating and comical portrayal of political, religious and social issues that continue to influence gender imbalances on the continent's political landscape.

Other plays 'Bus Stop Journals' by the University of Zimbabwe Theatre Arts Department, the 'Zoo Story' by Masvingo Drama Circle and Karanga Arts, Conquered Plans by Mwedzi Entertainment Production, 'A Journey into Yourself from New Horizon Theatre Company and 'Tomorrow's People' from the internationally acclaimed Zimbabwean theatre company Amakhosi all attracted a full house with theatre lovers enjoying every moment of this festival which is fast growing into one of Africa's best artistical gatherings.

Ugandan-American actor Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine show-cased his talents in the much acclaimed theatrical piece Biro which was well received by theatre lovers.

British poet Lemn Sissay was quite ecstatic about his experience at Hifa.

"It's incredible and for me this is the highlight of my career as I have been able to meet different international artists and of all places in Zimbabwe where the late reggae legend Bob Marley visited just before his death," he said.

Manuel Bagorro is the founder and artistic director of Hifa and under his leadership, the festival has enjoyed support from both the corporate world and the diplomatic circles.

"The human hand is capable of communicating a world of messages, but it is when one joins hands with another that our hands become especially expressive," said Bagorro.

Hifa has at best set the stage for developing meaningful cultural exchange programs and exposing local talent in different genres of the arts.

Even though the organizers and the corporate world have received stinging criticism for supporting Hifa in a big way and neglecting other local festivals, this international festival was truly international and a re-enactment and celebration of Zimbabwe's cultural strengths.

Art unites. It is enduring and builds something that is not easy to erase.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Speaking Truth To Empower.� To contact The Black Star News write editor@blackstarnews.com or call (212) 481-7745. Subscribe to this newspaper and advertise to build power.

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