The Sunday News
Sandisiwe Gumbo, Sunday Life Reporter
BULAWAYO is set to welcome spring with a fiesta of the arts once again, as the 17th edition of the Intwasa Festival koBulawayo, the longest-running arts festival in the country, roars into life.
The festival is set to take place from 16 September to 30, running under the theme “Imagine it! Experience it.”
With many festivals around the country folding due to financial constraints over the years, Intwasa is one of the remaining beacons in the arts, a sector that has been hit hard by the state of the economy and worsened by the restrictions bought about by the Covid-19 epidemic.
Indeed, last year, Intwasa appeared to have lost the spring in its step, as it had to postpone its event to the end of the year, with a lighter programme leading some to believe that perhaps the arts extravaganza had seen its best days.
This year, however, Intwasa is trying to prove why it has stood the test of time, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
With perennial financial concerns hanging like a dark cloud over the festival, Intwasa’s popular main stage at the Large City Hall will not be making a comeback.
Due to the prohibitive cost of hiring the big stage needed for performances, the last few years have seen the festival make-do without the use of the car park, robbing it of the spark that made Intwasa the life of the city during its annual run.
“Initially, when we started this year, we wanted to go back to the car park because we believe that stage is what Intwasa is known for,” festival director Raisedon Baya told Sunday Life earlier this month.
“There you can have a bigger stage, a lot of performances and audiences walking in and out. But without resources its always difficult so it might not happen this year but we have a full theatre programme that we are finalising. We will have afternoon and evening shows at the theatre and we have a good a musical programme at the gallery, which will see about three days of musical performances,” he said.
The Cimas stage at the National Art Gallery will host musicians on Friday and Saturday.
Despite this, one of the organisers of the festival, Nkululeko Nkala, said that this year’s event was about sparking imagination and giving audiences new experiences.
“Our theme this year, adopted at a strategic meeting is – Imagine it! Experience It. With it we are calling on both our artistes and audiences to make the festival more about imagination and human experience. The festival is that space to come and share both,” he said.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival, is the Vusa Mkhaya Experience, which is set for the Bulawayo Theatre on Thursday evening.
It is a rare return to his native city for Mkhaya, a trailblazer with the highly successful Imbube trio, Insingizi, who has gone on to have an accomplished run as a solo performer.
“The Vusa Mkhaya Experience is a gig that will enable people coming to watch us to sample our catalogue of music from all the four albums that I have recorded as Vusa Mkhaya,” Mkhaya told Sunday Life in an interview.
“So, we will be performing all our songs without any rush. So, people will be able to experience us in the way that we perform when we do our own shows at venues like theatres where we tend to perform without that feeling of being rushed.
“Performing at a festival is different from performing at a theatre alone. At a theatre, you know that you can curate your own evening from the first song down to the last without being rushed and so on. So that is what we will be doing at the art gallery that evening.”
On Friday, Mokoomba is set to make its bow at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo, with a performance that also makes a rare return to the country for them.
The Hudson Simbarashe Road Trip album launch on Saturday afternoon rounds off the musical shows that are probably the highlight of the festival for music lovers.
The Hudson Simbarashe Road Trip has seen one of Bulawayo’s veteran blues maestros getting reintroduced to his own roots, as he ventures into the rural countryside in search of the authentic sounds of Matabeleland.
Simbarashe went to Plumtree, Mbembesi twice, Gwanda (Matshetsheni), Lupane, Tsholotsho, Kezi, Matopos, West Acre and Mawabeni, collaborating with some of the country’s little known rural artistes.
“It was a learning process for me as well because the places that I went to I had never been to before. When I went there, I thought I knew what those people do but when I got there, everything was different, including the language. Growing up in town in Bulawayo, I always thought I knew about how they make their music but when I got there, it was so different. The talent that I found in those places was unbelievable,” he said.
To accommodate the wide array of events and activities, the festival will be held at various venues in Bulawayo including the Bulawayo Theatre, Public Library, and the National Art Gallery. Each location has been carefully selected to ensure accessibility and convenience for both artists and attendees.
The festival will feature a diverse range of performances and workshops including local and international artists that will add a unique flavour to the festival’s vibrant atmosphere.
“We welcome Heather Massie from USA and Places and Faces Theatre Productions from SA, some poets from Zambia and SA as part of our international visitors,” Nkala said.
On 26 September the audience will experience a performance from Amagrootman, a theatrical performance from Faces and Places Theatre (SA) at the Bulawayo Theatre at 6pm.
On 26 September there will be African Voices Conservation, the Big 5 with Phathisa Nyathi.
There will also be a book launch at the Bulawayo public Library on 27 September.
The Bulawayo Theatre will have a feel of the 3sum play at 6pm, written by Raisedon Baya and directed by Memory Kumbota.
According to Nkala, the festival has not been easy to put together, but the desire to support local creatives has kept the team going.
“It has not been easy. The challenges have been numerous. But the desire to provide platforms to support creatives and get our people together to celebrate creativity, inclusion and participation has kept us going even in the worst of years. This year is no different.”
“Even with little resources we are bringing Bulawayo and the world more than 20 activities cutting across theatre, music, dance, poetry, literature, workshops and talks in an effort to continue giving voice to local artists, and providing a safe and central space for cultural celebrations.”
Nkala said the Intwasa Festival promises a celebration of imagination and human experience. With its wide range of activities spanning across various artistic disciplines, the festival aims to provide a platform for local artists while fostering cultural exchange and appreciation.
Attendees can look forward to a vibrant and enriching experience that showcases the power of art to inspire and unite.