The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WITH other similar events hamstrung by financial difficulties, the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo is looking to defy the odds with its 2019 edition, with this year’s arts extravaganza expected to run for six days instead of the customary five.
With the country’s other major arts festival, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) cancelled because of financial difficulties, the expectation was that Intwasa would also not be able to pull together resources to pull off its own event.
However, despite economically tough times, organisers of the festival have put together an ambitious plan that seeks to reassert Intwasa’s position as the city’s premier arts festival and the official herald of spring in the city of Bulawayo.
In an interview with Sunday Life, festival organiser Raisedon Baya revealed that this year’s festival would take place between 24 and 29 September, with 35 events expected to be spread out over the six days.
“This year we will run 35 programmes. It is an ambitious programme and instead of the usual five days we shall have six. Some sponsors have in the past asked us to reduce the festival to at least three days but instead we are expanding.
Like I said it’s an ambitious edition of the festival and we are doing this because we feel like this is the only time that artistes in the city can gather under one banner under the arts,” he said.
Baya said they had not contemplated cancelling this year’s edition of the festival despite challenges faced, as they feared that doing so would deal the festival a blow it might not be able to recover from.
“This is the 15th edition of the festival and that is the 15th on the trot without a break. I think we are the only arts festival that has gone for so long with a break. If you look at HifA I think it has taken two breaks over the last few years.
Our thought has always been that the festival has to go on even without adequate resources because if it takes a break it might not come back,” he said.
With so many arts initiatives failing to kick off or stay afloat because of financial difficulties, Baya said event organisers needed to realise that to survive in the current environment they needed to wean themselves off the support of donors.
“We need to find sustainability away from donor funding.
We need to understand no one just wants to pour in money into arts initiatives for the sake of it.
Usually they have objectives from whatever they put their money to and this means we’re no longer doing art for art’s sake but to please someone’s else agenda. So how do we survive in an environment like that? We simply have to commercialise.
“Yes, I know that’s a difficult word but that’s what needs to be done.
We have always said that Intwasa is a community festival so if we commercialise it means money has to come from the community but at the moment our community is not well off financially so we’ve got to find a way to work our way around that,” he said.
In the past, the festival’s organisers have been accused of having a go-it-alone attitude that has led to a weaker final product. Baya said this was something that they wanted to remedy this year as they planned to rope in as many partners as possible.
One example was the fest’s partnership with Laugh Out Loud to bring blockbuster South African comedians Trevor Gumbi and Khanyisa Bunu.
“I think the more things get harder the more room there is for innovation. The thing that we’ve slowly begun to realise is that we can’t do it all on our own. So we’ve seen that partnerships are what are going to keep the festival strong.
“For example we have guys from Umceco who approached us and said we’ve realised that over the last couple of years Intwasa hasn’t had any show dedicated to fashion and we would like to help out with that.
They already have their own project running and so they said why not have something happening within Intwasa. So we’re now realising that partnerships can strengthen the festival even without the big corporate backing that everyone keeps clamouring for,” he said.
One of the highlights of this year’s fest would be the Bayethe Youth Music Concert, which Baya said would allow younger artistes to prove that they had the following that demanded that they be paid the money that they think they deserve.
“This year we will have the Bayethe Youth Concert which is not about money but giving a platform to young artistes that usually do not get hired for paying gigs during the year.
It is experimental on our part. Young artistes always tell us that they have fans so we want to gauge and see if this is actually true.
If every one of them could pull their fans to the concert and we have a bumper crowd then it will make sense when they start asking for big dollars whenever we negotiate their contracts for concerts,” he said.
Women will also get special attention during this year’s edition.
“Women, Words and Wine is what we consider one of our premier events and it’s basically about putting women first. This year, in what I think is a first for any festival in the country, we are going to have a Women’s Day at Intwasa which will be on a Saturday,” he said.