There are more than two dozen arts festivals in Zimbabwe. Each province and city has a festival or two of its own. Harare and Bulawayo, by virtue of their size, host more than two festivals per year. This article shall focus on Bulawayo festivals, particularly Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo, because of its claim to be the second largest arts gathering in Zimbabwe. A claim that, honestly, is not far from the truth.
The city of Bulawayo has had festivals, and festivals. The city has hosted single day festivals. Two day festivals. One week festivals. One or two festivals that have gone on for more than a week. And with each festival the citizens and residents of Bulawayo have responded differently. The community’s response to these events has depended largely on how they have been pitched to the residents. This response has tended to be decisive. In most cases it has acted as the final judgment on whether a festival survives or dies.
Once, Bulawayo had Linkfest whose main objective was to link local artistes with others artistes from the region, especially those from the SADC region. Linkfest had Macdonald Hall in Mzilikazi township as its centre of activity and for a whole week the festival had sizeable paying audiences flocking to the venue every evening to watch theatre, dance, and imbube performances. It was during this time that the likes of Small Ndaba and his D.E.T Boys High play, Bongani Linda and his Victory Siyanqoba ensemble (both from South Africa) and Kanyama Theatre from Zambia mesmerized audiences with their performances. Those days will always remain etched in some of our minds.
Linkfest had an audience it could call its own. An audience it could rely on. It was a festival that had been accepted warmly by the city, especially people from Makokoba, Nguboyenja, Mzilikazi and Bourberfields who truly believed it was their event.
After Linkfest came Inxusa Festival run by Amakhosi Theatre. Inxusa had Stanley Hall as its base. This was before it moved to the Cultural Centre along Victoria Falls Road. However, for most of us the memorable days of Inxusa will always be the days when it was based at Stanley Hall. Inxusa came at a time when Amakhosi was at the peak of their game. This was when you couldn’t talk about theatre in this country and leave Amakhosi out. These were the days of the musically inspired Stitsha, the hard hitting Dabulap, the hilarious Nansi le Ndoda, and Jazzmen – The story of my wife. Those of us who remember this period will also remember that Amakhosi then commanded a strong following. A loyal and paying audience. People drove from as far as Gwanda, Gweru, and Plumtree for Inxusa or any Amakhosi performance. The support was there as many people believed they were part and parcel of whatever Amakhosi was trying to create or say.
Then there was Enkundleni Festival, a brainchild of Black Umfolosi. This festival was not as successful as the other two mentioned above. This one quickly fizzled out. Enkundleni was launched in Entumbane and died quietly there. Maybe it was not properly sold to the people or maybe it was rushed. Whatever it was Enkundleni did not make an impression as a lot of our artistes don’t even remember it. Now as I write Bulawayo has two important Arts Festivals to talk about. The two are Siyaya Arts’ Ibumba Festival and Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo. But as said before this article is more about Intwasa.
This year Intwasa will be celebrating 7 years on the road. The years have been long and tumultuous. Seven years of experimentation characterized by painful teething problems. This is the year for the festival to consolidate its position as a premier event and the second largest arts gathering in Zimbabwe. The only way to consolidate its position is to attract a sizeable and dependable audience. I say so because the success of any festival is always defined by its audiences.
It is unfortunate that after several years on the road the community of Bulawayo has still to make up its mind about whether to support Intwasa or not. Ultimately, the survival of the festival depends on that decision. Any festival’s survival is dependent upon how well the local community comes out to support it. Audiences from other provinces, cities and from other countries will only become interested when the festival grows in stature. A good reputation always sells a festival beyond a prescribed border or boundary. Before Intwasa or any other local festival can claim international status it must first prove itself among local people. For the roots of any international festival are deeply entrenched in the local people and local infrastructure.
Here are some reasons why the Bulawayo community must support the festival:
· The fact that the festival’s name is suffixed with the phrase ko Bulawayo is not accidental. Here is an event that yearns to be identified with Bulawayo. The city is meant to host the celebrations, and in playing host the city and its people must open their doors and hearts wide open and let the festive mood filter into their homes and beings.
· Once the festival begins to attract cultural tourists the benefits to the city and its people will be substantial.
· Bulawayo has always been called the cultural capital of Zimbabwe. A well supported Intwasa can only help boost the image of Bulawayo as the unofficial cultural capital of Zimbabwe.
· A successful Intwasa will not only boost the image of the city internationally but will also see the growth of our arts institutions and the proper employment of local artistes.
· If Intwasa grows there will be numerous spill offs to other sectors.
To be or not to be part of Intwasa? That is the question I leave you with. Let the build-up begin.
by Raisedon Baya
by Raisedon Baya