The final weekend of the National Arts Festival is in full swing and many of the concerts are playing to sell-out houses.
Mafikizolo has been blowing audiences away since they arrived on Thursday in the Eastern Cape Town of Makhanda (formerly called Grahamstown) and tickets for their shows, as well as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Freshly Ground and the final Gala Concert are sold out.
Tony Lankester, the CEO of the festival, is smiling, not only about the popularity of the fest and the fact that it brings a unique air of creativity and culture to the town but, because of the unifying flavour it generates.
"There’s a wonderful South Africaness about the festival.
"There seems politically and socially to be a lot of unhappiness and uncertainty about what the future holds for the country. But here the festival really binds people together… people walk through the streets happy and friendly – and in turn, that’s what binds the arts. What really captures it is that there’s a lot of love."
This year’s line-up of shows offered an enticing selection, from jazz to classical music, choral and pop, free street performances, thought-provoking theatre, comedy and the innovative Creativate Digital Arts Festival in which members of the public could engage.
All Who Pass made it’s debut at the festival, a moving play about the tragic circumstances of the forced removals of District Six; moving back and forth in time from past to present. Written by Amy Jephta, Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre 2019, it moved audiences with its urgent message of not forgetting the past horrors of apartheid.
Jemma Kahn and David Viviers performed in the work Cellist with Rabies, directed by Jaco Bouwer, about a virologist who starts speaking to the rabies virus on her petri dish under her microscope, with whom she falls in love. A whimsical performance it deals with the issues of sexual power and the ownership of feelings.
Confessions of a Mormom Boy dealt with a sixth-generation Mormon and father of two coming out as gay.
Audiences were moved in different ways, for example, by the uplifting spiritual music of the Makhanda Kwantu Choir in the beautiful Rhodes Chapel.
Lankester says when he took over in 2007 as CEO, he inherited "an amazing event".
"I didn’t have to do much in terms of the brand but I had to pull together the team. There were audiences and great venues. But how it’s changed is that audience development has been a big focus. We have had to work in making it relevant to broader audiences," he says, referring to the choral performance where all singers are from the community.
While many other changes are not visible to the public at large, Lankester says that clever changes to venues have made a difference, such as the currrent location of the "Village Green", which annually holds a large market inclusive of price-friendly food stalls, offering free performances as well.
"This was a good and a big change."
Adapting venues has also been a prerogative, says Lankester and, the more intimate Guy Butler Theatre has been used for rock concerts like the The Parlotones and this year, for Mafikizolo.
"It was very affirming to witness both Mafikizolo’s and the audience’s response to the venue last night (Thursday). So… using our spaces more cleverly – those are important aspects" he says, adding, "we just keep tweaking".
Talking about his own highlights, he says he hasn’t seen as much as he would have liked to but that seeing his wife perform in the Faure Requiem was a definite highlight as was the Mafikizolo performance which simply rocked.
"I also love the way the Creativate Digital Arts Festival is evolving. Creativate is the last box to tick," he says.
In general, he says it’s still too early to give figures of attendance but that things are "going really well.
"The restaurants and guest houses have been full and last weekend was really strong. In fact, we are a couple of points ahead of last year.
"There’s simply just a really wonderful energy and positivity and, given where we could have been as far as the looming water shortage was going we are doing really well. At the moment things are holding."
The Making magic with bubbles. Picture: Mark Wessels
The festival draws to a close tomorrow Sunday, July 7. Go to www.nationalkartsfestival.co.za for more details.