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International Artists Bring New Excitement to Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has long struggled with such issues as land seizures, violence, election irregularities, human rights abuse and economic troubles.  But each year, Zimbabwe hosts a week-long event that provides a respite from the daily drudgery.  The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) brings international artists from around the globe.

Music is known as the universal language. If that maxim is confirmed anywhere it is at the Harare International Festival of the Arts, or Hifa, in Zimbabwe.

There are artists from Europe, Latin America, Central America and Africa.  One can hear music being sung in nearly every language imaginable, and the effect is the same. Happiness.

The German reggae music band Jamaram is playing in their native language. Fans try sing along. The festival is not just about music. There are actors, dancers and other practioners of the performing and visual arts.  Samm Monro, better known as Comrade Fatso, is a British-born Zimbabwean artist participating at the HIFA.  He says the arts festival plays an important role in Zimbabwean culture.

"I think HIFA week is really an important week in Zimbabwe," said Monro. "It gives us an opportunity to see what we can do as Zimbabweans. It creates an amazing space of mixing between Zimbabwean cultures, classes, et cetera."

Jamaram is a German eight-member music group performing three shows at the HIFA. One of the shows is performed free of charge for Zimbabweans who can not afford the festival's $20 entry fee. Jamaram member Samuel Philip says music is not just about entertaining people.

"No matter where you are from in the world when you do music… it does not matter, music brings people together. It is the classic. It is the universal language," he said.

HIFA organizers say they want the arts festival to become as grand as the popular Rio Festival in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, to develop Zimbabwe’s ailing economy. HIFA Chairman George Mutendadzamera says the 13-year-old annual festival is more than just artists entertaining Zimbabweans.

"It is the economic impact of HIFA," he said. "The bottom-line is when you have a festival we drink. There is employment creation. We generate wealth. Last year we created something short of 1300 jobs."

While artists and HIFA organizers are positive about the festival's cultural and economic benefits, Stanley Kwenda, the director of Artists for Democracy thinks Zimbabwean artists are being overshadowed by their international counterparts.

"Local artists like Mokoomba should get more time," he said. "They are as good as international artists. This crowd as you can see has been energized by Mokoomba. We did not get what we wanted from Mokoomba. Let us have local groups which are of international quality. We want them to give local artists more time than they give to Oprah  music, like they do to foreign artists. Mokoomba is fantastic."

Whatever the criticism, the HIFA Arts Festival is an event that has rocked Zimbabwe. And with HIFA's close Sunday, many might wish for more to help them forget their miseries in the troubled nation.

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