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Beginner’s Guide to NAF
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Bombshelter BeastBombshelter Beast

 By: Percy Mabandu, arts journalist and author



Thandazile Radebe, 2017 SBYA for DanceThandazile Radebe, 2017 SBYA for DanceEach year thousands of art lovers and curious travellers descend on the small town of Grahamstown for the annual National Arts Festival (NAF). 


Its yearly ritual spans 11 days of amazing performances, exhibitions, and sales of all sorts of craft wares. The Standard Bank Jazz Festival, which takes place within the broader NAF programme, brings together over 100 musicians from about 12 countries spread over four continents. This together with the Children’s Art Festival and the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival along with the multitude of other activities that take place in the streets or in the township, this is an elephant you eat one gig at a time.


In between the copious amounts of gigs and impromptu treats all over the place, it’s easy to be left behind and miss out.  So here are a few points to observe if you want to make a success of your visit to the festival. Let’s call it a beginners’ guide to NAF.


Ok, one is for bags you pack to come into the culture bowl of Grahamstown. You must plan for cold wet weather. This part of the world is known to be cold and rainy at this time of the year. So, pack the right clothes. Don’t be alarmed. This is part of the charm. There’s nothing like watching a play while you cuddle with loved ones. It’s also a great excuse for hugging strangers. If you know what I mean.


Two is for the two important documents. The full programme to the whole festival and the daily diary that accounts for all the events and shows across town at all the paid venues. You will need them both. One will give you details on specific shows, the second is meant to help you plan your day with an hourly precision. Take it from me, it’s easy to lose sight of time here.


Three is for the fabulous shows we get to vote for. There are productions that are participating in the Ovation Awards. This is a prize conferred on great productions based on the audience vote. The winners are announced at the end of the festival.


Four is for the National Arts Festival mobile app where visitors can carry their plans in their pocket. Free to download from both iOS and Android stores, the app is a portable festival-planner that enables online bookings and stores users’ e-tickets on the go.


Festival-goers who like to plan on the move can scan through the programme on the app, searching by day, artist or show. A venue map helps with way-finding and a separate icon takes users to a live tracker for Festival Hoppers – the free Festival buses that are available to transport visitors between venues. Otherwise there are rewards to walking here. You’ll often meet actors promoting their next shows. This might mean free tickets or an autograph from your favourite actors.


National Arts Festival app users can also scan Festival news and connect, and contribute to, the chatter on the Festival’s social channels whilst staying up to date with who has been nominated for Standard Bank Ovation Awards.



Shannon MowdayShannon MowdayFive is for the halls at the DSG. This is where all the jazz gigs take place. You’ll find this part of town by the high concentration of blue branded banners and wall wraps. The DSG is hence renamed #Jazztown. Look out for it on your social media timelines along with the #SBJF hash-tag. You’ll need these to be part of conversations and potentially win tickets. Follow us on and @standardbankart.


These are the basics to observe to get to grips with this beast of a culture feast. For more, you may want to check the webpage.

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