There’s a kind of harmattan of posters and banners, flyers and flags curiously gathering over Grahamstown, the site of the National Arts Festival. There’s a cumulative swell of cars and buses slowly streaming into town. The old frontier town with a modest population of around 120 000 will grow by thousands in the next few days.
The asphalt laden arteries bring an indispensable lifeline to a community battling with 70% unemployment rate, but as the banner at town’s entrance and gates to the 1820 Settlers Monument say, it’s about to be “11 days of Amazing.”
The little town with a long name is reborn. This back of beyond is now the center of the national cultural focus. There are hundreds of treats on both Fringe and the Main Programme. These span from visual art exhibitions, theatre and dance productions along with world-class jazz performances. In the next 11 days, the streets of Grahamstown will buzz with stalls selling various wares from everywhere. All sorts of weirdoes, wild men and women will wear make-up and wheedle festival patrons to their respective productions.
The 2016 Standard Bank Jazz Festival brings a world of virtuoso musos, savvy fans and record collectors with it too. You can see youth with shining instruments, wooden ones too, scuttling along to the DSG Hall. They will form part of workshops, performances and auditions to become part of the Standard Bank National Schools Big Band, or the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band.
Talk of the town is also the work to be premiered by the 2016 Standard Bank Young Artists. Mohau Modisakeng for Visual Arts, Themba Mbuli’s history focused work in Dance, the multi-layered music of Siya Makuzeni in Jazz and the elegant simplicity of Avigial Bushakevitz’ violin in Music. And notably in theatre, Jade Bower will present a South African premier Scorched. It was described by The Guardian as, “a beautiful, sorrowful play about the legacy of anger, and the cycle of revenge and war.”
Already, before the toll of the first bells at theatre doors, there are some productions that reportedly sold out. Like the House Of Truth which celebrates the centenary of Fort Hare University and its most illustrious alumnus, Can Themba. The drum era journalist whose life was as enchanting as the stories he wrote. He is played by Sello Make Ka Ncube. Lara Foot’s critically acclaimed play about child rape, Tshepang staring Mcedisi Shabangu returns to the boards too. There’s everything for every kind of taste. This is to be the barometer of the national cultural health.