The Great Scramble for Hifa 2017

Takudzwa Chihambakwe Leisure Correspondent —
IN 2015, the Harare International Festival of the Arts “miraculously” took place, in 2016 it did not happen, and in 2017 it is set for a grand return.

It is good news for artistes, arts lovers, stakeholders in Zimbabwe’s arts and culture industry, and the rest of the world. Hifa is ranked among the top seven arts festivals in Africa and had adopted a new format in 2016, which saw organisers hosting monthly events as opposed to the customary six-day show-piece that brings an inimitable buzz to the capital. The 2017 edition is slated to run from April 25 to 30.

“2016 was — of course — challenging, mostly because of transacting difficulties that came out of left-field and caught everyone in the country by surprise,” said festival director Maria Wilson. “We held several events this year but to give you an idea of some of the challenges beyond our control which we faced, in the last 10 days of April 2016 we sent payment to South African artistes who performed at the end of April and the payment only reflected in their accounts towards the end of June.

“This was through no fault of ours as we sent the payment and through no fault of the artistes either. Such foreign payment bottlenecks can affect not only relations with artistes but also the image of the country. We would want to protect both.”

Asked if the 2017 edition would not be affected by such challenges considering the current cash flow challenges, she said: “It’s just easier when you know what you are dealing with and you know it ahead of time. We have made adequate preparations and taken necessary measures to ensure that one of the biggest promoters of Zimbabwean art, and indeed its people, on the international scene, continues to do so and does so to the level that Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans deserve.”

A confident Wilson continued; “I cannot overemphasise the critical role played by the outstanding, brand-aware and innovative local companies that support Hifa. If you want a roll call of the companies that are truly solid in the country, look at those that support Hifa, and it is precisely because they are forward-looking, committed to positive endeavours in the country and are innovative that they stay ahead of the pack. I am not at all ashamed to say that quite plainly.”

The festival’s general manager, Mind Chamisa, also highlighted the keen interest of international artistes to participate at Hifa 2017. The application period for 2017 runs from November 1 to December 31, 2016.

“It has been truly humbling seeing the reach that our modest festival, held in a sometimes belittled corner of Africa has. Even before we announced the exact dates or launched the official application phase, artistes from all over the world had been writing to us and sending their performance proposals.

“It just shows how, particularly in the performance world, the festival has staked its place on the artistic landscape and thereby put Zimbabwe on a positive platform to shine. We have received applications from as far as Rwanda, Turkey, Mexico, Japan, Czech Republic and New Zealand just to name a few.”

Because of the high interest in and support for the festival, organisers say they are under no illusions regarding the stark realities of having to put on a fiesta of acceptably high quality.

“The Next Level format which we were running under in 2016 as we prepared for Hifa 2017 will still be running as it is a long-term addition to the operations of the festival. As we mentioned in October 2015, the usual, compacted festival format will also be part of our activities from 2017 going forward,” said founder and artistic director, Manuel Bagorro.

“The breather given to the week-long format allowed us space to make the necessary preparations for a different level of presentation as the festival embarks on its next phase of growth.”

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