First bite of Grahamstown would have to be the freezing cold that nips at you the minute you step out of the bus from Jo’burg…but for a ‘first-timer’ like me, the excitement soon floods in. You start thinking about where you are and all the possibilities that lie ahead and soon, the cold air disappears, immediately one begins to notice the richness of where you have just landed – how beautiful an old town can be even in 2014 – how a simple town such as Grahamstown can be home to such a phenomenal event… In case you were not aware, I’m talking about the National Arts Festival 2014 and luckily for me (and all the West’siders), the festival was celebrating its 40th year of this annual event and boy was I in for a treat!
Just by looking at the festival program, which was a whapping 296 page book filled with everything from theater, to live music of all ranges, film, art, culture, kiddies entertainment and everything else in between – I would have been lying if I said I was prepared for the week that lied ahead of me, or the West Side FM listeners for that matter.
With any daunting task, it is always best to start somewhere where other people know exactly what is going on, and luckily, The Famous Idea was just such a place. Walking in to what look like the nerve center of the most exciting times for Arts and Culture (celebrating 30 years of Artist Awards) was a sight you could only understand if you had seen it with your own pair of eyes and fortunately enough for West Side FM, this amazing team of four phenomenal women were there to guide and assist ‘little ol’ me’ through the entire festival, at all hours of the day and night, in which ever way they could – trust me, I needed the help more often than I would like to admit (hides).
Having never been in Grahamstown, or even more shameful, having never really been exposed to the National Arts Festival, my mind swirled around what this whole festival all about – how it started and more importantly – how did I (with all this FOMO [fear of missing out] that I have) manage to have missed 39 Festivals?? Granted, the first +-31 of them I have a pass for, but the last eight (8), being all grown up and living in SA, how could I miss it? How dare I?
This to be honest, was the reason that I decided to attend the festival, as member of West Side FM. I thought to myself, how many of my fellow West Rand community members didn’t know about this festival or how it can potentially change their lives – even if is in the smallest of ways.
“What began in 1974 as an event to preserve, protect and promote the English language, has flourished and thrived to a world-class, multi-lingual and cross cultural celebration of the arts, rich in color, texture and form. The Festival has become ironic and larger than life. It has evolved into a touchstone for our artists, an incubator of tomorrow’s talent and an archive of yesterday’s, most importantly it is a real living snapshot of where we are as a nation and a peek into the many futures that face us…” – Ayanda Mjekula, National Arts Festival Board Chairman.
And with the 40th year, the line up for this 11 Day Festival was said to be epic. I wanted to see EVERYTHING and make sure that my fellow West’siders saw it too… From Theatre performances which really a lasting impression such as Marikana – The Musical (Adapted from: We Are Going To Kill Each Other Today – The Marikana Story by Aubrey Sekhabi), and Dinner With Bantu by Xolisa Ngubelanga and Xabiso Zweni, to the Live Performances by artists such as Jimmy Dludlu, Hugh Masikela, Lira, The Muffins and a little less famous (in my world at least) such as Tshepo Fela, Asanda Mqiki, Nomfundo Xaluva (who performed at the Jazz and Blues Café – the most beautiful former Church building I have ever seen) and Late-night Blues with the Blues Broers (consisting of Albert Frost on guitar, Dan Shout on sax, Rob Nagel on bass / harmonica, Simon Orange on the keyboard and Jonno Sweetman on drums), all of whom held their own on the stages they performed in.
And if Theatre and Music is not your thing (…to each his own and all…) then the Festival would have still ‘tickled you pink’ with Art Exhibitions and Walk-Abouts (featuring artists such as Daniel Novela and Sally Rumball) that took place every day, as well as “Think Fest / Wordfest” which hosted discussions and poetry on various topics featuring acts by Lebo Mashile and Phillippa de Villiers, “Film Fest”, “Spirit Fest”, Family Fares and an all-around joyous spirit filling every single corner of the town.
Those however, are all the technical aspects of the Festival – the really beautiful things about the town itself were found in the streets. From the flea markets that were all over, to the young mimes that would move for money all day long… The cultural dancers that would just burst out in the streets, the culture and history that surrounded flooded the entire town. Locals and visitors buzzing alike – an old town that comes alive with dance, art and soul like no other. Walking passed all the old buildings in town – old face brick and stone churches, you could almost imagine yourself in a different time zone – a place that is no influenced by all the faults of the digital age – and that by far is the best thing about being in “Rhini” (a little term I picked up from the locals, I really haven’t mastered the pronunciation but I have a whole year to practice for #NAF2015).
From the frost bite I got on my fingers trying to keep up with the popular #NAF2014 on twitter, to the numbness of my legs from going through the hundreds of pictures taken and only having to choose a few…The week of ‘then hot, then cold, then windy weather’ to the Hopper (Festival time taxi that you pay R5 to travel all around the town) experience… The busy days, to the even busier nights…the missing my hair dryer to seeing the place I would one day wish to say my “I DO’s” in… All of this in one spectacular town hosting the most culturally rich Festival I’ve ever seen. I just hope that I get to experience this once more and that artist from the West Rand will invade the #NAF2015 for 11 Days like only a West’sider can.
For SoundCloud access to Shout Outs click here
A special, Thank You, to Ncedo Investment Holdings and Vuza Logistics for making it possible for West Side FM to gain this experience.
Article By: Kgomotso Mashego
Photography By: Tebogo Mathodlana
SoundCloud Edits By: SeRai West (@SeRaiWest)