Hifa 2017: Hits and misses

HARARE - Malian music star Habib Koité turned on the style on Sunday night to signal the end of this year’s edition of the Harare International Festival of Arts (Hifa).

As is usually the case with festivals, Hifa 2017 attracted mixed reviews.

Below is what I thought were the hits and misses of the just-ended festival.

* Hits

The most positive thing about the 2017 Hifa was that it managed to bounce back after an 18-month break.

At the close of the 2015 edition, Hifa associate executive director Tafadzwa Simba revealed that the festival had almost failed to take place due to serious financial challenges.

“A miracle! It almost did not happen owing to the difficult economic environment we are all operating in. Hifa is grateful to the government ministries and agencies, corporate and development partners and above all the audiences and artists who pulled together to make Hifa 2015 a success,” he told the Daily News then.

In view of the foregoing, the organisers of Hifa must be lauded for making Hifa 2017 happen against huge odds.

The just-ended six-day Hifa, which generally attracted smaller crowds compared to previous editions, should also be complimented for hosting great performances from Habib Koité, Mahube, Oliver Mtukudzi, Kareyce Fotso from Cameroon, Street Corner Symphony from the United States of America, Italian songstress Amanda E La Banda who featured Blessing “Bled”Chimanga and Mangoma on her set, Bryan K, MC Chita, and local reggae group Transit Crew.

Though the music component of Hifa 2017 was fairly good, I think the theatre programme was far much better. 

The quality of local theatre productions on show this year was very impressive.

Whoever was responsible for selecting local plays for the festival deserves special praise for including complex and well-conceived local plays like the award-winning Liberation, Lamentations @ 12, Finding Temeraire and Tumaini.

Of the foreign plays I witnessed, the ones that impressed me the most were Amsterdam written and performed by the talented Zambia-born and Manchester-based Chanje Kunda and A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was beautifully performed by the HandleBards Glade from the United Kingdom.

* Misses

In my view, Hifa 2017’s biggest letdown was a poor sound system. There were recurrent sound glitches throughout the festival, the most glaring of which caused a 45-minute delay of the opening show featuring Mahube.

The sound glitches also reared their ugly head during the Tuku- Winky D gig as well as Victor Kunonga’s percussion concert. The sound problem was so bad in Kunonga’s case that he was forced to finish without using his acoustic guitar.

Another big miss of Hifa 2017 was the selection of a music rookie like ShaSha to do the 1pm gig on Sunday. The young local songstress delivered an uninspiring performance.

Despite being blessed with a soothing voice and an impressive vocal range, ShaSha dismally failed to connect with the crowd.

Many in the crowd felt that the young artiste had been thrown in at the deep end.

This particular concert on the last day of the festival — which usually attracts families — has traditionally been given to a proven artiste.

In 2015, the gig featured Victor Kunonga who delivered a captivating performance.

After watching ShaSha’s debut Hifa performance, several questions came to mind.

How are the artistes who perform at Hifa selected? Does Hifa select artistes entirely on the basis of what is on the application form? Do they verify claims on application forms?

Answers to the above questions will help us understand how the young artiste ended up getting the popular Sunday afternoon gig.

Though Hifa still has to give us the statistics, my guess is that the 2017 edition attracted fewer patrons than previous ones.

This could probably be down to the absence of many top artistes, both local and foreign, in this year’s edition.

If Hifa had included several local crowd-pullers like Jah Prayzah and Soul Jah Love, I am convinced that many more fans could have attended Zimbabwe’s biggest arts event.

Hifa organisers must head hunt popular local artistes instead of waiting for them to submit applications.

The uproar caused by the fact that Winky D played only three songs when he featured on Tuku’s set shows that there is definitely a huge appetite for these kind of shows at Hifa.

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