Every year, Zimbabwe celebrates the arts and culture through an annual festival known as the Harare International Festival of the Arts, or HIFA. With six days of performances in theatre, dance, and music, as well as exhibitions in the visual arts, HIFA is the highlight of Zimbabwe’s arts calendar, and also the highlight of the social calendar for many! During HIFA, we are privileged to attend performances by world renowned artists and musicians. And every evening, we party well into the night!
We’ve just finished this year’s HIFA, which began last week, and featured artists including Malian legend Salif Keita, Haitian musician Emeline Michel, Portuguese fado singer Mafalda Arnauth, and the London Festival Opera. Among the highlights of the festival was the opening show, a production of Carmina Burana featuring local artists as well as members of the London Festival Opera.
Thanks to tickets donated by visiting author Cai Emmons, six members of Tariro’s traditional dance group, as well as our instructor Daniel Inasiyo, were able to attend one or more shows at this year’s festival. Tariro students watched WoCalling, a collaborative performance by women musicians and dancers from Zimbabwe, in addition to a dance production featuring dancers in training at the Dance Foundation Course run through Zimbabwe’s National Ballet.
The highlight of the performances that our students attended during the festival, however, was definitely Step Africa, whose performance at HIFA was sponsored by the US Embassy in Harare. This African-American step company performs an energetic style of dance and body percussion similar to South African gumboot. A uniquely African-American form of expression, step nonetheless resonates strongly with Zimbabwean audiences, who are already familiar with gumboot and other forms of traditional percussive dance. Our students absolutely loved the show, as we could tell by their excited cheers throughout most of the performance!
After the show Tariro students had the opportunity to go back stage and meet the performers, who spoke about their experiences as professional dancers. The five Tariro students who attended this show all live in Epworth, an extremely disadvantaged neighborhood without electricity or running water. As they seldom speak English even at school, they were extremely shy to interact with the dancers. However, in discussion with dance instructor Daniel Inasiyo, the girls opened up and talked about what they had learned from this performance. Many of the girls commented that the show had taught them that creativity is not dependent on material objects, and that it is possible to make music and dance using just the body alone. It seems to me that this is an especially important lesson for girls living in resource-poor settings, and a very unique way that Step Africa was able to communicate across cultural and class boundaries. The girls also emphasized how much the show had taught them about conveying confidence and expression as performers. As well, they said they finally understood why we keep trying to encourage them to smile when they are performing!
Finally, our instructor Daniel Inasiyo observed that attending this performance was extremely helpful for him as a professional dance teacher and choreographer, and gave him new ideas in his own work with our students. Maybe we’ll even see some step performances in the future! The girls are already talking about putting something together to perform for other students at this year’s empowerment camp…
HIFA was also an excellent place for me to network and make connections as executive director. I’m excited about growing our programs in Zimbabwe, and expanding our local networks is one important way of doing this. Thank you, readers, for your support on both sides of the Atlantic as we continue our mission of educating and empowering some of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable girls.