When I first heard about the South Africa Cultural Seasons in Kenya, I was struck by the “Cultural Seasons.” In my mind, I envisioned a Festival of sorts that would immerse me in the rich South African culture. Thus, when I got the opportunity to attend the Gala Night that was happening on 25th February 2019, at the Nairobi National Museum , I arrived with lots of expectations yet not really knowing what they would offer. I am however really happy that I attended because, this gala not only informed me what exactly the South Africa Cultural Seasons was but, also enabled me to engage with it quite intensely.
The gala dinner was a great sneak peek into what they had in store for all, as part of their “seasons”. First up, I was very impressed by the fact that the dinner was free sitting, which means, you could interact and engage with all and sundry. There was the absence of ” No go zone VIP area” that honestly rubs me the wrong way in some instances. This also was a great indicator that they wished to share the festival with all people and not a supposed “niche’ or “group of people.’
We were then guided to an Exhibition official opening, which was open to all in attendance. The Exhibition area was running a project dubbed, “The Mandela Poster project” which is a collection of 95 posters from around the world. It is in honour of the lifelong contribution to humanity by former president of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The exhibition also gave us a great platform to engage with different South African cultures reflected in beautiful artefacts and fashion pieces on display. More on this later.
Thereafter, the “South Africa Cultural Seasons in Kenya” which would run from 25th February to 2nd March 2019, was officially launched by Ms.Kelebogile Sethibelo, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Arts and Culture, Republic of South Africa. This partnership between the two countries seeks to strengthen their relations both socially and economically. This would be made possible by having empowerment opportunities that would offer trainings and exchange programmes for their respective artists, while also creating business opportunities for both to promote their art, culture and cultural products in the two countries. They seek for this to be a long term engagement and thus would run annually and on reciprocity. The theme for this inaugural festivity was “”Celebrating 25 years of Democracy and Freedom,” in celebration of South Africa having slayed apartheid and attained independence on 27th April, 1994.
Activities lined up for the week were all free and included the Exhibition at Nairobi National Museum, South African Film Festival at Nairobi National Museum, Dance extravaganza at Kenya Cultural Center as well as a music concert at Bomas of Kenya. Workshops that included fashion and design, music and dance as well as film making would also be running, thus giving artists of both countries intense sessions to engage. Two days after the gala dinner, I revisited the Exhibition as I wanted to slowly read the captions from the Mandela Project as well as engage more with the art pieces that were on display.
I loved that it showcased visuals of former president Nelson Mandela from his younger years to his old age and messages that spoke of the Fight for Freedom among others. This exhibition was masterpiece after masterpiece and I loved walking through it reading, observing and learning. It also left me wondering, what I am doing for my country and my people, in whatever capacity I am.
Then there were the fashion pieces and artefacts on display. They did a great job in showcasing the culture of some tribes in South Africa like these beaded pieces from the Ndebele tribe and clothing from the Xhosa among others. They also had contemporary designs that blended tradition with modern. My only disappointment is that I could not purchase any of the items as they were not for sale. Anyone in South Africa reading this and can hook me up with a similar wallet, neckpiece, blanket, dresses or artefacts of culture, lets talk, lets be friends 🙂
I then had the opportunity to attend the dance extravaganza that was being held at The Kenya Cultural Center. In my mind, I envisioned the extravaganza would give me more engagement with cultural dance and music from South Africa only. I was however pleasantly surprised when we were introduced to two dance outfits, Ingoma from South Africa and Zamela from Kenya, who would be our entertainers for the night,- indeed the partnership was already in play.
It was fascinating to one minute be watching a male zulu performance by Ingoma, followed by a luo dance from Zamela. One minute, the South African ladies would be gracefully singing and dancing, showcasing a dance that celebrated their progression from girls to women and the next, a vigorous Borana dance from Kenya. It was indeed interesting being awed by the performers who were supported by an equally abled singers and instrumentalists group.
As a grand finale, the two outfits merged under the outfit zamingoma, where they performed a piece that incorporated Kenya and South Africa music and dance. It was beautiful watching them sing and dance as they flawlessly moved from one culture to the other. Zamingoma-you deserve a round of applause-Thank You.
They also had a film festival running during the week and I had the privilege of watching “Beyond the River.” It was a captivating story that highlighted that despite our differences whether in status, race, religion et al, we are all human and should treat each other with love and respect. Only then are we able to note that we are all more similar than we envision and diversity does not mean division.
Last but not least, after having been a satisfied recipient of all the beautiful experiences and lessons that the South Africa Seasons in Kenya offered me, it was only befitting that I share some of my beautiful Kenya with some of the South Africans. I am very grateful to Ms.Kelebogile Sethibelo, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Arts and Culture, Republic of South Africa and Mr. Ruma Matibe, Director International Relations South Africa, for honouring me with the opportunity to showcase some of Kenya to them. We had fun exploring Karura forest with them and they got to sample what “Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai and others fought for-Conservation of natural forests, as well as sampling some local delicacies like Nyama Choma. Thank You and “Karibu tena”-Welcome again, for some more exploration of Kenya.
That my dear people, is how I had an amazing, fulfilled week , courtesy of South Africa Cultural Seasons in Kenya. This partnership between Kenya and South Africa is quite commendable in not only enhancing relations between the two nations but, also empowering the artists from the two countries. A big thank you to everyone who was involved in one way or another, in making this “season” as successful as it was. Special appreciation to the Department of Arts and Culture, Republic of South Africa, The High Commission of South Africa in Kenya, The Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage Kenya and all artists and participants. I can’t wait for the next one.