Zimbabwe's tough economic climate has not repelled arts festival punters. In fact, with more attention paid to marketing, one of its remaining festivals, Shoko, could bring in more crowds.
Zimbabwe’s ailing economy has made it extremely difficult for its arts sector to run. As a result of the economy, many festivals in the country have folded or shelved, citing heavy presence of donor and sponsorship fatigue. However, the annual Shoko festival has emerged victorious with a resilience which saw them soldiering on with the festival and taking the top festival spot in Zimbabwe in 2016, in the absence of many competitors such as the grand Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).
The three-day Shoko festival ran under the theme “Come Alive” in September. It came with an intention to wake up Zimbabwe’s capital from its deep economic slumber and lived up to its bill. With the festival site located outside the Museum of Human Sciences, which is between the Harare City Library and the College of Music, the events took place within walkable distance from the central business district of the city. The festival indeed came alive with a well-balanced programme which catered for the hip-hop heads, the afro jazz fanatics and other genres of art which were represented by giants and budding artists from the respective genres.
The festival ran for two days at the venue and on the last day migrated to Chitungwiza, a high-density town located 30 kilometers south of Harare where the curtain finally came down with their iconic “Peace in the Hood” concert, which takes both budding and established artists to perform in the high-density suburbs for free concerts.
A combination of all this and marketing struck the right notes to attracting a bumper crowd of revelers who have long been yearning for festivities in the city.
The term “Shoko” means “Word” in Shona- one of Zimbabwe’s native languages. This year South African chanter AKA was the main highlight joined by Norwegian based hip-hop outfit African Sunz along with Zimbabwe’s finest Ammara Brown, Winky D and Zimbabwean man of the moment Jah Prayzah, who has been breaking into the regional audience after his hit song with Tanzania’s Diamond Platinumz.
Moving Africa Participants
To witness this Zimbabwean history were four foreign artists from across the African continent attending under the Moving Africa (MA) initiative by the Goethe-Institut. Moving Africa is a Pan African exchange programme which aims at affording African artists an unusual opportunity and experience of attending cultural festivals around the continent concurrently networking with fellow African artists. The programme has been running since 2009. Moving Africa participants that were in Zimbabwe include, Peter Komondua (Democratic Republic of Congo), Koffi Olivier Ahuié (Cote d’Ivoire), Ivan Chendjouo (Cameroon), Felisberto Moises Nguenha (Mozambique).
Koffi Olivier Ahuie, a poet from Cote d’Ivoire widely known as Philo tamer words says attending Shoko Festival was a rare privilege, “It was a great pleasure for me to attend the Shoko festival in Zimbabwe as part of the Moving Africa programme. This joy is even greater as Moving Africa allowed me to make my first trip by plane, to discover this beautiful city of Harare.”
Philo adds that he was mesmerized by the calm and clean nature of the streets complemented by the natural hospitality of the Zimbabweans which made up for an ‘enjoyable but short’ stay. Despite not having much sentiments on the festival, he acknowledges it was a great success as it featured super stars and festival organizers prioritized on public safety.
According to Philo, Moving Africa has been a great success as it has provided him with a rare opportunity to network with participants at the festival in Zimbabwe hence making way for possible artist collaborations in the near future. The success of Philo’s story from Moving Africa spills over to his home country given that he is currently running a social programme inspired by his travel under the Moving Africa initiative.
“Personally, the Moving Africa programme inspired me to start a social project that I'm currently developing within my country to enable disadvantaged people to power, also travel and discover their country” he said in conclusion.
Most of his thoughts have been shared by fellow MA participant Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) based Peter Komondua who is also a poet of repute who says the initiative afforded him the initial opportunity to attend a festival away from his home country.
“I came here to attend my first festival abroad, being an artist myself. I could get in touch with the really friendly people of Harare and also with some artists that practice the same discipline as me and even some from other countries practicing slam (poetry)."
He recalls his major challenge upon arriving in Harare was to make as much contacts as he could during their short stay and he says he came and conquered.
Shoko Festival 2016 was part of the Goethe-Institut’s Moving Africa programme. Moving Africa is the Goethe-Institut's pan African exchange Programme which gives artists the opportunity to travel to selected cultural festivals on the continent. Launched in 2009, the programme's aim is to foster exchange and networking amongst African artists. More information