Despite two elections, a cholera epidemic and ongoing inflation HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) is still going strong. Each festival has a theme and this year it was About Face. This signifies in this case hope, transformation, new beginnings and above all, facing and acknowledgement of the past while looking forward to a brighter future. According to founder and executive director Manuel Bagorro, the theme offers artists, community leaders and above all creative thinkers a platform for a meaningful exchange of ideas.
With the increased interest from outside of Zimbabwe it is clear that the festival is now seen as an important platform for not only Zimbabwean arts and culture, but as a showcase and meeting place for artists and cultural practitioners from around the world. With the changing political and economic landscape in Zimbabwe the festival can begin to look at the very real impact it has and measure these in tangible terms. HIFA maintains a link with the regional and international community in an effective and engaging way during a time of tacit isolationist rhetoric being promulgated in Zimbabwe.
HIFA began in 1999 and since then has taken the Zimbabwean and Southern African arts scene by storm. The last edition turned Harare life upside down from April 27 to May 2, 2010. The festival opened with an amazing Zimbabwean performance of classical work directed by La Fura Dels Baus from Spain and performed by more than a hundred local singers and dancers. Throughout the week everything from opera to reggae, from ballet to street dance, and theatre plays were on the program. The audience were dancing to Suluman Chimbetu and Senegalese music icons Xalam. People were embracing Emeline Michel ('the Joni Mitchell of Haiti') and celebrated Jamaican dub poet Yasus Afari and local poet Comrade Fatso.
Over the last couple of years HIFA has provided one of the only platforms that allows for discussion and exploration of issues affecting the Zimbabwean community. The majority of local theatre showcased at the festival over the last few years has dealt with the Zimbabwe situation as did the four previous opening productions, directed by Brett Bailey, which attracted audiences of over 5.000. HIFA 2010 was the largest Festival to date with more than 60.000 tickets issued. The Norwegian Embassy presented Women Calling – a beautiful blend of dance and music that includes jazz, African traditional music, Norwegian Folk and improvisation. The British Embassy and British Council gave us The Magnets, CulturesFrance and the French Embassy presented the wonderful Salif Keita from Mali, and Pamberi Trust was funding the Moreira project.
HIFA has successfully employed arts and culture as a vehicle to encourage freedom of expression and open discussion of issues concerning Zimbabwe. The fact that the festival has just held its 11th edition to growing audiences and audiences that are from increasingly diverse demographic, shows the very real need for these spaces and platforms in Zimbabwe. The festival is more than an artistic 'happening', it is a platform from which Zimbabweans express their ideals and dreams for a better future.