The Art of Performance is a monthly column written by Dave Mann, an editor and award-winning arts journalist.
It’s that time of year again when a rather large amount of attention is driven towards that quiet Eastern Cape city dotted with a few churches, university students, and a handful of donkeys. This year, for two good reasons.
Late June saw the gazetting of Grahamstown’s name to that of Makhanda following a dedicated 20 or so years of calling for a new name. And while the city itself is still a little rough around the infrastructural edges and has a plethora of socio-economic inequalities to deal with, only good things can come from a place that’s no longer named after a brutal British commander. Then, there was the annual National Arts Festival (NAF) which, after a few slow years, seemed to have a pretty healthy turn-out this year.
If you ventured down to this year’s NAF, you would have noticed that, after the absence of the specialist print publication Cue last year, a new print publication has taken its place in the form of Spotlight – a daily NAF supplement courtesy of The Herald. You would have also noticed that the Village Green – a sizeable marketplace full of performers, shops, and food and drinks stalls – now situates itself on the field of the Victoria Girls High School, further away from the university and closer (although only slightly) to its original location of Fiddler’s Green, near the city centre. Now I’m not sure how much either of those things contributed to the heightened festivities of the 2018 festival, but I can tell you that having a massive, outdoor beer tent with jumbo screens playing the FIFA World Cup in the middle of the Village Green didn’t hurt.
Booze and sports aside, there was also a great deal of art, music, theatre and performance at this year’s NAF, as is always the case. In the few days I spent there, I focused mostly on taking in as much theatre and visual art as possible, while tacking on a bit of live music, as well as the new Creativate Digital Arts Festival.
As it goes, some of the best live music took place outside of the festivals’ various assigned venues. SABiNE, for example, the town’s own small-time Depeche Mode, put on a brilliant performance at the old Victoria Hotel. They’re a dark and gloomy synth-pop outfit replete with enough smoke machines and lasers to transform any venue into an 80s dive bar. Their frontman, Matthew Sabine, has been at the helm for a good few years now and it seems he’s only gotten better. Then there were the various buskers and impromptu pavement sessions that are synonymous with NAF. A quick walk down High Street and surrounds can see you taking in anything from an energetic marimba band or a guitar and vocalist outfit, to the lilting notes of a lone saxophone player.
To read more about what Dave Mann has to say about jazz, The Creativate programme, theatre, featured artist Mamela Nyamza’s Phuma-Langa, visual art, new names and all things NAF, purchase our August 2018 issue, or continue supporting our arts and culture publication by subscribing to our monthly magazine.