You’ve heard of it before right, the Pull Her Down Syndrome where women pull each other down, seemingly because of intimidation or gross baseless hatred toward other women. But the exaggerated animosity doesn’t stand at the Vavasati Women’s International Festival. It hasn’t for the seven years of the festival’s existence.
Today marks the fourth Friday since the festival commenced this month. The works at the festival address systemic structures of power that continue to discriminate against women, under the theme Inequality: Seizing the Megaphone! The name Vavasati is a Xitsonga word meaning women, reiterating the power and strength that women possess when they unite.
The internationally acclaimed women’s arts festival annually takes place at the State Theatre in Pretoria throughout the month of August, with over 20 works created solely by powerful creative women from different spheres of the art world- in photography, music, choreography and performance art.
“The fact that the festival is in its 7th year, already that is growth alone. Actually the State Theatre has done an amazing job to cater for women. We are enhancing the festival some more now. The budgets have grown and the number of participants or works put in the programme has increased. Some women debut their works here and others find their voice here in this platform to grow and become the best. There are collaborations that grow from and within the festival. So women can work together!” says co-curator of Vasati International Festival Mamela Nyamza. Kgaogelo Tshabalala is the other co-curator.
According to Nyamza, the programme invites (through a call out) artists and companies to submit proposals each year for the month-long fest. “When we receive them, we have readers that are asked to go through the proposals and recommend works. We went through some of the works that they have recommended. I also being new in Pretoria, I met Kgaugelo Tshalabala who knows the artists in Pretoria, and asked her to come join me in curating. We have a pool for musicians, poets, dancers and actors. Some proposals were taken out and others taken in. I made my selection and so as Kgaugelo,” she said.
The team has something novel in this year’s programme, with the Open Market and Live Music segment that take place every Sunday. This is a lively setting on an open-air rooftop towered by landmark surrounds overlooking the arts complex.
Created and inspired by women, but the festival is for all- including men and young boys who are often perpetrators of the abuse received by women and girls. So attracting a diverse audience is important for Vasati International Festival’s impact in society. “We are continuously making an awareness of the festival. With the exposure that is out there, we have been loud than ever. The participating artists have been active in the joining the campaigns. The programme is diverse in such a way that it caters across all genres. There is everything for everyone. There are educational works, provocative works and family inclusive works,”says the choreographer Nyamza.
Inclusive and progressive works are synonymous with the State Theatre, which supports young artists and has opened its doors to stimulating uncaptured work. “Including other provinces nationally and other country’s participating, already it puts State Theatre as thee theatre for Africa. This aligns with our overall vision and artistic mandate to be a pan African theatre that is inclusive in its programme offering. Already I have calls from artists abroad asking when is the next festival.”
Filled with so many emotions, I wonder how Aubrey Sekhabi and Kabelo “Bonafide Billi” Togoe managed to actually write the whole script of the musical. Freedom, which was inspired by the efforts of brave young people who took their issues to the streets when university vice-chancellors flatly ignored their pleas of free education.
Students fought hard (with some being arrested and others succumbing to wounds which were inflicted by the police and community members) to get what is now a free education, which others still argue there is nothing free about it as taxpayers will have to forge some cents if not more to pay for billions of fees in the next coming years.
The musical by Sekhabi which has been running at the SA State Theatre summaries the dramatic events which led to the then president of the republic, Jacob Zuma, announcing this free education.
Phindile Ndlovu, who is one of the main characters lived to tell the tale of how she was raped by her musician boyfriend, Bonafide- the music star’s life was taken by a member of the SA Police Service. His story reminds me that of Katlego Monareng from the Tshwane University of Technology whose life, like that of Bonafide’s, was cut short by a trigger-happy policeman. Bonafide’s character was portrayed by rapper PdotO.
There are many stories that will never be told on mainstream media including those of young men who sell their bodies to men and women just to be able to pay for an apartment.
But I must say, I appreciate both Sekhabi and Togoe’s hunger to tell those stories so authentically and so honestly. One has to salute the Freedom team for having chosen to tell the stories of these young people who were failed by the government and the higher education department’s minister Blade Nzimande (who features in the musical in the form of the talented opera singer Otto Maidi).
So many issues are explored in the musical including femicide, which has claimed the lives of many women. Young women like Karabo Mokoena and model Reeva Steenkamp, who like many women whose bodies lay cold in cemeteries and morgues, were killed by their partners.
I pray and hope that this musical, which has now been adapted into a book, will be bought by some TV station and turned into a film or TV series for it to be seen by many, especially our ‘leaders’ who were elected into power to protect and serve the people. We both know that some people don’t do the theatre like me and you.
Freedom is an award winning musical, with brilliant choreography done by award winning choreographer, director and actor Mduduzi Nhlapo;the story was well-researched with a stellar cast.
FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI is a legit icon. An abrasive visionary, very much deliberate with his truth. His music is sonically enchanting, with the political astuteness to match his swagger. Rightfully celebrated in Africa, and throughout the world, his legacy will stand for a very long time.
But the Kalakuta Queens, or the 27 women that Fela married as they are shabbily known, are not acknowledged for the role they played in the life of Fela Kuti.
In today’s language you could say Fela was woke, but it was a woman that woke him up. Before meeting his American girlfriend Sandra Izsadore, Fela usually laughed at proud black Americans’ insistence on drawing inspiration from the African continent. “She was telling me about Africa, she says ‘don’t I know that Africans taught the Europeans everything they know today’ I say you talking shit. She said ‘there are books’ I say show me a book, she gave me Malcom X to read,” said Fela in an interview talking about how Izsadore put him on knowledge that would give his music meaning.
That is only just one aspect of the impact women have had on Fela. Critically acclaimed Nigerian musical play, Fela and The Kalakuta Queens goes deeper into the life-long bonds Fela had with these women who are unknown to the world, who left their homes to build a life with the off-kilter artist.
“History has not been fair to the Kalakuta Queens because they were his pillar and backbone during his struggle. They stood for him against all odds and they were never remembered. It becomes important to tell their story because a story about Fela is incomplete with his women. History will never forget the Queens with the musical we have which shows the role they play in the struggles with Fela,” says the play’s director, Bolanle Austen-Peters.
Fela and The Kalakuta Queens has been at the South African State Theatre just over a week now, until this coming Sunday. It premiered in Lagos two years ago and has been a global hit since. It is choreographed by Paolo Sisiano and Justin Ezirim, with renowned composer, Kehinde Oretimehin on the production. The character of Fela is projected by both OLaitan “Heavywind” Adeniji and Patrick Diabuah who lead the thirty-six members cast, backed by a fifteen-piece band in the ensemble.
Auten-Peters is an award winning writer and entrepreneur who has established different businesses, including Terra Kulture, a combination of museum, an art gallery and a restaurant all rolled into one in Nigeria, and the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP).
Stories of phenomenal black women who found themselves sharing life with great men, are limited to their roles as wives, with society shunning their individuality and unique contribution.
“Well, overtime I have seen different plays written and stories told about Fela. However, there has been little or no emphasis about his women. I have come to realize that it is time for us to tell our own stories so I decided to tell Fela’s story from a different angle. I took a critical look at the life of Fela and I saw that there is a gap that needs to be filled, an uncharted territory that needs to be covered and an amazing story to tell.”
The musical hasn’t only been appreciated by fans of Fela, but also the real life Kalakuta Queens. “Most of the Queens are alive, in fact some of them came on stage to give testimonials when we first staged the musical. They have been very helpful in the course of this production and I must say without them we would not have been able to put this together accurately,” says Austen-Peters. “They gave us real accounts of what transpired in the house and details of how they lived together with Fela.”
“People leave the arena crying because many never understood the things the Queens went through with Fela. The Musical is not only educative but also very informative as the audience gets to be informed about the ordeal between Fela, the Police and his women.”
As society we often label a sexually liberated damsel isifebe, a whore with no sense of moral standing. While men’s carnal desires are acknowledged and wickedly perceived as a prerequisite to proper manhood. But things is changing, albeit gradually.
Women, especially black women are beginning to be recognised as the diamonds they are, largely because they’ve taken it upon themselves to own their womanhood, in all ways. Photographer Dineo Mnyanga and her partner Shirley Mtombeni are celebrating women this weekend, through an exhibition, Makaziwe, a collaborative project with other lenswomen and female artists.
Hosted at Yes 4Youth, adjacent Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa, the two day exhibition is themed, Her Desires. “It’s work of art, work of expression,” says Mnyanga.
“We feature different women from across the country and we were honoured when women from Black View Finder foundation, women in photography showed interest in our exhibition. We also feature young upcoming photographers locally. ”
The list of exhibitors include Charmain Carrol, Phumzile Nkosi, Matheko Malebana, Lebogang Molota, Mosa Seleke, Sinethemba Mthembu and Cleopatra Matuwane. “Each photographer brings uniqueness, that’s what we loved the most, their work is different yet they all share the same thoughts and feelings.”
Mnyanga and Mtombeni made sure to strike a balance with regards to the age difference of the exhibitors, managing to capture the feelings of various women in their dissimilar phases in life.
Makaziwe is originally a play written by Mtombeni about a woman, who two years into marriage, grows sexual dissatisfaction with her hubby who doesn’t understand her body. The play showed at the Moses Molelekwa Art Centre and was produced by Mnyanga last year.
“Initially when Makaziwe started, it was more than a play, it was a movement! The movement inspired us to create different platforms within the arts and culture industry to express what women feel, think and want through their work. The first platform was Makaziwe the play,” Mnyanga tells me. The play will return to stage later this year.
While the exhibition is scheduled to take place this weekend, there are talks of it moving to other galleries. “So we can safely say the work won’t end here.”
· 30&31 MARCH 2019 TIME:16:00-20:00 AT YES 4YOUTH (MAKHULONG STADIUM, TEMBISA)