It was a slow start to this year’s National Arts Festival with proceedings at the opening ceremony on Wednesday night kicking off 45 minutes late but the audience was there to celebrate and when one of the dignitaries said: “the stage is set, the audience have gathered, it’s time to roll up the curtain,” everyone agreed.

But the truest words on the night – the arts reflect the diversity that is South Africa – were borne out with the performance by the Eastern Cape Ensemble. They were the perfect introduction to a national arts festival and everyone who witnessed this opening ceremony performance was privileged to see culture that comes from such a pure place.

In a glorious burst of colourful music, dance and storytelling so diverse it seemed to reflect a country rather than a single province, this exuberant, authentic group of performers gave the audience a remarkable history lesson in story and song.

Many different cultures were represented from the amaXhosa to the Khoisan, the amaPonda and the Indians, all reaching back to recreate their cultural tradition in both spectacular yet unusual costume and unique dance.

It’s the kind of show that’s difficult to coalesce but with a storyteller that managed to engage as she reached into the past while unfolding a future filled with promise, it is the kind of production that would be amazing to send all over the world. “Don’t you just love happy endings,” was her reflection on our state of the nation as she ran through our past.

Amazing is this year’s festival war cry and if this celebration of culture was their first salvo, the festival is off to a thumping start.

They’re expecting record numbers, the carnival has begun and in Elinor Sisulu’s succinct words: “Thanks to the people of Grahamstown whose welcome is always as warm as their weather is cold.”

If anyone is still on their way down Eastern Cape way, pack those winter woollies. It’s freeezing.