Thousands flocked to Makhanda, in Eastern Cape for the celebration of all things music, art, theatre, dance and jazz, for the first time since the global Covid-19 pandemic hit our shores over two years ago.
And I must say the gods were smiling upon this festival, because, the weather was beautiful for most of the 11 days, load-shedding could not dampen the mood of the festival-goers and the artists.
The shows went on, even under candle lights and the artists delivered spectacular performances.
The cherry on top came shortly before the festival kicked off when the government announced the scrapping of the requirements on the wearing of masks at events but the happiest news of them all was the removal of the 50% capacity for social gatherings and events.
This meant additional seats were made available for more people to experience the festivities and enjoy works from some of Mzansi’s creatives and storytellers.
Even if it was for three days, I couldn't miss the opportunity to witness the biggest event in the arts and entertainment calendar transition to its its traditional physical format, following a two year break.
We arrived on Friday, just in time for Amanda Black’s sold-out concert. Even before the show started, fans were singing and shouting Black’s name.
And when she eventually appeared, the auditorium, which was filled to the brim, was brought to a standstill by the ear-shattering sounds of joy.
Taking to the stage, barefooted, Black reminded fans why she is still one of Mzansi’s number vocalists.
On Saturday, Makhanda was still abuzz with shows taking place around the dorpie. We hopped around, binge-watching different shows and concerts as the festival continues, the spirits were still high as festival-goers prepare to close off the festival on a high note.
Another highlight of the festival, the Standard Bank Ovation Awards ceremony, was held at the historic 1820 Settlers National Monument on Saturday night.
Initiated in 2010, the awards speak specifically to the uncurated, fringe component of the festival.
These awards celebrate artistic innovation, excellence, the exploration of new performance styles and the courage to open new conversations through the arts.
Recipients of the award benefit from the recognition, often being offered extended tours, international opportunities to perform, and increased opportunities for funding.
A panel of judges decide on the awards. This year the panel was convened by Rucera Seethal, Nobesuthu Rayi and Zikhona Monaheng.
Individuals and diverse groups were celebrated through song and dance as they each receive their honours.
We caught up with three winners jazz vocalist Asanda Mqiki, comedian KG Mokgadi and co-founder of Amandla Dança Teatro ZA and theatre-maker, Mkhululi Mabiji.
Mqiki’s musical showcase “Vocal Explosion: Amazing Grace”, earned her a Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award, while Mabija’s took home the Standard Bank Bronze Ovation Award for his latest production “Amapondo”.
And Mokgadi’s scooped the Standard Bank Silver Ovation Award for his new stand-up comedy show “Not Safe For Woke”.
Following her big win, Mqiki revealed she wants to take the “Vocal Explosion: Amazing Grace” on a national tour.
“We come from difficult times, we’ve lost loved ones and friends during and through this production, I’m just saying to people, it’s alright, it’s okay. I haven’t done Gospel before, so I just decided to come up with a concert “Gospel According to Jazz” vibe that speaks to the upliftment of our nation,” she said.
“I won the Gold Ovation in 2015, and to win for the second time is just mind-blowing.
“This award is a truly pat on the back to say, ‘you are doing a great job,’ and this is why I always say to my fellow artists, ‘Don’t sleep on the National Arts Festival, come test your work here, and just see what the response is,” she adds.
Mqiki co-directed the show “Intlombe” with Andy Ndlazilwana, which also bagged a Bronze Standing Ovation Award.
Commenting on his big win, Mabija said: “ In 2019 we won the Silver and Cut Above and now it’s an honour to take home the third Standing Ovation.
“Now that we’ve won, the next step is the development of the show. I still want to have a sit down with the show and expand it further.”
Amandla Dança Teatro ZA is a non-profit organization which was founded in 2015 to inspire the youth and to endorse the knowledge of African historic tradition, storytelling and events as well as a broader understanding of the African diaspora through performing arts and audio-visual.
“We don’t want to make artists necessarily out of the kids, but we’re trying to build compassionate adults, that’s the life work with the academy.
“Amadla is mostly based on the diaspora and it’s always been a very conscious thing for us.
“We really want to teach more of our stories to the young ones because they don’t get told these stories. When I was a child, my grandmother told me a different myth and I think that’s what whispered storytelling into me and thank God she did, I couldn’t wait for bedtime to hear these African myths.
“I want to give that kind of love to children. And so with our work, we want to tell more untold stories to the little ones so that they find who they are and go out there strong, proud and bold.
“The long vision is to build a performing arts school in the Northern Cape. There is so much talent there but there is no space to hone that talent. Education is our passion and arts is our air, and we want to put this two together,” added Mabija.
Echoing Mabija and Mqiki’s sentiments, Mokgadi said he wants to take the show first across the country, then to the rest of the continent.
“Stand-up comedians are sometimes viewed as lazy, rule-breakers who are very disrespectful. Given that background of how people think of us as jokers, as jokes even, as lazy dudes that don't want to work.
"So winning this award means that I'm being taken seriously as an artist and that means a lot to me because when I write and think about things I want to portray, I'm coming from that background that I'm doing it as an artist.“
He continued: “I was lucky enough to do some travelling in the continent for the past two years ago. It’s always bothered me that in the stand-up space, the dream is to leave the continent.
“I look up to a lot of musicians in the continent because they live where they live and work in the world, so yeah from here I’m travelling the show across the continent, that’s the plan."
Below is the full list of the 2022 Standard Bank Ovation winners.
Ile - Spark In The Dark
Malifezeke - Iphupho Lika Biko
Nakanjani - Gauteng DSRAC
Emsini - Thapelo Tshite Arts Development
Impossible - Brendon Peel Entertainment
The Gukurahundi Genocide - Uloyiko Theatre and Projects
The Vocal Explosion (Amazig Grace) - Asanda Mqiki
Whistle Blowers - AFDA - Johnnesburg
The Weight of My Body and Why I Carry It -Fishnet Features
Matchbox - Rhodes University Drama Department
May I have this Dance - The Outline
Moodship - Gary Thomas
NSFW - Not Safe For Woke - KG Mokgadi
Asinamali - South African Theatre Practitioners
Kgetho - Emfuleni Arts Creatives
Swaringana - Sikhuthali Oliver Bonga & Walter Strydom
We’re Back With Goosebumps Acapella - NWU Arts, I.N.C.O.K.O, Ezinyaweni Zam
Fragments - Stacey Van Schalwyk
Intlombe - Andy Ndlazilwana
Pinao Classics - Best of Both Concerts
Afrika Sings! - Sonwa Sakuba Institute for the Perfoming Arts
Nomapondo - Amandla Danca Teatro ZA
Vincent - Wela Kapela Productions
Nombasa - Nombasa Productions