Jo'burg set to bloom with a spring infusion of culture
It is safe to conclude that James Ngcobo is one of the busiest directors in town. He becomes animated when you allow him free rein to pontificate on the many stories he wants to tell. Whenever I bump into him, he is busy conceptualising a plot or working on a production.
This year alone he has worked on several productions, including Xikumbutso (Venda for “memory”), a play commemorating the ANC’s century of struggle, staged an adaptation of Can Themba’s The Suitcase at the new Soweto Theatre and mounted Reflections, a musical that traces the trajectory of vocalist Sibongile Khumalo’s journey in music.
I sat down with him recently to chat about what he would be bringing to September’s 10-day Arts Alive festival in Johannesburg with Sibojama, the company he runs with Hugh Masekela, Xoliswa Ngema and the Cut to Black consortium, headed by Lesley Hudson.
Over the past few years the festival had become formulaic. Predictable line-ups had made it rather drab and dull.
Ngcobo was bullish about what Sibojama was doing to rejuvenate the festival: “We want people to put this in their calendars,” he said. And reminiscing on the festival’s past incarnations, he said: “It got to a stage where it wasn’t growing. There was a strong focus on it being a jazz festival.”
As you would expect from a thespian, this year’s programme shows a theatre bias. The festival will host the world premiere of the play Delirium, written by acclaimed Chilean-American Ariel Dorfman and directed by Greg Homann; Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris, which premiered at this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and is directed by Janice Honeyman; Hayani, a production co-written by Athandwa Kani and Nat Ramabulana; and Ngcobo’s own production, Bopha, a story written by Percy Mtwa.
But Ngcobo realised that it could not be just about what he and his partners enjoy. There needed to be a balance between the old and the new and the whole city — not just the Newtown and Zoo Lake areas — needed to be used. So Eldorado Park, Hillbrow, the fringes of Johannesburg’s central business district (Arts on Main) and Soweto will also host some of the action.
Local hip-hop star Slikour was brought on board as a consultant to cater to youthful music tastes. Pop stars Lira and Thandiswa and pianist Bokani Dyer are some of the young musicians who will take part in the festival. Others acts include reggae collective Tidal Waves, DJs Prince, Rudeboy and Lancelot and veteran singer Vusi Mahlasela.
The organisers want to tap into the vibrant and festive air that is building with the arrival of spring.
In addition to Arts Alive, there are several other cultural events taking place in the city in September, including the third edition of the Mail & Guardian’s Literary Festival, the Art Fair in Sandton and Dance Umbrella 2.
Ngcobo said Sibojama was already preparing for next year’s festival. “We should invite artists from other areas so that it’s not a reclusive Jo’burg festival. We want to attract people from other lands.”
Johannesburg, like many other big metropolises, is a city of migrants and refugees (to take liberties with a Helen Zille faux pas) from all over Africa, who want to see something about “home” in their adopted city.
For the full programme go to artsalive.co.za