Verena Salzwedel is a retired teacher and has attended the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown for many years. She is always intrigued by the amazing range of God-given talents employed at the biggest arts festival in the southern hemisphere. And this year she found God intentionally on display in various genres. She reports on what she discovered — and what you can still get to experience.
Eleven days of AMAZING! — the National Arts Festival is happening in Grahamstown right now. Having seen 10 of the 7 000 shows on offer hardly qualifies me to comment, but maybe some thoughts from an average festino will encourage you to rush there for the last two days, or start planning to attend next year. Somewhere in the Festival blurb it states “to engage one musically, cognitively and visually.” Add “spiritually”, because, yes, it is possible to find God at Fest.
What you missed
For us, the festival began Friday June 30, with Let there be Music, a great performance by the 100 voice Hoerskool Randburg choir and Majazi ensemble, in the atmospheric Rhodes Chapel.
Under African Skies, a choral multi-media service in a darkened cathedral, was impressive. The music and visuals were compiled and composed by Ronald and Jenny Gill, supported by the cathedral choir. The theme was Christmas (In July!), with songs and carols from many African nations, and colourful visuals of skies, animals and people. It inspired appreciation for the Creation and worship of the Creator and formed part of Spiritfest, advertised as “Celebrating the Arts in the context of the Christian Faith.”
Next was The Soil, an acapella group that has seen an astronomic rise in popularity over about 10 years and has performed widely internationally. The group comprises Buhle Mda, Lupindo Ngxanga and Ntsika Ngxanga and their music is characterised by constant beat boxing, incredible acapella harmonising and vocal solos. They were quick to acknowledge God as their Director, but He was effectively side lined by a sold-out, wildly enthusiastic audience who consistently interrupted and drowned out the performance, idolising the group. Listening to The Soil on CD would probably be preferable.
What Remains is a drama written by Nadia Davids, with fantastic choreography and scenography. A very limited audience could be accommodated, because the whole venue was part of the scene. The story is about the discovery of an old slave burial ground and the theme was the desperate need to reconcile the past with the present. The personal insight I came away with was that only with the support of God Almighty and a willingness to forgive, can there ever be any hope of reconciliation.
The highlight of the festival for me this year was The Creed, described as “a multi-genre acapella group….We love people, we love music, we love singing and we’re all believers.” It was their first time at festival and their inspired rendering of lyrics such as You Raise Me up, Amazing Grace and Onse Vader earned them a standing ovation. They are based in Port Elizabeth — so find them, hire them, invite them!
Solid(t)ary, “a musical contemplation of modes of resistance in a world hit by flux,” was interesting and thought-provoking. It was a masterly solo performance by composer Neo Muyanga and included a gem telling of Job’s protest and God’s challenging response.
The film We are Many, explored the power of mass protests against the war in Iraq to change public opinion whilst the political leaders remained unmoved and was a poignant reminder that war is not of God and is never the solution.
Thinkfest and Wordfest are jam packed with talks, debates and panel discussions. We attended a debate around Hate speech, addressed by a panel of VIP’s. As noted in the programme “Parliament is about to consider a bill which attempts to define what hate speech is.” If passed in its proposed form, both the Bible and the Koran could be subject to banning. We may be perplexed, but we need to pray earnestly that both the proponents and the opponents of this bill would be given much wisdom.
Visual art exhibitions run throughout the festival. 40 Stones in a Wall is a mission exhibition by Christian artists in the Corey Room, next to the Long Table restaurant. The theme is Beautiful Redemption: The Art of Faith and Politics. The thought-provoking works stimulate many conversations. A catalogue of their works and rationales is available on their Facebook page. The exhibition is part of Spiritfest, as is Stand, a solo exhibition of huge charcoal drawings by Jonathan Griffiths, depicting his journey of faith. It is situated at the Carinus Art Centre.
Seven churches have combined to send representatives to Fest to do prophetic art on the lawns behind the Drostdy Arch and they have had many meaningful contacts.
Greg Schultz’s exhibition Solace: the Spirit of Place, in St Patrick’s Hall showcases his awesome talent.
Brian de Villiers’ Hammond’s exhibit God’s Perfect Palette in the Steve Biko building, should be worth a visit.
Still to come
You can still get there!
The Secret Garden — Friday July 7 at 2pm in Glennie Hall. The dance version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous book.
Book Launch — Friday July 7, The Road to Emmaus by Professor Chris Mann, Emeritus Professor of Poetry at Rhodes University and convenor of Wordfest. It deals with “How we can strengthen the resilience of our spiritual life in an era of increasing turbulence.”
The Festival Gala Concert — Saturday July 8 at 3pm performed by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Richard Cock.
A Man and a Dog — excellent theatre on Saturday July 8 at 6pm in St Andrew’s Hall.
Also on Saturday July 8 are Thinkfest lectures at 10am, 12pm and 2pm on burning issues re climate change.
Spiritfest will also host a panel discussion on Faith and # Must Fall, where “Christian students and leaders make sense of recent campus protests.”
Finally, on Sunday July 9 an Ecumenical Street Parade will leave from the Drostdy Arch at 8:15am. Feel free to join this “act of public testimony”.