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‘In 1994 a new nation was born. Since then, our artists have been showing the world that South Africa has stories to tell: stories that speak to the collective memory of who we are, that speak of life in South Africa today – stories that link us to the world.’James Ngcobo – Artistic Director, AfrovibesAfrovibes launched an unforgettable festival at the Dukes, designed to entertain and inform people of the South African culture through the power of performance arts. The festival’s use of storytelling, dance, drama, music, native paintings, costume and jewellery helped show audiences a vibrant, mesmerizing and true South African identity.
Entering the Dukes on the launch night, I had to push through the crowd in order to see the opening act on stage: the Dukes Township Café Choir. There were about 30 singers, dancing side-by-side and dressed in South African clothes. The singers, of many different nationalities, had a shared love for the subject of the songs they were singing. The songs, which originated in Zimbabwe and Namibia, spread a positive atmosphere through the venue; despite the lack of space people were singing and dancing together. South African culture had transformed the room: the décor above the bar included sprayed ‘Savana beer’ images and the colours recalled the South African imagery. On top of the bar was delicious African cuisine and to the side, a table of handmade crafts and jewellery. The audience was made up of different ages and cultures, brought together with the shared interest to understand and to experience what Afrovibes had to offer.
When the choir had finished, a female poet came to the stage to perform pieces on justice, love and femininity. She taught the audience a South African trait to click in the air and nod their heads when they ‘felt’ the poem speaking to them; performing the words with everything she had. At first the noise in the bar was too loud to hear her though after a few minutes she had succeeded in silencing the talking (even of children) with her words, and many hands rose to click. Her poetry offered a sense of suffering and also hope that she had experienced; she seemed humble but her performance was inspiring.
The next act of the night was a full band playing an assortment of instruments from a drum kit, electric guitar and double bass to: cowbells, rain shakers, maracas, djembes, a balafon and kalimba. The dancefloor was full of all ages coming together with the appreciation of the music. They played for around 40 minutes, with songs ranging from African polyrhythm to contemporary and almost Western style music. I saw many hints of reggae and also ska, and was introduced to complex rhythms I had not heard before, but enjoyed very much.
To end the launch party, a DJ from Manchester played old authentic African vinyl’s, with an upbeat rhythm ready to continue the party through the night. The audience had caught a glimpse of the Afrovibes philosophy: the South African style of performance and of what to expect in the week to come.