Language and the spoken word have been at the heart of National Arts Festival for decades. Starting with a celebration of English, and Shakespeare in particular, this has changed substantially as new voices joined the Festival, creating a diverse and multilingual celebration of the arts. The 2020 edition continues this journey and brings a multitude of languages to the programme. Shakespeare is still here, but in a slightly different form to what was first staged in 1966.
Brett Bailey’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth, set in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, is Shakespeare on steroids. This production toured globally, and the filmed version of this work features the trans-Balkan No Borders Orchestra and a South African cast. Opera is a language of its own and there are few examples as splendid as this one, which Verdi himself referred to as ‘dearer to me than all my other operas.’ Closer to home than the Italian of Verdi, is the isiXhosa of Madosini Latozi Mphaleni, known by her stage name Madosini.
The featured artist of the Festival, born in Mqhekezweni in Umtata the Eastern Cape, will be on the programme each day, allowing audiences a glimpse into her life and work. Tshepang Ramoba, of BLK JKS fame, explores the Sepedi language reimaging traditional African folk stories in his love letter to his mother tongue, Mošate. More music from Bach and Beethoven to Gengetone, Ghom, maskandi, umbhaqanga and every genre in between brings a rich exploration of the language of music, and musical language to the programme.
Audiences can also create a soundtrack for their own lives; Sean Davenport will present two modular synthesis workshops that introduce the basics of modular synthesis using Open Source software, Virtual CV Rack (VCV).
The digital nature of the Festival has opened the possibility of captioned performance and Louise Westerhout presents Blood and Snow Manifesto with captions, enabling deaf audiences to experience her provocative investigation of disability to the fullest. If it’s cyborg you speak, the Afro-futuristic virtual reality, dance, sci-fi musical from Botswana, The Cosmic Egg, explores the cosmic sky through Tswana, San and contemporary dance. You can travel even further through space in The Eye of Rre Mutwa, a homage to the late great Credo Mutwa with Albert Ibokwe Khoza and Patricia Boyer.
Some may see this year’s digital version as a place holder for the real live event which is irreplaceable but while a live Festival may not return next year, the multilingual nature of the programme will continue to thrive and showcase the diversity of South African creativity.