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The Critter’s NAF Gig Guide Pt1

Published on 7 July 2021

KGANYA (Light)

Festival hadn’t even started and we had to chop and change, dodge and dice. Standard Bank Presents, the tasty live teaser, showed what could be done in Cape Town and Durban, but before it hit the straps in Jozi, Comrade Cyril had his say.

Those folks on the hill, the National Arts Festival, always held a card up the sleeve, a Plan C, but that didn’t mean it didn’t mean more work for them. We applaud, we throw roses, knickers if you want them.

There is no livelihood that has been more damaged by the pandemic than the arts (call it an industry, I will bite my thumb at you). A whole ecology of creative endeavour has been devastated, both by chance and by wilful neglect and incompetence. Artists have been klapped. And yet, despite all the hardships and obstacles, artists are moving through the loss of live performance, grappling with it and finding whatever ways they can to get their hands into your chest. There is so much work on the National Arts Festival programme to get excited about. In the midst of an arts apocalypse, the heart will still beat. And as long as it beats, so do we; living our history, making it as we go, trying to reach through screens to each other.


So ja, well, you wanna get excited? I mean, Nthato Mokgata has put something together, and best of all, it has the worst name: Afro Jazz Giants Hip Hop TributeThis bra’s got the 2020 Standard Bank young artist award for music, so if anyone is gonna pull off what he says he’s gonna pull off, then Spoek Mathambo’ll do it. We’re talking hip hop doing Mzansi’s jazz songbook. Or vice versa. Remember Miles Davis did a hip hop album with Easy Mo Bee.

When Lesego Rampolokeng writes a libretto for an Oratorio of a Forgotten Youth, you kinda sit up in your chair and start looking at the details. These are that it’s a The Brother Moves on project with Wits School of Arts, Resonance String Quartet, Vivacious Sounds Choir, all led by Mandla Mlangeni – he who was Standard Bank young jazz artist in 2019.

Of course, there’s the jazz.

Always, that jazz, that ssfsticated cat. As usual, we’re talking the stars, we’re talking art made sound, sound made art, capable of waves that can pulsate your mind into a stratosphere of lateral connections. Bokani DyerFeya Faku, and Sisonke Xonti all leading bands of their peers, with cross-continental collaborations. Brilliant brews, with names new to this critter, such as Siya Charles, who won’t be new much longer. Nor the Neil Gonsalves Trio, Richard Bona, nor Melvin Peters who has been around for decades and may be more familiar to KZN cats. Of course Jitsvinger, who was jas, at the Standard Bank Presents live gigs in Cape Town, will be online.

We miss that DSG hall and expectantly shuffling in in our coats and being a room with 300 other people digging the vibe as much as us, and can’t wait to be able to do it again, however strange it now seems, but last year we discovered it was also incredible to able to listen to the latest contemporary live recorded South African jazz while we were, like washing dishes or something. And yeah, we’re looking forward to that new in our midst right now.

All of the above are view on demand, but Zilin: For the First and Future African Sonic Stars, is livestreamed on 9 July, as is Asanda Mqiki on 11 July. We’ve been blown away by her before.

Nthato Mokgata, 'Afro Jazz Giants Hip Hop Tribute'
Sisonke Xonti


Tony Miyambo is the most incredible actor. He can stand in front of a photocopier and make you feel something. He’s at fest this year in Commission Continua, a work he started with equally brilliant Phala Ookeditse Phala as part of The Centre for the Less Good Idea laboratory of geniusness. There is not likely to be a more nail hitting on the head production for this time, for if you have not at least some inkling of the Zondo commission, then how did you get to be reading this? There’s a live stream on 11 July and I suspect Tony might just save the day for all of us. I mean the day of our political reckoning. At the very least, I’ll vouch he’ll help us see it through.

With and elbow shake from Iceland to keep the sense of live performance alive, is the live stream of Hedy! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr which you should kick yourself if you miss. It’ll be streamed in real time on 10 July from a live performance in Reykjavik. The play has won 17 awards for its portrayal of Hedy Lamarr, who was a 1930s film star who did not allow herself to get stuck in the mirrored world of glamour. She also invented things, like an early version of radio frequency hopping, and improvements to aircraft aerodynamics. Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

One collaboration who last year proved they can bring new creativity into our isolated worlds is Francois Knoetze and Amy Louise Wilson. Amy’s kinda famous as an actress and won the Distell playwright award in 2020 for Another Kind of Dying, which as Covid-19 clamped down, had to pivot to film in order to be shown at last year’s vNAF, to critical acclaim. Which means AnotherKind, “a funeral for a piece of theatre which never existed and a celebration of the birth of a new hybrid artwork between the digital and the live” is bound to be a programme highlight. AnotherKind streams live on 15 July.

You can trust Aaron McIlroy to bring levity to the situation. If this crazy comic actor from KZN wasn’t doing the virtual thing, he might have you breaking Covid distancing by inadvertently “clutching the leg of your neighbour in sheer mirth”. He livestreams The Apology on 17 July about an ad exec who “unleashes the most politically insensitive song and dance act at a national peace conference” and then crawls into a hole. Think, maybe, like Ard Matthews royally screwing up Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Certainly, we are not going to miss Faith Kinner having read Artuad and coming at us as Anti Wi’oekal. Eee! I haven’t seen anyone wrestle with the Theatre of Cruelty since Gopala Davies tried it out in 2016. So much promise, particularly as Artaud also wrote The Theatre and the Plague.

Tony Miyambo in Commission Continua


We’re spoilt when it comes to people who can speak with the body, There’s not a lot of dance on the programme, but there is Lulu Mlangeni. As Standard Bank young artist for dance, she’s giving us the gospel of movement with Kganya – Light. It’s bound to be 60 minutes of feeling. Lulu was central to slipping beneath our defences, “moving us into a space of active feeling and understanding” where we … “no longer fail to imagine the pain, yet are released”.

What with the developers about to pour concrete over Khoi sacred land in Cape TownGat Innie Grond, Wond in my Siel seems apt. This “off-centre dance narrative” tapping into Khoi and San ritual promises to be a first of its kind. It might need a descriptor of its own.

Also check out Mommy Mommy… , a livestream on 14 July that just may prove Thamsanqa Majela and Tebogo Gxubane’s chops.

Unmute Dance Company is presenting Traces of Memory commemorating the late Themba Mbuli, whose work we admired. I’m sure it will be sad. It will also be celebratory, and necessary.

Gat inni Grond, Wond in My Siel
KGANYA (Light)

Nota Bena

The above are noted purely by subjective chance, it is by no means a ‘best of’. Rather, it is a teaser inviting you to delve into the programme. We have not even touched on The Fringe, which we promise we will try provide a guide to, soon as we can.

There are about 100 shows at the National Arts Festival, which has created the stage on which we can participate across time and space with our artists’ application of imagination and skill and knack of making sense of us.

Art isn’t going to save the world, but it will give meaning to the falling-apart.

This article was first published by The Critter.