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2023 African Folklore Festival engages next-gen

VISITORS to this year's edition of the Folklore Festival were wowed by performances by Sho Madjozi, Vusi Mahlaesla and many others - but this year's extended celebration of African Folklore also set out to appeal to younger audiences

THE second Pan-African Folklore Festival wowed audiences and brought Johannesburg alive for almost a week during South Africa Heritage Month as multi-faceted storyteller Pilani Bubu brought the rich tapestry of African culture and heritage alive through music, dance, literature, food, and crafts across venues throughout the inner city. The festival featured a diverse line-up of artists from South Africa, Kenya, and Zimbabwe

Bubu’s 2022 album, “Folklore Chapter One,” which planted the seed for the first festival, delved into the concept of folklore – the oral traditions, beliefs, and stories – passed down through generations. The 2023 edition of the event took those influences further, exploring intergenerational dialogue, indigenous knowledge sharing, and storytelling.

“Folklore For Kids emerged as a cornerstone of the festival. It began with the idea that children or the next generation should be the primary beneficiaries of indigenous knowledge systems. Thus, we initiated Folklore For Kids, an event platform featuring performance workshops, a book fair for African children’s book authors, and indigenous playtime moments with Toys with Roots. The aim was to educate them about indigenous instruments, indigenous language in literature, and the importance of representation in modern African stories and folklore,” Bubu explained.

“Folklore Firesides” was introduced as a series of adult-oriented sharing sessions dedicated to exploring discussions about African spirituality, the cultural roles of men and women, traditional rites, rituals, ceremonies, and more.

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“Esteemed book authors, poets, thinkers, and filmmakers actively contribute to these dialogues, shedding light on how we are collectively reshaping our identities and sharing our unique narratives,” Bubu shared.

The festival’s diverse line-up celebrated the myriad of music, unique instruments, languages, and identities from various African countries, proudly embracing a pan-African spirit.

Highly acclaimed South African rapper, singer, songwriter and poet Sho Madjozi graced the Folklore stage adorned in traditional Xitsonga attire while African folklore singer and songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, known locally as the “Voice of South Africa” added to the distinct sounds, narratives, and indigenous instruments from East and Southern Africa that created the festival’s authentically African vibe. Mahlasela’s performance came shortly after the release of a new album titled “Umoya – Embracing the Human Spirit”.

Other performances were by Ancient Voices and Thandeka Mfinyongo, both played a traditional instrument called the uhadi (also known as the gourd or calabash bow), as well as several other remarkable performers, while traditional dancers and NSA’s Dance Spectacle opened the stage, setting the tone for the performances to come.

“We believe that reflecting culture and heritage across the continent can be inspirational to our local audiences and create a collective mission to make marginalized and indigenous art forms more mainstream through exposure,” Bubu said in an interview with bird story agency.

Bubu’s own “Folklore Chapter Two” performance saw her collaborate with the NSA choir and band to involve children in every aspect of production and performance, turning rehearsals into masterclasses that culminated in collaborative performances.

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She was also joined on stage by Muneyi and Leomile – both collaborators on her upcoming album – for performances of ‘Thafaelibanzi’ and ‘Moya le Badimo’.

As a venue partner, the NSA played a pivotal role in the festival.

“The professionals that come to the fore in the planning and execution of this unique and remarkable festival present the perfect role models for our young artists. Quantifying the value of their professional exchange with the NSA community is impossible,” said Brenda Sakellarides, Artistic Director of the school. Sakellarides applauded the collaborative synergy of the event.

“The NSA benefits significantly from its association with their excellence and high-frequency artistry. NSA is enormously proud that we are part of the heartbeat of the Folklore community. As a South African art school, it is vital to celebrate and acknowledge the authentic African cultural legacy and storytelling, which is precisely what the festival sets out to do,” she said.

Audiences were also treated to collaborative performances by pan-African artists who graced the festival’s stage. Makadem, a master of the nyatiti, a traditional Kenyan instrument, added unique sounds and vocals as Eddie Grey, a Kenyan guitarist known for enchanting melodies, joined him. From the UK, Abraham Moughrabi added his keyboard skills, while South African talents Molefi Makananise on bass and Simphiwe Tshabalala on drums provided rhythmic excellence.

The Folklore Festival catered to the entire family, offering a food and crafts market as well as a book fair, curated in collaboration with Ethnikids, an online book store specialising in children’s books that feature characters that are both diverse and inclusive of all the official languages of South Africa as well as Shona, Swahili, and Yoruba.

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The fair included authors such as Lebohang Masango, Sho Madjozi, Nicolette Mashile and featured a comic book workshop by Rainbow Comics and entertainment by Modise the Clown.

The “Folklore Festival Reprise” extended the magic over the South African Heritage Day weekend, offering those who missed the initial festival a second chance to experience African culture and immerse themselves in the cultural richness of the Folklore Festival. thanks to performances at Black Labone in Pretoria, the Jazz Room at Doppio Zero, Johannesburg, and a Heritage Day celebration at the Sanctuary Mandela in Johannesburg.

Bubu, the visionary behind the festival, joined the encore ensemble with her enchanting vocals.