Dancing with the Diaspora
Email Correspondence with Manuel Bagorro
1. I wish to know about the origin of HIFA and what was the intention behind starting HIFA (as well as when it was started) …
I was born in Zimbabwe and was there until I was 18 when I moved to London to study music (classical piano). During my time in London, I missed the sense of excitement involved in making creative projects happen in Zimbabwe, and wanted to contribute to the artistic life of the country of my birth, as well as support the artistic community of Zimbabwe (of which I was very proud to consider myself a part). One of the things that was most striking about the artistic life in Zimbabwe at that time (mid-90s) was a sense of isolation, so an international Festival that celebrated who we are as artists and as a vibrant nation, while opening the doors and windows and minds to artists from many other countries, seemed like a fascinating and timely initiative. I moved back to Zimbabwe for 3 years to establish the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) - our first Festival was in 1999.
One of our significant successes is establishing a working partnership between the business community and the artistic community in Zimbabwe. This was not a well established connection before HIFA. This has led to a greater sense of vitality and potential within the arts community and a different attitude to artists and the arts within the business community. This type of engagement has also impacted the way that local businesses and service providers use the Festival to promote themselves, raise their profiles, and engage with new consumers. Although circumstances in Zimbabwe have made external marketing of the Festival as a cultural tourism destination a little challenging, we have seen growing numbers of visitors who travel to HIFA, spending money on hotels, services and tickets. We also know that people save money to be able to really engage with everything on offer during the Festival, which leads to increased food and drink sales in the CBD, temporary employment and steadily rising ticket sales each year. The Festival employs over 1000 Zimbabweans in various roles during the Festival. We sold over 50 000 tickets in 2015.
As a Zimbabwean who left the country to study, I was struck by how limited my contact had been with some of the most distinctively Zimbabwean sights and sounds growing up. I wanted the Festival to celebrate traditional Zimbabwean arts (we opened the first and subsequent HIFAs with a traditional Bira Ceremony), and also the heritage and dynamism of contemporary arts of all kinds including music, theatre, dance, visual arts and craft. At the same time, artists and audiences wanted to feel connected to a global community of creative thinkers and the best way to do that seemed to me to invite a wide range of artists and groups to the Festival each year; these are groups that have work that resonates in some way with African or Zimbabwean artistic interests, as well as those that are completely ‘other' and offer an opportunity for an entirely new experience and inspiration. The visiting groups perform their own work, but are also encouraged to collaborate and experiment with Zimbabwean artists. So I would describe the aesthetic of HIFA as highly eclectic and open to the broadest possible collaborations, while maintaining a commitment to showcasing the finest Zimbabwean work and supporting opportunities for Zimbabwean artists.
4. I wish to know whether HIFA is actively a part of Africa Month and whether you know what the origin of Africa month is ?
I am aware of the Africa month initiative and I think it is a constructive and positive idea. I do not have specific plans to participate in 2016 but I am open to the idea in the future.
5. What is the engagement of HIFA and the Firefest festival circuit? Are there any positives …
Presenters in the region have talked about the possibilities for a touring route of some kind for a while, and we all agree that it is important and exciting. A touring circuit allows presenters to share costs in more efficient ways, meaning that we're able to do more with the resources available. It's also stimulating and constructive to exchange ideas and opinions with colleagues in the region. The arts world can sometimes be a little protectionist in attitude because funding is limited and there is often a sense that organizations need to preserve their own networks, contacts and establish their own programs. The truth is that collective action can be hugely beneficial to everyone involved and is particularly important as individual organizations face challenges, whether financial, logistical, social or political.
6. Are you also a part of the African music festival circuit and are there any positives there ?
We are open to all circuit partnerships and are keen to participate in any way that we can.
7. 2016 you describe as “re-imagining”, what changes, innovations etc. can we expect ?
We have decided that we will not present the usual 6-day Festival in April/May. Expanding HIFA's increasingly influential position in the socio-cultural landscape of Zimbabwe, the organization is establishing five areas of programming in 2016 designed to maximize HIFA's impact between now and the next 6-day Festival in April/May 2017. The programs running throughout the year offer innovative performances and exhibitions, community engagement projects, high entertainment sports events, audience development initiatives and high-quality event management services. HIFA 2017 will showcase the spectacular artistic outcomes of these various programs running throughout the year and across the country, supported by the audience development programming for which HIFA has such a strong track record.
8. On a personal note there is an article online about your resignation from the directorial post and then your return to that post. Is there anything you can comment on there with an eye to arts and culture in social development.
I stepped down from the position because I felt that I needed a break and to re-charge my batteries. I was facing many complicated political dynamics and criticism in the media for some of the more progressive, challenging and questioning work presented at the Festival, and I felt that this was beginning to distract from what was really important about HIFA. An interim Artistic Director, Gavin Peter did a fantastic job and presented a glorious Festival in 2013. I stepped back in to the position in 2014 with the support of so many colleagues who continue to contribute to a collective vision of the Festival and ensure its ongoing impact and significance. I feel very lucky to be able to continue working on this remarkable initiative and to have an opportunity to collaborate with such gifted and committed colleagues.
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