The University’s African Music Project held its 18th annual African Cultural Calabash festival at the Howard College Theatre on Friday, 17 November 2023.
A long-standing event on Durban’s cultural and arts calendar, this year’s festival included a new dynamic orchestral element owing to funding from the Mzansi Philharmonic. This was captured by the theme: New Horizons – Imvunge Entsha, taking audiences through an exhilarating journey and immersing them in the rich tapestry of African music, culture and cuisine.
To satisfy the orchestral brief, the curators featured current UKZN African Music and Dance (AMD) teacher and lyrical maskandi guitarist, Matshitshi and talented AMD alumnus, LilyFaith who performed her song, Sounds of Peace as an orchestral arrangement with orchestral instruments such as the violin, flute, saxophone and percussion. She also composed a piece to tie in with this year’s Calabash theme. Both Matshitshi and LilyFaith have achieved great success in their musical careers and serve as a source of inspiration and pride for younger AMD students.
The audience was mesmerised as the stage came to life with performances, that include isicathamiya legends, Nyuswa Home Boys led by Nuh Luthuli, UKZN AMD isicathamiya teacher; the captivating moves of Crocodile Gumboot Dancers; and the powerful ensemble performance by Ikusasa Lethu – UKZN AMD led by ensemble teachers Mr Jose Alberto Chemane and Mr Lebogang Sejamoholo.
Taking guests through the evening were two charismatic Masters of Ceremonies, Ms Amanda Zuma and Ms Veracious Shazi who did a brilliant job, effortlessly weaving the evening’s performances together.
Guest speaker and Performing Arts Cluster Leader, Professor Sihawukele Ngubane, shared, ‘In a world that sometimes seems divided, where differences are highlighted more than similarities, the Calabash Cultural Festival stands as a powerful antidote. It is a platform where we can learn from one another, appreciate our unique heritages, and build bridges of understanding mankind. This is no ordinary event, it is a living, breathing testament to the richness of our shared human experience.’
Curator of the event, Dr Patricia Opondo from AMD, said, ‘What made the festival special is that each of the musical acts had representation of either current AMD students and teachers or AMD alumni, which brought us full circle to the establishment of the African Music Project in 1996. This is a testament to the vibrancy of the AMD Team who always create that special magic in all our performances.’
Opondo also thanked the Mzansi Philharmonic, the National Arts Council of South Africa, and UKZN for the financial and administrative support, as well as her festival co-curator, Mr Lebogang Sejamoholo. She also acknowledged and congratulated all the festival artists, MCs, admin and tech teams.
She is also very excited about the future of the festival and shared, ‘The AMD programme has experienced a rebirth post COVID-19 and is back to contact teaching. We will also be reviving our touring student ensemble called Ikusasa Lethu which travelled around the world giving concerts and workshops. Another exciting development is that the AMD programme will have a new building/space next year.’
The vibrant evening was complimented by an indulgent feast of traditional African cuisine with guests savouring the flavours of usu (tripe), inhloko (cow head), samp, amadumbe, succulent beef, flavourful chicken, spinach, butternut and refreshing salads. The culinary journey mirrors the diversity and richness of African culture.
The evening and support of the Festival proved that the rich history of African culture and music is very much still alive and appreciated. The celebration delivered an unforgettable experience for music enthusiasts and cultural aficionados.