Back where it began

Almost 30 years ago, V and I spotted each other for the first time. We were students at Rhodes University in Grahamstown at the time, young and beautiful (as young people are). It was an instant attraction across that uncrowded room, and we instantly bonded. For life, it seems.

So this week, we are back where it began – in Grahamstown. We’re not students here (our son is, though), but we do tread the old paths, checking out the old haunts. Sometimes we even hold hands. It’s quite sweet.

Just too overwhelming … on the Green. Pic: CHE

Apart from a few new robots (traffic lights) and a great deal more student residence buildings, not that much has changed here. Physically, that is. Back then, the fledging and very small Grahamstown festival took place each winter when we all went home for a holiday. Now, it’s a must on the South African calendar.

We’ve joined a few thousand other people who have descended here for what is now known as the National Arts Festival. It has become a massive showcase for all kinds of art in South Africa. This year, there are some 3,000 events, so the choice is overwhelming.

My festival

This festival, I am learning, becomes what each person makes it for themselves. We should call it “my festival” because we each carve our own experience.

You carve your own experience of this festival

I’ve loved wandering the streets and the markets wrapped up in the warm clothes I never get to wear at home next to the sea. I especially love catching the marimba players – it’s a sound that touches me right in my soul. I’ve seen so much wonderful art in so many exhibitions that I really have lost count.

Over breakfast each day, V and I choose the shows we’d like to see. And there have been some unexpected delights. We were bowled over by the National Schools’ Big Band – the raw talent of the next generation of music stars, just beginning to be polished.

Hope and joy

I dragged V off to a dance show called “I am an African”, only to discover that it is set to a beautiful and uplifting poem written by my old friend, Wayne Visser. If he hasn’t seen this performance, I reckon he’d be mightily honoured by the way the choreographer and dancers have interpreted his words. My experience was one of hope and joy, and I know that would please Wayne. V, not a huge fan of dance, had lots of good things to say about it.

Two attempts to see some comedy were fruitless – once because the show was fully booked, and once due to incompetence. But that’s another story, and it’s not funny at all.

So we stumbled onto more music, and how lucky for us. The band called Take Note is a gem, and I love the fact that they’re home-grown Eastern Cape. This is happy, funky African jazz, delivered by the sharpest dressers, with instruments perfected and vocals just stunning. Watch them here. I want to hear them more and more.

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