The world goes to Bagamoyo

Friday October 5 2012

Performers at the Bagamoyo International Arts Festival. Photo/Correspondent

Performers at the Bagamoyo International Arts Festival. Photo/Correspondent 

By Mike Mande

A pop-up circus and dozens of traditional ngomas (drums) played at the newly-built multimillion shilling theatre in Bagamoyo.

These were some of the highlights at the 31st Bagamoyo International Arts Festival, in which about a hundred people took part.

When it started 31 years ago, the festival was held under a mango tree; today it is staged at the 2,000-seat amphitheatre with modern sound and lighting facilities — the largest venue for performing arts in East Africa.

Cultural groups from across Africa and Europe gathered at Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni (Bagamoyo Institute of Arts and Culture) known as Tasuba from September 24 to 29.

The participation in the festival signalled a new era of art collaborations and partnerships between cultures.

Participants showcased traditional dance and music performances, acrobatics, exhibitions and workshops.

The one-week event is the biggest arts festival in Africa.

Initially known as the Bagamoyo Cultural Festival, it now features both European and African art and culture.

Head of academics at Tasuba Michael Kadinde, said the festival organisers had set out to make this year’s event the best yet, even though it did not have any sponsors.

The festival had the highest number of artistic collaborations and partnerships to date.

With cultural groups from Kenya, Malawi, France, Zambia, Sweden, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Denmark, Uganda, Norway, Ethiopia, South Africa, and local traditional cultural groups, the festival drew large audiences.

This year, Tasuba, the oldest location where a festival of art has been held in the country, chose the theme “Arts for Promoting Tourism.”

The festival dates back to the early days of the Bagamoyo College of Arts, when it was established to display the works of the students and teachers at the institution.

Since the event started in 1982, the festival has grown to an annual one-week event with performances of many different styles from many countries.

The festival focuses mainly on Tanzanian and East African music, dance and theatre. Both traditional and contemporary performances are on display, roots and fusion side by side. The music includes ngoma, afro jazz, bongo flava, reggae, African fusion and taarab.

When the festival started 31 years ago, the audience was comprised of the people of Bagamoyo and neighbouring villages of the coastal region, students, and some people who came from as far as Dar es Salaam.

But now the festival is watched by many people from all over the world. Visitors from Europe stay in Bagamoyo for the whole period of the festival.

The people who attended this year’s festival experienced the rhythmic drums and the brightly coloured costumes of East African culture.

Umoja Cultural Flying Carpet, which partnered with Kenya, Ethiopia and Norway, thrilled the audience with traditional dances and drums.

More than 50 international and local choreographers and musicians held workshops for the public. One of the dance ensemble’s goals is to reach out to children through musical programmes and workshops.

“We are trying to plant the seed within the community so that we can have our own children’s dance ensemble,” said Kadinde.

Performers complemented each other and developed music and dance with a dialogue that dancers could relate to.

Due to the lack of sponsorship, the institute says it would like people from the community to take part in the festival and help create a heritage that includes African, Arab, Latino, and European culture.