Home » Arts & Culture » What Went Wrong At Hifa? [column]

I must preface this article by categorically stating that I know more about music than politics.

So if I state anything politically incorrect herein, please forgive this non-politico ignoramus.

I must also start by stating that the musical events of the first five days at this year’s Harare International Festival of the Arts were excellent. The opening show which featured Oliver Mtukudzi and Ammara Brown’s singing and dancing skills was out of this world.

Later in the week I also enjoyed the musical performances by the Germany group Jamaram, Junior Banton with House of Stone, Queen Mashie, Eve Kawadza, Latoya Buthelezi, Jah Prayzah and Three Generation. Then came the dancehall artistes, Killer T, Dadza D, Ricky Fire, Lady Squanda and Platinum Prince, all backed by Hotta Fire Band on the closing night.

As the Jamaicans say “It was pure niceness.”

However, the final events of this year’s HIFA were rather disturbing.

I have followed HIFA from its inception till now and I have known HIFA to be a professional, meticulous and efficient body when it comes to festival organisation. They are different from the likes of many unscrupulous fly-by-night promoters. In short, HIFA is an institution. I do not believe that HIFA aertised Freshlyground and started selling tickets intentionally without the assumption or belief that they had clearance from the authorities. They know the rules too well. I have confidence in Manuel Bagorro, the artistic director of HIFA and his sister, Maria Wilson, the executive director, as well as the rest of the HIFA team when it comes to professionalism in festival organisation.

I asked Elvas Mari, the director of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe if HIFA had been given clearance for Freshlyground since the NACZ deals with clearance of all foreign artistes coming into Zimbabwe and this is what he had to say: “NACZ clears all shows through letters it gives to those who organise shows and therefore HIFA should answer these questions and provide documentary evidence. There is no need for us to make comments about an event that was organised by HIFA. HIFA should explain itself.”

Mari was obviously evasive and he cleverly ducked out of the politics surrounding the Freshlyground saga.

Efforts to get a response from Mr Bagorro were fruitless. However, according to Tafadzwa Simba, the HIFA spokesperson, all the necessary procedures required by the authorities regarding the importation of foreign artistes into Zimbabwe, were followed. These entail clearance from the Censorship Board, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and the Immigration Department of The Ministry of Home Affairs, including the payment of the required fees to each respective body.

If that is true, that is all HIFA required for clearance. So what went wrong? This is where the politics come into play.

My understanding is that either clearance was given for all foreign groups except for Freshlyground, and HIFA assumed that because they had paid for their work permit, Freshlyground was also cleared or someone somewhere realised that Freshlyground was the same band which caused controversy in 2010 when the band depicted in one of its videos President Mugabe in a song titled “Chicken To Change” asking the President to “chinja”. Whoever it was, decided to reverse the clearance given to HIFA then instructed immigration to stop the band from coming to Zimbabwe as they were not acceptable visitors.

Well, they did come to Zimbabwe, but they were sent straight back to South Africa after they touched down at Harare International Airport. Needless to say that thousands of fans were disappointed.

The question that is on everyone’s mouth is, “What was the motivation behind the HIFA organisers’ choice of such a controversial group?” There are other questions: “was it deliberate confrontation against authorities to choose such a controversial band?” and, “was such a choice aimed at creating a stand off with authorities in order to generate international publicity?”

If HIFA deliberately used Freshlyground to aance their own personal agendas, then that was wrong. HIFA organisers are mature enough to know that there is need for political sensitivity not only in this country, but in many other countries throughout the world.

There is also need for cultural sensitivity. HIFA brought in comedians such as Ben Voss who as part of his limericks, wished President Mugabe dead in “Bend It Like Beauty.” Voss was allocated three performances from Thursday the May 1, Friday the 2nd to Sunday May 4.

HIFA knows too well that the death of anyone in Zimbabwe, let alone that of the President, is a sacred subject and Zimbabweans do not make jokes about such things. Some South African comedians such as Trevor Noah and Loyiso Gola do get away with Zuma jokes.

Zimbabweans often wonder if they would get away with that kind of “humour” if these comedians were based in this country.

If HIFA knew in aance that Freshlyground would be deported, they would not have hired them since there are financial consequences for such mistakes. When event organisation goes wrong, the organiser runs a big risk of experiencing a disaster, financially andor otherwise.

Disaster can however be avoided if the organiser follows specific professional rules which include understanding the politics of that country. For instance if a country has laws against homosexuality, why bother to bring known homosexuals into that country even if you believe in the rights of homosexuals?

Every business comes with its own challenges. Disasters are normally a result of failing to put preventive measures that counteract these challenges well in aance. These preventive measures must be part of the business plan of any event organising strategy.

The amount of groundwork required before a show is put on is quite phenomenal and often requires a considerable amount of financial backing and proper planning. Unfortunately, in this country there are no schools in place for event organisers.

One has to learn through experience and aice from others who have been through it. That aice includes political sensitivity.

HIFA last week spent a considerable amount of time and manpower refunding disappointed fans the money they had paid to see Freshlyground.

When I passed through their ticket sales offices, there were quite a few hundred people in queues waiting to get their cash back on the $25 tickets they had purchased. This is one financial risk HIFA had not anticipated. I tried in vain to find out if Freshlygground who were obviously contracted to perform at the closing ceremony were paid.

If they were paid, that is another financial risk HIFA had to put up with unless HIFA had insured itself against cancellation and non-appearance of artistes.

Because Freshlyground arrived in Zimbabwe, the return fares were also paid for.

Everyone is now wondering what the future holds for HIFA. This year’s HIFA was going on the theme “Switch On”. What happens if authorities decide to switch off HIFA for good?

It will be a big shame if the authorities decide to shut down HIFA completely as HIFA has many economic aantages to Zimbabwe.

Immigration charges $500 for every foreign artiste who comes to the country. ZIMRA also charges income tax based on the budget presented by the organisers. Tourists who come to HIFA also end up visiting other tourist attractions in the country after HIFA such as Victoria Falls, Nyanga and The Great Zimbabwe Monument. Vendors, car park attendants, jewellers, artists, security personnel, musicians and even street kids are gainfully employed for a week. Hotels, especially those near Harare Gardens, are usually fully booked during HIFA.

HIFA also has cultural aantages. It is the forum where musicians from various parts of the world do meet and network. Zimbabwean artistes such as Dudu Manhenga,

Rutendo Machiridza and Blessing Chimanga were in the past invited to Europe as a result of their interaction with other artistes at HIFA. HIFA is the place where people of different cultures meet each year.

It is also the place where families and relatives who have not seen each other for over a year come to meet. I noticed many love relationships starting after the couples’ meeting at HIFA. Irie heights, irie feelings and irie love are all experienced at HIFA. Now I shut my mouth!

Feedback: f_zindi@hotmail.com.

Source : The Herald