Artists Battling Bucks and Borders


By T. Kenichi Serino, Cue reporter GRAHAMS TOWN While the festival builds towards its final weekend, many foreign performers face unique challenges in staging their productions – especially performers from the rest of Africa. One example is Gaila, Ashanda, Kunama, Awes, a dance and music troupe from Ethiopia. When they arrived, they presented festival organiser Kate Axe Davies with an Ethiopian scarf. But then they missed their first gig, then a second, and a third. For lula, an afro-jazz fusion band from Zimbabwe, the economic woes of their country have translated into financial challenges. With the fluctuating value of the Zimbabwean dollar, “your budget is not quite stable,” said lead vocalist Dudu Manhenga. The band had great difficulty raising funds. In addition to taking extra jobs and teaching music, they attempted to find sponsors. The pastor from their church was able to give them US$350 (R2 100). Others promised them funds but couldn’t deliver. The economic troubles made delivering on promises difficult for potential sponsors. “People want to help but they can’t,” said Manhenga. In some cases, band members only knew funding wouldn’t be available the day before they left. She estimated that it cost Z$35 million (R25 000) to bring the production to Grahams Town. Manhenga and her band-mates are performing nearly every day to recoup their costs. She said the Festival organisers had given them information about how to promote their show. “They are very, very helpful.” But Frederick Philander, director of the Namibian production The Porridge Queen, doubts how effectively a performer can self-promote. “You have to compete with big shows which star in South Africa.” Philander said the difficulties of getting attention for a new, foreign production are part of a larger problem new writers have. He said he knew of 15 productions that had been cancelled: “an indictment of how careless the festival organisers are”. He also suspected organisers used their funds mainly to promote established shows. “You can’t expect people from Ethiopia to compete with larger shows.” Since it’s a one-woman show, The Porridge Queen did not pose any immigration problems. But larger ensembles, such as lula, or Nanzikambe, a Malawian company, have had to deal with sometimes difficult immigration and customs procedures. Director Melissa Eveleigh said their production manager was detained in Malawi because of a small scratch on his passport. She described Malawian officials as “pedantic… there’s this anachronistic respect for a white face and things might have gone better if I had been there.” Eveleigh said another group member had to pay a RI 000 fine to South African authorities because she had overstayed her previous visa by a few days. The group had no spare money. They paid the fine by contributing from their individual food budgets. Jula and Breaking /he Po/ also had difficulties getting their gear through customs. The South African government required them to prove that they didn’t intend to sell it while here. But Eveleigh had only praise for the Festival organisers. She said they’d provided her with any advice she needed. “I feel completely supported.” Philander disagrees: “They focus on the has-beens,” he said. “They’re destroying new artists.” Gaila, Ashanda could not be reached for comment. According to Davies they’ve already had to return to Ethiopia. “They basically didn’t have any funding.”

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