What I’m Looking Forward To At Arts Alive 2014

I’ve always loved the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival’s lovely mix of theatre, dance, music and poetry. The fest is now in its 22nd year and there are a number of shows I’m excited about and eager to see.

I’m so glad to see that Themba Mbuli’s Dark Cell is included in the theatre programme, although it is essentially a dance piece. I was introduced to choreographer Mbuli with the same production at the National Arts Festival 2014, which was a solo forming part of the 20/20Visions dance showcase also featuring works from Mamela Nyamaza; Chuma Sopotela and Tebogo Munyai.

Mbuli’s Dark Cell interrogates the mind as man’s worst prison. Working with imagery of ex political prisoners of Robben Island, it uses the concept of a prison cell as a metaphor for mental imprisonment. A real powerful performance. It’s on at the Market Theatre from September 4 – 7.

Still with dance, I want to see Lonely Together, a collaboration by Gregory Maqoma with choreographer, Roberto Olivan from Spain running at the Market Theatre on September 3 and 4 as part of Dance Umbrella (which forms part of Arts Alive).

Themba Mbuli in Dark Cell. Photo by Val Adamson

Themba Mbuli in Dark Cell. Photo by Val Adamson

From the theatre bill, I’m looking forward to international shows, From Jail to Yale by American Charles S Dutton. It’s his autobiographical one man show about his time in jail where he discovered theatre and went on to study drama at the prestigious Yale University.It’s on at the Joburg Theatre from September 3 – 6.

There’s also 9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo, forming part of the Shared History Festival within Arts Alive. The one woman play details the lives of nine Iraqi women in the decades between the two gulf wars and examines how war shaped them. The play is directed by Bollywood star, Lillette Dubey featuring her daughter, Ira Dubey. 9 Parts of Desire is at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square in Sandton from September 4 – 6.

Locally I’m looking forward to seeing Phillip Dikotla in Skierlik. Dikotla has come a long way since his appearance in Sekwatlapa which won a Naledi Award for Best Community Theatre in 2010. He is now cementing his position as a young artist to watch. He received the Arts and Culture Trust (ACT) 2012 Impact Award for theatre and the 2014 Fleur du Cap, Best Performance for his award winning play Skierlik, –  awarded Best production at the 2013 Zabalaza Festival. Skierlik the production is derived from the horrific events that occurred in the North West informal settlement called, Skierlik, just outside Ventersdorp. 17 year old Johan Nel shot and killed four people including a four month old infant and injuring eight others in a manic shooting spree in January 2008. Skierlik is on at the Market Theatre from September 5 – 7.

Lebo Mashile to perform at Arts Alive's Speak The Mind Poetry Sessions on September 5.

Lebo Mashile to perform at Arts Alive’s Speak The Mind Poetry Sessions on September 5.


What I’m really really excited about is the poetry programme with the 9th edition of the Speak The Mind Poetry Sessions. The press release below gives all the info:


Johannesburg Arts Alive 2014 


Speak the Mind Poetry Sessions


The 9th edition of the Speak the Mind Poetry Sessions takes from this year’s national theme of 20 years of democracy with a potent line up of all-star artists.


As Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival’s main spoken word programme, it has nurtured a platform where artistic and intellectual ideas are shared delightfully through music and poetry, with performers from the continent and the diaspora.


2014 sees big names and important voices return to the Speak the Mind stage as newer performers get initiated for a one night only event on Friday, 5th September. Breaking away from tradition, the event takes place this year at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein.


The line-up celebrates the 22 years of the Arts Alive festival with previous show headliners. The selection process took into consideration artists that would best echo what the 20 years of South African democracy mean and articulate that on stage.


The result is a mixed bill literary giants, revolutionary wordsmiths and contemporary musicians with performers from as far as the US, Jamaica, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.


Back again and headlining is Jamaican Rastafarian dub poet, Mutabaruka who has a favourable local following. The ‘Dis Poem’ lyricist known for his frank and provocative social and political commentary; is not afraid to get intimate or didactic with his audience which makes him special to watch.


Literary fanatics can look forward to the inclusion of Dr Mongane Wally Serote whose presence comes with great authority and wisdom.  A poet and writer, Dr Serote was part of the generation of black South African writers called the Soweto Writers in the 1970s and his early work contributed to the foundations of the Black Consciousness movement. His debut poetry collection, Yakhal’inkomo (1972) won the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize in 1973 and he’s the 1993 recipient of the prestigious NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa.


Lebo Mashile and Tumi Molekane represent a generation of significant post- apartheid voices and both came up as part of the collective called PERM in creative spaces like the Jungle Connection in Doornfotein in the early 2000s.


Both global in their own right, Mashile and Molekane are powerful writers and leaders in their craft.  Mashile went on to co-find the female poetry collective, Feel-A-Sista. She has published two poetry anthologies, In a Ribbon of Rhythm (2005) and Flying Above the Sky (2008). She won the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa in 2006. Molekane has become synonymous with Tumi and the Volume, who revolutionised the idea of a hip hop band with a mindful and organic aesthetic. He is on a league of his own as a leading international poet/emcee from Africa.


They will be joined by younger and exciting poets such as Gratitude Fisher and Mandi “Poefficient” Vundla.


Completing the South Africa bill is the Cape Town experimental band, Soul Housing Project founded by Bokani Dyer and Sakhile Moleshe. The five piece outfit recently played to great reception at the renowned Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2014. Playing around with jazz, hip hop, house and drum & bass influences, they have created a global sound that also resonates locally. The band will release their full length debut album soon.


Swazi female lyricist and vocalist Jazz P teams up with Zimbabwean jazz artist and multi- instrumentalist, Josh Meck to deliver an afro fusion of rap and afrojazz. As one of Nigeria’s leading spoken word artists, Efe Paul-Azino is a writer who through his work aims to raise youth awareness on socio-economic and political issues. He is credited for being a voice of a generation that takes poetry out of the shadows of academia and using it as an entertaining, transformative tool.


From Brooklyn, New York, Queen GodIs (Takeasha Henderson) blends classic hip hop, spoken word, soul music and theatre into her performance. She has featured in HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and her debut album, Power U showcases her penchant for storytelling. Queen GodIs returns to South Africa for the second time.


Filling in change over gaps and closing off the night’s performances will be local DJ Kenzhero whose wide musical savour and sensibility allows him to deliver an entertaining set with soulful depth.


  • The Speak the Mind Poetry Spoken Word Sessions takes place at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein (The Mandela) and doors open at 19h00 sharp.
  • Tickets available from Computicket



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