Recalling the Bulawayo Music Festival's spectacular 18-year history, described by the Music Academy's Michael Bullivant as an enterprise undertaken with an optimism that generally outweighs its bank balance, some of its most stirring memories have taken place far from any hallowed concert halls.
Instead there have been some quite unexpected and exquisitely beautiful moments: an enchanted waterborne concert on the Zambezi, the mighty rumbling of Victoria Falls providing a haunting bass to the performance of Bach E Major Partita played by Tasmin Little..and a hippo bobbing nearby, entranced by the serenade; the 2002 festival timed to coincide with the total eclipse of the sun, opening with a performance of 'Messiah' in a packed St John's Cathedral where over 100 people spilt out of the doors and listened from outside; it culminated in an open air concert the late afternoon of the eclipse, the audience still elated from viewing the phenomenon on a rocky outcrop south of Bulawayo; a steam train journey to Victoria Falls to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the railway in Bulawayo; and a performance in St Columba's Church in the Western Suburbs where over 600 children listened, rapt, to Tasmin Little and Piers Lane perform, to name but a few.
This year perhaps more than any other - and this is notwithstanding the often turbulent economic and political backdrop which has shaped the festival over the years - the organisers are viewing the event as a leap of faith. Larger, more established centres have cancelled their festivals but, in the irrepressible spirit that is the Academy and Bulawayo in general, it is going ahead.
And there has been no holding back either: the organisers have gone all-out to secure a line-up of internationally-acclaimed performers, all well-loved and well-known by local audiences. Among them are violinist Nokuthula 'Thula' Ngwenyama, who returns to the land of her father's birth for the third time as a celebrity performer; cellist Theo Bross, a long-time supporter of the Music Academy who just a few short months ago enchanted audiences with his collaborative concerts with French pianist, Maxime Zecchini, Christopher Smith; the Odeion Quartet, the Heuglin Tenors and Molly Dzangare; and two legendary festival performers, Leslie Howard and Coady Green.
Music is a vibrant and evolving force and, well aware of this, the organisers have always made the outreach and collaborative aspect of the festival key. As a result, a number of local dance and vocal groups, including Impumelelo Shining Stars, the Amawumbo Dance Company and Wings over Jordan, will join in the festival, creating a dynamic fusion of sounds and sensations with a programme varied and accessible enough to appeal to all audiences. In addition, a tie-in with the Alliance Francaise's commemoration of World Music Day on Saturday, June 18, will bring together street performers and the classically trained in one spectacular celebration of music.
At the end of the day, the fact is this: the performers generally secured to perform at the Academy in general and the festival in particular are regularly booked at top billed concert venues around the world. In Bulawayo, where they agree to perform for a fraction of the fee merely because of their love for this country and its audiences, we have the opportunity and privilege to not only see them on stage but, in addition, get to know them over a great little post-concert dinner and a bottle of good red wine. It doesn't get much better than that. And if that's still not enough to impress you, come along and support the Academy for no other reason than their gumption in staging an event at a time like this...and as a tribute to the unquenchable spirit of Bulawayo!
The Bulawayo Music Festival will run from June 15 to 19, with day-time and evening concerts staged every day. Contact Michael Bullivant on firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Zimbabwe Music Academy in Bulawayo on (09) 67195 or 60684 for more information about programme details as well as cost saving season tickets.