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AWESOME AFRICA (article first published : 2005-09-26)

One of the key events on the KZN cultural calendar is the seventh Standard Bank Awesome Africa Music Festival which moves to the Playhouse Complex in Durban for the first time on October 1 and 2. This is again part of the eThekwini Municipality’s drive to develop a Cultural Precinct within Durban’s Inner City. The festival forms the anchor for the exciting Celebrate eThekwini – Halala Durban season.

The festival has developed a unique multi-cultural pan-african musical identity which includes unusual marriages of different genres and styles. The general theme of the music focuses on collaborations with artists from the African continent and beyond - and represents a massive cross-cultural fusion of energy that attracts musicians and music lovers both nationally and internationally.

One of the highlights is Baaba Maal from Senegal who is a true original African superstar, his distinctive and soulful voice sings of the mysteries of ancient Africa as well as controversial contemporary issues, like women's rights and Aids education. Baaba Maal comes from the Toucouleur people in the Fulani Fouta region and learnt his culture from the old musicians in local villages. Since 1982, (when Maal and his longtime friend, blind singer/guitarist and griot Mansour Seck formed Daande Lenol “Voice of the People”) - he has combined gentle West African folk and mbalax rhythms with rap, hip-hop, techno and reggae styles. In 1994, his landmark mega-hit album Firin' in Fouta established him in the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the world.

A real coup is the legendary Zakir Hussain from India - a tabla virtuoso and international phenomenon of the highest order, his consistently brilliant and exciting performances have established him as a national treasure in his own country, India, as well as gaining him worldwide fame. The favourite accompanist for many of India's greatest musicians, from Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar to Birju Maharaj and Shivkumar Sharma, his playing is marked by uncanny intuition and masterful improvisational dexterity. Zakir's musical contribution has been unique, with many historic collaborations including Shakti with John McLaughlin and L. Shankar, Jan Garbarek, Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, George Harrison, Joe Henderson, Van Morrison, Jack Bruce, Tito Puente, Pharoah Sanders, Billy Cobham, the Hong Kong and New Orleans Symphonies as well as his esteemed father Ustad Alla Rakha.

The Freedom Concert is a special concert commemorating and celebrating 50 years of The Freedom Charter. It forms the cornerstone of the Festival and features messages of support from international musicians as well as a star-studded local line-up including Hugh Masekela; Abdullah Ibrahim; Ray “Chikapa” Phiri; Roger Lucey and Piet Botha.

A new addition to the festival that attracts a multi-cultural youth market, Awesome Rocks incorporates Rock Music, Hip-Hop and World Music all in one venue, exposing young people to different music genres. The programme includes Cynosure and Malkia; Lilo; Big Idea and the Farryl Purkiss Band.

Unplugged & Personal follows up on a demand to highlight some of South Africa and the world’s unique musicians in an intimate venue, allowing the public to experience a close encounter with performers such as Dan Patlansky; Fakaza and AK Massive.

East meets Africa – Celebrating Gandhi’s Birthday is a new theme appealing mainly to the larger Indian community of Durban and highlights the similarities between East and African cultures. A legendary Indian and a West African superstar will be headlining this unique concert which features Zakir Hussain (India); Ustad Sultan Khan (India); Kala Kendra Dancers and the Garland of Rhythm.

Music from the Indian Ocean Islands is a celebration of the link between South Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. The category highlights the rich and vibrant musical heritage from Zanzibar, Reunion, Mauritius and Madagascar and features Baladna Taarab Orchestra (Zanzibar, Tanzania); Sagai Menwar (Mauritius) and Abaji (Lebanon / France)

The Jazz All-Star Showcase - the festival would never be the same without a large dollop of jazz, smooth sounds and Afro Jazz. This complex, accessible and popular genre has become closely associated with Awesome Africa over the years. It features the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band with Zim Ngqawana; Images Quartette (France); KZN Vintage African Orchestra and Sharon Katz & Friends.

Twin Cities Concert celebrates Durban’s Twin City relationships with De Nazaten (Rotterdam, Holland), Pregalathan Singaram and Dynasty 111 (Gangzhou, China).

There are some interesting duos on the programme such as Nibs van der Spuy & Guy Buttery; Roly Struckmeyer & Farryl Purkiss and Andy Manndorff (Austria) with special guest Sara Hedman (Sweden)

For bookings or more information phone the Playhouse on 031 369 9555, Computicket or visit www. awesomeafricafestival.co.za




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