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RIVER ARTS MUSIC FESTIVAL (article first published : 2005-02-15)

Nestling in the rolling foothills of the Drakensberg, the town of Ladysmith is strategically situated between Durban and Johannesburg.

Steeped in history, Ladysmith played an integral part in both the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars. It is surrounded by the battle sites, the most important of these being Spioenkop and Wagon Hill. Local architecture includes the impressive Soofi Mosque, the Siege Museum and the historic soldiers’ church.

A rich traditional and cultural musical heritage, including recent Grammy winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has given birth to a rather special music festival.

The River Arts and Music Festival was initially fostered by the internationally renowned baritone Robert Brooks at the beautiful Maria Ratschitz mission church outside Ladysmith in 2001. In 2002, the festival mushroomed with exceptional performances by Robert Brooks, Natal Bach choir, “The Men in Red”, the popular Johannesburg Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Pietermaritzburg Choral Society and the young Bochabela String Orchestra.

The festival is operated on a non-profit basis. Proceeds from each festival have benefited HIV/AIDS programmes and other charitable concerns. Children’s charities and the upliftment of local youth will be this year’s focus.

In 2005, the festival will be held in Ladysmith, with its primary location being the historic “Soldiers Church”, the All Saints Anglican Church.

The weekend of June 10 to 12 will be filled with a wide range of entertainment options.

The music programme includes the highly popular Durban Men’s Choir, isicathamiya group the Red Lions, well-known award-winning concert pianist Christopher Duigan, world-renowned opera singers Margie Koster and Sonia van Amstel as well as string and piano ensembles.

Also featured will be the talented young Bochabelo String Orchestra. These children (average age 12) are part of the youth development programme of the OFS Technicon, under the directorship of Peter Guy. From mostly disadvantaged homes, these talented youngsters perform a variety of musical styles. There will be recitals by pianist Elna Bezuidenhout who is associated with the music department of Stellenbosch University.

Highlights of the programme will be Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sibongile Khumalo, the Drakensberg Boys Chamber Choir and other traditional music groups.

Apart from music, there will be a strong fine arts contingent. Watercolourist Richard Rennie will exhibit his work and conduct a painting demonstration. (Ed note: I filmed him for an SABC TV arts programme once and his technique is fascinating to watch). The Carnegie Museum of Art will exhibit a unique and valuable collection of contemporary and traditional South African Art, as well as the isiPhethu craft development outreach programme.

Also on offer will be Tony Clarkson’s bird paintings; Carina Wolmarans mixed media; work by internationally renowned painter Lilitha Jaiweldel and computer art by Liesbette Groenewald. There will also be a children’s art workshop. As well as an upmarket and original craft market.

The River Arts & Music Festival runs from June 10 to 12. Further information from Magda Cullen on 082 800 5462.




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