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ISICATHAMIYA FESTIVAL (article first published : 2007-09-13)

The National Isicathamiya festival on September 22, a major event on the Playhouse Company’s calendar, marks the 10th Anniversary of this ground-breaking performance series.

More than 170 groups from all over KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape will compete in the all-night marathon event, which marks the culmination of The Playhouse Company’s 2007 Traditional Arts Festival, also occupying a central slot in this year’s Celebrate Durban Spring Season.

The Isicathamiya Festival ends on Sunday morning of September 23 with prize-giving, following the adjudication of competitors in the various sections. The event entails months of preparation by staff of The Playhouse Company and by the many hundreds of Isicathamiya practitioners who travel the length and breadth of KwaZulu-Natal - and from further afield - to celebrate their highly-skilled performance art in the spotlight of The Playhouse’s Traditional Arts Festival.

Isicathamiya’s roots go back more than a century, since this performance tradition began in the eastern seaboard regions of South Africa, predominantly KZN. Originally adapted from traditional Nguni song and dance forms, among other influences, Isicathamiya became used by practitioners to uphold their spirit of community morale, often in the face of adversity. As migrant workers left their homelands to seek work on the mines and in industry, they expressed their longing for their families and homes in song and dance routines, performed at night.

Over the years, as people began moving back to their homelands, they took Isicathamiya with them, a highly evolved art demanding specialized performance skills in a cappella (unaccompanied) singing married to sophisticated choreography, the themes of songs changing to suit the times. Typically today, themes of Isicathamiya songs might focus on the need to protect one’s health, in the face of HIV AIDS, among other topics related to contemporary life.

Besides the competitive element attached to the National Isicathamiya Festival, the event carries with it a strong focus on entertainment that is enjoyed by performers and audience alike. This includes the fashion parade known as Oswenka, which forms an integral part of the programme.

To mark 10 years of Isicathamiya at the Playhouse, a special commemorative coffee table book is in the pipeline.

Following last year’s precedent, the National Isicathamiya Competition will take place in the Durban City Hall, to accommodate the ever-growing number of contestants and their supporters. Tickets R55 available through Computicket.




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