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Art, Culture

The Festival Found Us

by Nathan Casey and Leila Bloch, images by Candice Chaplin / 25.02.2011

There are roaches everywhere. Sprawled across t-shirts, plastered on lollipop sticks that direct passersby. The cockroach mascot is both repulsive and intriguing. Malika Ndlova, accompanies youth from her development programme, Art Aweh! She sees the roach as a symbol of “how people were once treated in this country”. Its presence aims to challenge our perceptions of this rejected creature. It “doesn’t, after all see a pile of trash and think ‘oh no’, it thinks ‘oh yes’”.

Save for a few lonesome business men, German tourists and the odd press member, the spectatorship at the station this morning is made up primarily of school kids. Lumped together in safe packs they display their reflective experiences on white sheets of cards. Others students chant “Follow the roach, Follow the roach” as they charge down the Grand Parade dodging vendors for the last performance of Jewel Route 1. Four boys from Langa High School use festival pamphlets to shade themselves from the sun. Juma, with a bright red loudhailer lures them into the mania.

Infecting the City

The route begins in the midst of a heat wave of traditional Greek dancing. The crowd slips in and out of participation but the dancers continue effortlessly. The tour guides are on high-alert, after spotting pickpockets lingering with intent amongst the crowds on the station forecourt. A CCID public safety marshal smiles, “It’s better to work this week,” he says, “more interesting.” The growing crowd is led to yet another stage to witness the Piper System. “It’s a gang fighting system.” An elderly coloured lady explains to a confused British tourist. The performers bellow abrasively, “who am I?” A French tourist asks for directions to Green Market Square mid performance. “Tell me what happens at the end,” a man asks his colleague, “I gotta go before my lunch break’s over.”

Ratiep a sword performance brings a “hidden Sufi ceremony” into a public sphere. Although no actual piercing is taking place today this Islamic ritual (with Indonesian origins) would be done in private, in any other circumstance.

Philisa Beko and Magdelene Minaar, freelance Opera singers, change into some red slip slops ready to explore the festival after captivating the audience with their all-consuming voices below the Absa building. “the festival found us” they say.

Infecting the City

On the First Class Treasure Tour (happening everyday at 10:30 and 14:30), guide Catherine Henegan is impressed “This morning we managed to get 40 people on the tour, and it’s only designed for 12!” Jethro and Colin, energetic and powerful street-poets, encourage random punters to “allow us to take you on the train of thought.” A majority German audience meanders across shiny new tiles, through the gonging PA announcements, following her “deep into the bowels of the train station” to reach the Orwellian-sounding “Platform 24” – home of Shosholoza, the train to Joburg. Passing through the African Train Lodge, the trip takes you to the Long Haul Departures” station, outside the African Zamarano Spice and Rendezvous Movie Shop where two lonely Pac-Man arcade machines idly wait.

On the station forecourt, an armoured cash in transit van hoots for pedestrians to get out of the way. Two gun-toting gentlemen help an old lady load a bag of rubbish and herself into the back. The audience, alarmed soon subsides listening to the Car Guard Quartet’s first performance in an “environment that is not specifically Congolese”.

Infecting the City

*End your Friday with the Loit Sols khoisan poetry and songs at 16:45. It’s also the second last day to attend tours and follow Jewel route 2. Between shacks, “egg yolk and egg white” and below the rooftop of ladies with guns and umbrellas, crowds will gather around the festival hub to watch repeated performances and the festival’s surprise transformations.

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