It had been two years of virtual editions due to the Covid-19 pandemic but eventually Ubumuntu Arts Festival returned to the physical stage this year. The annual festival returned to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheatre with the theme ‘Go Forth!’
After running virtual and reaching audiences only via digital platforms for two seasons in 2020 and 2021, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa’s premier performing arts event for social change, Ubumuntu Arts Festival, returned to the physical stage from July 14 to 17, bringing together artistes and performers from across the globe.
This year, the festival connected local and global audiences through a hybrid of live performances and virtual screenings of specially curated theatre, music and contemporary dance performances and other artistic showcases which were relayed live to global audiences via YouTube.
For Hope Azeda, the founder of Ubumuntu Arts Organisation, which organises the festival, it brought a sense relief when the performances returned to the Amphitheatre, after two years of a feeling of hopeless and isolation, brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and its after effects. From lockdown to curfews and no physical events.
“This year’s festival is extraordinary in the sense that even amidst all these things happening, art is still able to unite us and bring us together to celebrate life after everything we have gone through. It tell us that art is a universal language which breaks boundaries,”
“We are happy to see artistes coming from all over the world, regardless of all the difficulties we have gone through as an industry most affected by the pandemic,” Azeda said, emphasizing that the outbreak also left behind valuable experiences, including digitizing art and reaching more people online.
“Covid-19 showed that creativity is unstoppable and resilient. We continued to work, regardless of the challenges and we reached our audiences wherever they are,” she added.
Now in it’s seventh year, this year’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival, featured live performances and collaborations by artists from Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Switzerland, Germany, Bosnia, Turkey, USA, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Belgium, Sri-Lanka, Morocco, Belgium, The Netherlands and more.
Azeda, who has been curating the festival since its inception added that “the beauty of art lies in its ability to deal with the unspeakable. Art can revisit traumatic scenarios and horrific moments in human history on an emotional level that few other methods can accomplish.
She noted that the festival confronts global topics without fear, such as police brutality, the refugee crisis, and gender violence, among other issues the world faces today.
Art defying borders
At a time when tensions were simmering between Rwanda and DRC, art proved it could break barriers. One of the best performances was showcased by a group of Congolese dancers who put up a highly electric dance ensemble aptly dubbed ‘Time’. The powerful performance drew applause from the mainly youthful audience on the closing day.
Another of the enthralling performances featured a collaboration between Burundi and The Netherlands dubbed ‘Les larmes des Crocodile’ while the act by South Africa’s Impilo Mapantsula left the crowd in awe.
“Above all, we encourage communities to fight hatred, dogmatism, and toxic ideas, all behaviors that precede deadly violence. Now, our mission is gradually unfolding into reality,” said Azeda.
Indeed, in her remarks on the closing day, the Minister of Youth and Culture, Rosemary Mbabazi, put it rightly. ‘Every good thing comes to an end’, she said, emphasizing the power of art in uniting people, regardless of their nationalities or continent.
“In our language, ‘Ubumuntu’ means ‘humanity’ and this is what the festival is all about. During this great festival we witnessed diversity in culture and art. It was an opportunity to learn and understand new cultures. I saw young people enjoying themselves,”
“This festival is more about community, it is more about unity, it is more about collaboration and that is why we are here to support this initiative. We are here to support the creative industry that speaks what we cannot speak verbally but we can see from non-verbal communication. Art translates all that we think into real action,” said Minister Mbabazi, thanking all the performers.
Since its inception in 2015, Ubumuntu Arts has continued to grow in scale and global recognition. The festival provides a platform for artists from all over the world to present performances dealing with difficult aspects of societal violence and human nature, from police brutality, to mass incarceration, to civil war and genocide.
Both the timing and location of the festival hold deep historical and moral significance. The festival takes place at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, built on the resting place of 250,000 Tutsi. It occurs in July, during the final week of the 100-day commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The impact the festival has on visitors and artists, however, extends far beyond the flagship event, and many attendees have returned home to start similar festivals in their own countries.
Ubumuntu’s performances, workshops, panels and genocide memorial visits encourage participants to remember the past, celebrate the present, and build a more peaceful future. Ubumuntu; The Kinyarwanda word for ‘humanity’, calls for unity amongst all peoples of the world, promoting love and inclusion and rejecting hatred and discrimination.
According to Azeda, the theme next year is very reflective and mirrors the journey of the festival. “For us to do this festival, we have believed. Regardless of all obstacles, we have believed in the values of humanity. That is why our theme for next year is ‘believe’, said Azeda, as curtains fell on the 7th edition.