Tuesday, 30 April 2013


The global financial crisis has affected many international arts events, but some are soldiering on despite funding cuts and other difficulties. The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) is one of those that's determined to continue celebrating “the healing and constructive capacity of the arts”, as the organizers put it.

Hailed widely as one of the best-run festivals in Africa, HIFA takes place in the Zimbabwean capital from April 30 to May 5 and has its usual eclectic line-up this year. Performers from Africa and other regions are showcasing jazz, classical music and pop, among the different genres.

The artists include Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal, quirky London-based rock band The Noisettes, multi-lingual Zimbabwean singer Busi Ncube and the Irish traditional music group Téada, to name a few.

The meeting of cultures is perhaps personified in Japanese musician Sakaki Mango, who has taken the African "thumb piano", or mbira, and added elements of traditional and modern Japanese culture to "create an exciting musical fusion”, according to HIFA’s directors.

Japanese musician Sakaki Mango
Mango sings in Japanese, and he mixes rock, his country's traditional music, Colombian Cumbia music, and electronic effects to create a unique sound. He’ll perform on the same stage (though not at the same time) as the exuberant Portuguese band Anaquim and the Austrialian trumpeter and didgeridoo player Chris Williams.

HIFA spokesperson Tafadzwa Simba told SWAN that the programme extends to theatre, spoken word, craft and design, and contemporary dance. Simba added that between 50,000 and 70,000 spectators are expected over the six days of the event.

Reviewers have said that HIFA serves to unify disparate groups, especially at a time of “ideological conflict and political uncertainty”. Since its establishment in 1999, the annual festival has certainly spotlighted the talents of many performers who deserve a wider audience and brought people together to enjoy the gifts these artists have to offer.

Sunday, 28 April 2013


Herbie Hancock
Some of the world's biggest jazz stars will be performing in Istanbul when the Turkish city hosts the main global event of International Jazz Day on April 30.

Observed worldwide, the day is aimed at bringing together communities, schools and groups to celebrate jazz, learn about its origins and experience the “beauty and spirit” of the music, says famed pianist Herbie Hancock, one of the driving forces behind the celebration.

Giving jazz its own day had long been Hancock’s dream, so when he was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 2011, he proposed the idea to the organization, and the governing bodies adopted it unanimously. The first International Jazz Day was launched in Paris last year with a stellar concert at the agency’s headquarters.

In Istanbul, Hancock and fellow musician Wayne Shorter will kick things off by conducting an early morning performance for high school students. They will join their peers for an evening concert that will also feature pianists George Duke and Abdullah Ibrahim; singers Al Jarreau, Milton Nascimento, Joss Stone and Dianne Reeves; trumpeters Hugh Masekela and Imer Demirer; bassists Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding and Ben Williams; and drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Vinnie Colaiuta, among others.

Bassist Marcus Miller (photo by F. Barrier)
“Istanbul, located between East and West, is the perfect host city and a wonderful choice for the concert,” said Neil Ford, director of communications for UNESCO.

“Jazz has become associated with freedom and with bringing people together,” he told SWAN. “From its American roots, it’s become a world-wide genre.”

The organizers are hoping that there will be no security threats on a “day of dialogue and peace where people can enjoy this uniquely creative music”, said Ford.

Jazz's role as a "form of communication that transcends differences" is also being highlighted in Turkey and around the world, as some 90 other countries will be celebrating the day as well. In France, more than 48 events will take place, including performances and jam sessions at jazz clubs in the capital Paris.

In Mexico, at least 10 jazz concerts are scheduled throughout the country, while in India, Jazz Goa will celebrate the day with a huge event featuring international jazz artists. Swaziland will host a “Jazz Across Borders and Cultures” program comprising workshops, jam sessions, and concerts over three days.

The Instanbul concert will be streamed live on the web via several sites, including that of the U.S.-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a co-organizer of International Jazz Day.

Monday, 22 April 2013


The exhibition at UNESCO, showing Elizabeth,
in a photograph by Nichole Sobecki
Six-year-old Elizabeth lives in Kibera, a huge slum near the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the largest urban slum in Africa. Each day, dressed in her bright uniform, she walks for more than an hour across a harsh landscape to get to primary school. She is one of millions of children who must take a perilous path daily just to acquire an education.

Elizabeth and a number of other children are featured in a photo exhibition that’s currently being shown in Paris on the metal fencing around the headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency. 

Titled “Journeys to School”, the exhibition premiered at the UN in New York and will travel around the world until 2015, providing a testament to "children’s courage and determination" in the face of educational obstacles, said UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova.

“These images capture the extraordinary resolve of boys and girls to overcome all challenges – whether these concern gender, disability, location, ethnicity, conflict or natural disasters,” she said.

Opening the exhibition in Paris on a rainy afternoon earlier this month, she commented that “"rain is the least difficult of all obstacles for these children on their way to school.”

Santiago on his way to school.
Imagine the journey that 14-year-old Santiago Muñoz does in New York, for instance. Each school day, he has to take two buses and two different trains, for a trek of two hours to school. His family lives in public housing in Far Rockaway, located at the southern end of the borough of Queens. But Santiago attends a much-admired public high school in the north Bronx, where he was accepted because of his good grades.

Across the globe, in a city of refugees on the border between Myanmar and Thailand, Wai Wai Htun lives in a slum with other migrant families from Myanmar. “She must walk 40 minutes to the stop for the makeshift rickshaw, without which it would be impossible to go to school,” according to the exhibition.

Lack of proper public transportation is just one of the obstacles that many children face in poor communities. UN officials say that other challenges include discrimination, religious “tensions”, crime, natural disasters (such as the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan), disability, gender inequality and political conflict.

Schools in fact are often the first to suffer the consequences of armed conflict, and “mines and unexploded ordnance pose a continuing danger to children”, UNESCO says. The photographs by Olivier Jobard show 11 year-old Amal Al Torchani in Misrata, Libya, attending school in surroundings that still bear the marks of warfare.

Mexican photographer Rodrigo Cruz, who has won several awards for his human rights work, portrays schoolchildren of the Tarahumara Indian community who live in Copper Canyon, or Barranca del Cobre, in northwestern Mexico. For Esmeralda and Patricia (9 and 10 years old), walking is the only means of transportation. They cross canyons, climb steep slopes, traverse pine forests and pass beneath barbed wire fence to get to school, according to the exhibition.

Pedestrians stop to view the photos.
"These stories reveal the tremendous resilience of children, their mothers, their fathers, their teachers, volunteers and NGOs and a common determination to build a future made better through education,” said Miguel Ferro, the president of the photojournalism agency SIPA PRESS, which produced the exhibition in association with UNESCO and public transportation company Transdev.

The children who do make it to school by whatever means could be considered the lucky ones, as some 61 million children and 71 million adolescents do not attend school, according to figures from the UN.

The organization is calling on governments to strengthen their education policies as part of the Global Education First Initiative, a five-year project sponsored by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that aims to "renew and reinvigorate global commitments to education".

One of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals is to see all children attaining primary schooling by 2015. Although many countries have improved access to education in the past decade, officials say that much still needs to be done, especially for marginalized communities.

(The “Journeys to School” photographs will also appear in a book, proceeds from which will help to fund education, according to UNESCO. See sidebar.)

Friday, 12 April 2013


The new Marisa Monte CD
From film festivals to photography exhibitions, Brazilian culture will be in the spotlight in Europe over the next weeks, with a wealth of activities taking place in France and other countries.

The glare of attention is hard to miss as a top Parisian department store devotes space to Brazilian designers and as newspapers focus on the latest cultural trends to emerge from the South American nation.

“Some of this comes from a spontaneous interest in what’s going on in Brazil, and some comes from the press, from companies or from initiatives created in Brazil by the government or by individuals,” says Mariana Moscardo, the cultural attaché at the Embassy of Brazil in Paris.

“There is a lot of interest in Brazilian culture and in the artists who do tours in Europe, so it’s a mixture of interest and curiosity,” she told SWAN. “We do have long and sometimes complicated ties with Europe, but it’s a positive thing and we’re happy with what’s happening.”

Moscardo added that many of the cultural initiatives are backed by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture under Marta Suplicy, a popular politician who has met with some of her counterparts in Europe to forge closer ties.  The official support is in contrast to certain times in the past when artists were seen as mostly trouble.

Among the leading current arts events is the 15th Brazilian Film Festival in Paris which runs from April 16 to 23 and takes film fans on a cinematic journey to South America. The annual fair will screen 27 films this year and host several well-known personalities such as musician and former culture minister Gilberto Gil.

Katia Adler, director of the festival.
Things will kick off with “Gonzaga - De pai para filho”, a film by Breno Silveira that had about two million viewers in Brazil. The festival will also honour Carlos Diegues, an internationally renowned director in his own right and one of the co-founders of Cinema Novo, the film movement of the 1960s and 70s that placed emphasis on social equality and individualism.

Three movies for children will be featured as well, and the event will end with the unedited documentary “Viramundo - a musical voyage with Gilberto Gil”, in the presence of both Gil and the film’s director Pierre-Yves Borgeaud.

“I hope distributors will discover some of these films and choose to market them more widely,” said the event’s founder and director Katia Adler. “The aim is to help the films find a commercial footing through the festival.”

A resident of Rio de Janeiro who studied film in France and worked in television, Adler said she launched the festival as a way to not only counter common stereotypes about her country but also to promote worthy films made by Brazilian directors.

“When I was working in television in the late Eighties and there was something about Brazil, it was always negative, focusing on street children, drugs or poverty,” she recalls. “In 1998, I decided to start distributing Brazilian films in France as a way to show a different picture and to help filmmakers at a time when culture was being pushed to the sidelines under the then government.”

Her initiative developed into the film festival, eventually gaining funding from the French ministry of culture and other bodies. Although much of this funding is drying up because of the global financial crisis, Adler says the Embassy of Brazil continues to provide significant support. She says she plans to continue putting on the festival because many people look forward to attending it.

“It’s become an important festival in France because it’s nearly the only opportunity to see the latest films from Brazil on this scale,” she told SWAN in an interview. “Not enough Brazilian films are distributed internationally.”

Scene from a film by Sergio Andrade.
Many cinema-goers will have seen Cidade de Deus (City of God), the 2002 crime drama that was a global hit, but numerous other movies never make it beyond South America, especially if the story is not one that the public can easily buy into: Brazil as dangerous, exotic, colourful and exciting. Adler also organizes film festivals in Toronto and Montreal, Canada, for the reason of showing a wide spectrum of stories.

The Paris event this year will further include an exhibition of photographs by Marc Ferrez, who was considered the greatest Brazilian photographer of his time. Depicting Rio at the end of the 19th century, the show is just one of several exhibitions in Europe in which Brazil is the “star” this year.

The architect Oscar Niemeyer will be the subject of a separate exposition at the Parisian headquarters of the French communist party – a building he designed. This display will look at 50 years of Brasilia, the town that Niemeyer helped to develop from the ground up in 1956 and which now serves as Brazil’s federal capital.

Brazilian music, among the country’s most popular exports, isn’t being forgotten either. Europe provided asylum for a generation of artists during Brazil’s 21-year military regime that ended in 1985, and musicians such as Gil and Caetano Veloso can still count on a solid fan base. Younger singers, including Marisa Monte, Seu Jorge, Vanessa da Mata and Ceu,  now perform regularly to packed halls. Monte will give a concert in Paris on April 18th as part of her European tour. 

For those who are more interested in the culinary arts or consumer items, the landmark Parisian department store Le Bon Marché  and its gourmet supermarket La Grande Epicerie have decided to invite Brazil through their gilded doors as “guest of honour” until June 22. Shoppers can go Brazilian by trying on garments designed by Adriana Degreas or having a bite of feijoada - the typical stew of beans and pork that's best washed down with a strong caipirinha.


The famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has long used his camera as a tool to help protect the environment. He is now holding concurrent expositions of his “Genesis” project in a number of cities from May until early next year, showing the earth's beauty through awe-inspiring photographs.

The project is the result of eight years of expeditions to 32 countries in which Salgado set out to “rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society”, as the exhibition puts it.

“Some forty-six percent of the planet is still as it was in the time of genesis,” Salgado says. “We must preserve what exists.”

To realize “Genesis”, he travelled by foot, light aircraft, ship, canoe, and even balloons, to show the land, animals, and indigenous peoples in their natural beauty. The black-and-white photographs, with the contrasts of light and dark, pull viewers into the landscapes portrayed.

One can discover the volcanoes of Central Africa, the rivers of the Amazon,  the icebergs of the Antarctic and the Nenet nomads and their reindeer herds in the Arctic Circle - among the many elements of Salgado’s “love letter to the planet”.

The exhibition can be seen at London’s Natural History Museum from now until September 8, and at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, from May 2 through September 2. It will be shown in Italy at Rome’s Ara Pacis Museum from May 15, and in Switzerland, Brazil and France later in the year. The photographs also appear in a book (published by Taschen) that Salgado will launch in Paris on May 16.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


Behind the Scenes in Haiti
©Martha Adams, Richard E. Robbins, Gina Nemirofsky, 10x10act.org10x10act.org

Girl Rising is a film that may do more to bring about the universal education of girls than all the speeches from the world’s politicians. The moving documentary tells the story of nine young girls from nine countries who confront tremendous obstacles to get an education and to achieve a sense of freedom.

Each girl’s story is written by an eminent woman writer from her country, and the literary list includes Edwidge Danticat of Haiti, Aminatta Forna of Sierra Leone and Mona Eltahawy of Egypt.

Nine well-known actresses narrate the stories, speaking for the girls in gripping fashion as they share their experiences, their fears and their dreams. Among the actresses are Meryl Streep, Salma Hayek, Kerry Washington and Cate Blanchett.

“If to see it is to know it, this film delivers hope; reasonable, measurable, tangible hope that the world can be healed and helped to a better future,” states Streep.

Produced by the social action campaign 10x10 and directed by Academy Award nominee
Director Richard Robbins
Richard Robbins, Girl Rising “showcases the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world”, say the filmmakers.

Among the stories told is that of Sokha, an orphaned Cambodian girl who has to pick through garbage to survive. But, through a few “miracles”, Sokha manages to attend school and becomes a star student. She now helps to tutor younger pupils.

The film comes amid global concerns about the rights of women and girls and is a timely reminder of the work still to be done. 

As the 10x10 campaign says: “Around the world, millions of girls face barriers to education that boys do not. And yet, when you educate a girl, you can break cycles of poverty in just one generation. Removing barriers to girls’ education - such as early and forced marriage, domestic slavery, sex trafficking, gender violence and discrimination, lack of access to healthcare, school fees - means not only a better life for girls, but a safer, healthier, and more prosperous world for all.”

Girl Rising opens in theatres in several countries this month.  For the official trailer and more information on the campaign, go to: http://10x10act.org/girl-rising/