NAF Dineo-BopapeExpect the unexpected at this year’s National Arts Festival. South Africa’s artists, theatre makers and musicians are responding to the challenges of living in a country in flux with genre-busting work that is provocative, innovative, engaging and entertaining. Some of the best of these productions will be staged at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown from 29 June to 9 July.

Featuring new works from theatrical firebrands alongside fest favourites, such as the Gala Concert presented this year by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, visitors can expect a thrilling mix of new and familiar in a programme that both reflects and challenges South African society.

“Creative disruption has served as the backbone for building this year’s core programme – and the response has been extraordinary,” Executive Producer Ashraf Johaardien, who has been working with the 20-member Artistic Committee to put together the programme.

Nox Donyeli, Sisonke Yafele and Macie Jali perform in the show Falling off the Horn at the Glennie Hall in Grahamstown on 1 july 2016 duringthe National arts Festival. The performance, which deals with local issues of xenophobia, won a Standard Bank Standing Ovation Award. Photo: Jeff stretton-Bell)

The continent’s biggest cultural event

NAF is made up of a number of programmes and events, including the curated Main; the open-access Fringe; and the Arena, which gives award-winning works a platform at the continent’s biggest cultural event.

“A number of the works selected for the Main programme refuse to sit quietly in any one genre – and that will be the first clue that something is in flux,” adds Johaardien. “Multi-sensory, immersive works that cut across disciplines signal a desire by the artists to engage audiences in new and unconventional ways. Other works will disrupt dominant historical narratives by offering new lenses for looking at the past and reclaiming stories previously relegated to the margins.”

‘Think!Fest’ – lectures, debates, conversations

This year’s Featured Artist is composer/musician Neo Muyanga, who will premiere solid(t)ary, a piece composed specifically for the Festival, exploring the notion of song within protest and revolt. The Neo Muyanga Trio will present a new collaborative music production with Andre Swartz, Peter Ndlala and guest Msaki. He will also host a talk on protest and creativity as part of the Think!Fest programme, a fascinating series of lectures, debates, and conversations that provide insight and opinion relevant to programmed events and wider topical issues.

ational Arts Festival 2017Nothing, but brilliance!

Audiences are guaranteed nothing but brilliance from the winners of this year’s Standard Bank Young artist Awards: cellist Abel Selaocoe (Music); bassist and composer Benjamin Jephta (Jazz); choreographer and dancer Thandazile Radebe (Dance); playwright and director Monageng Motshabi (Theatre); sculptor Beth Diane Armstrong (Visual Art); and multimedia artist Dineo Bopape (Performance Art).

Established artists include Sylvaine Strike, Jay Pather, Vincent Mantsoe, Vanessa Cooke, Rehane Abrahams, Dada Masilo, PJ Sabbagha and Craig Morris.

British stand-up Stephen K Amos will do two shows and there are two other UK acts on the Arena programme too: athletic comic duo The Pretend Men in the Fringe smash hit, POLICE COPS; and Louise Reay, fresh from the Brighton Fringe with IT’S ONLY BIRDS, “a comedy in Chinese for people who don’t speak any Chinese at all”.

“Despite a tough arts funding environment, the programme we’re able to offer still represents the cutting-edge of performance excellence in SA. Our artists, institutions and producers are doing amazing things in every corner of the country, and the programme that Ashraf and the Committee have shaped, will once again be a celebration of the best of this,” says Tony Lankester, the CEO of the National Arts Festival.

Grace Barns, Rachel Makatile, Nomathamsanqu Mhllakaza, Dimakatso Motholo and Tanna Rahme preforming in the production of The Village, for the National Arts Festival on 1 July 2016 in The Rehearsal Room, 1820 Settlers Monument, Grahamstown, South Africa. The Village was directed by Sarah Nansubuga. (Photo: CuePix:Megan Moore)

Some popular shows open for pre-booking in April. The full programme will be available online when bookings open early May.

What: National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
When: 29 June – 9 July, 2017
Social media:, Twitter: @artsfestival