The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) this year had a certain sound to it. The 2011 theme, “The Engagement Party,” stressed community engagement, and, according to Charles A. Ray, the U.S. Ambassador to Zim, Slavic Soul Party! (SSP!) “led the way“.
The performers this year, ranging from handicapped Chinese dancers to Zimbabwe’s hottest reggae rap superstar Winky D, were uniformly outstanding. SSP!, a “Balkan funk” brass band from New York took the “engagement” theme to heart. The band started off with two days of workshops with Zimbabwean brass bands. They then paraded through Mbare Township, Harare’s most densely populated and economically deprived suburb.
Organized by the local Chiedza Childcare Centre, SSP! and the Zimbabwean Salvation Army marching band led a procession of nearly 400 children and majorettes from two area schools to raise awareness for a campaign to stop child abuse. Later that day, they partnered with the Zimbabwean Air Force band for a parade through the busy downtown streets of Harare from African Unity Square to the National Gallery.
The parade through Mbare Township trumped everything. Despite Zimbabwean government unease with having so many foreigners running around Harare and interacting with Zimbabweans without government supervision, the local authorities still gave them a permit for the Mbare parade — at a time when they had banned unions from parading to celebrate International Labor Day. The local police provided attentive and courteous escorts who enjoyed the music as much as the kids did.