Shoko shakes off ‘mini Hifa’ tag

22 Sep, 2022 - 00:09 0 Views

The Herald

Kundai Marunya

Arts Correspondent

Once every year, a rare light beams at the centre of Chitungwiza, Seke Unit L to be exact.

A ginormous stage is set to illuminate the whole neighbourhood, not only with well-set stage lights, but also a star line-up with big names in the country and their guests from neighbouring countries.

The Shoko Festival Peace In the Hood concert has become one of the most popular events on the local calendar.

Not only is the event free, it draws the affluent to the high density suburbs for the love of art.  It has been only 12 years since the first Shoko Festival started, yet it feels like a lifetime ago when the first shows were held at the Alliance Française with a handful of little known artists on stage.

If the festival were a child, it would be at puberty, still trying to find their voice, their strengths, beliefs and formulating how they wish to spend the rest of their lives.

Shoko has already graduated to be the longest running and biggest urban arts festival, serving a rough terrain that even the well supported Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) has failed to navigate.

At first they seem to be serving the upmarket audience, a similar crowd pulled by HIFA before it unceremoniously closed.

In their formative years, even the choice of venues for the main events were upmarket, thus staging one of their memorable shows which saw reggae icon Tony Rebel performing along with mbira songstress Hope Masike and South African rapper Khuli Chana at Water Whirled.

Their creativity in collaborative performances and a magical touch to wow fans with a well curated line-up was unquestionable – many revellers likened them to HIFA.

Many in the arts circles actually called Shoko a “mini HIFA”, as the organisers seemed to be trying hard to simulate the festival which was rated among the biggest arts showcase on the continent.

Their relocation to Harare City Library grounds as the main festival site was welcomed as a development towards coming to the ordinary citizen.

It still did not really demystify the elitist perception and remove the mini-HIFA tag.

Years have passed, over which they have hit many right notes in organising landmark events including the first ever music conference, the Zim Hip Hop Summit, and the Hub Unconference to push fourth new media companies among other ground breaking initiatives.

Shoko has grown to be much more that an arts festival, spreading its wings in talent development and formulating an art industry for future generations.

Their events have evolved to include thought provoking topics that encourages youth participation in development and governance issues.

They tap into topical and relevant issues affecting young people, one of which being ignorance to political discourse.

“This year’s edition is running under the theme “PARTYcipate” which is a clarion call to encourage young people to be part of public processes that define their future,” reads a statement issued by festival organisers. “The theme is befitting of the election season that is upon us.” 

Though some of their events such as the comedy night which is traditionally held at Reps Theatre, a venue popular with the affluent, may seem elitist their hybrid approach makes it inclusive to those in different areas.

“The festival is maximising on the current relaxed Covid-19 regulations and assuming a hybrid format where most of its events will be physical and some will be online to cater for those who may not be in the city to physically attend,” reads the statement.

The festival programming has evolved to formulate some epic cross genre and art form collaborative performances like never witnessed in local entertainment during the Mash Up event.

This will be held at Moto Republic on Thursday September 29 being headlined by rising rapper Voltz JT.

Shoko also recognises many female musicians who thrive despite unfavourable industry conditions.

In a statement, festival organisers said they will host a cypher for female artists.

“The Women’s Cypher at Zimbabwe German Society on Wednesday September 28 will celebrate African women in hip hop and will feature TMRS AwaGe from Mozambique, multi-creative DJ Lady Light from Zambia and from Mutare Mary Jane and Lisa Afonso with DJ Fafi on the decks as well as an all-female band,” reads the statement

Even the comedy night has evolved to include a new exciting set up that uses humour in interrogating issues with public figures.

Festival organisers said this year they will have a humorous interaction with controversial politician Temba Mliswa.

“As is becoming the norm, on Friday September 30 Simuka Comedy is curating the second edition of the Shoko Roast of Norton MP Temba Mliswa at REPS Theatre and will feature self-proclaimed Prophet Madungwe, Vimbai Zimuto, Lorraine Guyo, Sokostina, Ckanyiso Dat Guy, Bustop TV’s Lucky Aaron and Comrade Fatso,” reads the statement.

Shoko’s new approach finally gives the festival to the people.

In the past the Peace In The Hood concert which in the founding years was held in Glen Norah before migrating to Chitungwiza seemed like a supercilious ruse to make Shoko seem inclusive.

All the important events would have been held somewhere in Harare at a venue whose entrance fee many would not afford.

The final show, which was usually held on a Sunday did not carry the weight of the main event, that was traditionally held on Saturday night with headline acts usually from South Africa.

This was the event that hosted AKA, Casper Nyovest, Tony Rebel and the best of local performers including Winky D, Jah Prayzah and Ammara Brown.

The festival can take pride in a new approach that puts the ordinary citizen on the forefront.

The Peace In The Hood concert has been moved to Saturday graduating to be the main event.

Peace In The Hood will be headlined by Zimdancehall chanter Freeman and star rapper Kikky Badass.

Festival director Samm Farai Monro said they specifically picked locals to appreciate their resilience.

“This year at Shoko we want to celebrate our amazing local acts. We want to show that local is legit!” said Cde Fatso, as Monro is affectionately known. 

“During the two years of lockdowns and a pandemic, our Zimbabwean artists were the ones who kept us entertained and motivated while we were stuck at home.

“At the same time the local arts sector suffered massively due to a lack of live shows with venues being closed. So this year all our headline acts are proudly Zimbabwean as we salute the power of our artists.” 

Cde Fatso said the festival’s growth is humbling.

“It’s humbling to see how Shoko has grown over the years to become Zimbabwe’s biggest festival of urban culture and such an important space for cutting edge new art that speaks truth to power,” he said.

“What makes this year’s edition so special is that it’s our first physical festival after two years of running Shoko virtually.”

It took some time, and years of innovation and development, but Shoko has finally shaken off the ‘mini-HIFA’ tag.

Some may argue that there is still need for the festival to incorporate other venues in the high-density suburbs such as the iconic Mai Musodzi Hall in Mbare but the steps taken thus far shows great consideration and inclusivity.

One can only hope for a balance venue selection, a dream that may not be far-fetched as already, the biggest and most important strides have been made.

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