08 July, 2009

The Night-clubs will not close

In the moment: JC, a local poet, reads a poem called Sanctuarian Man

Evenings may be times for telly and rest, but the night-clubs in Grahamstown keep the arts alive at the 35th National Arts Festival. The ‘night-spots’ have created spaces for artistic subversion.

The National Arts Festival is known for its colourful daily schedule, but little is said about the night-life. Although stereotypically known for their rowdy noise-making, night clubs have kept the party going by entertaining the crowds after dark. Tapiwa Mapfumo, manager of Equilibrium (EQ), the popular night-spot at the corner of Somerset and New streets, says the arts do for the clubs what the clubs do for the arts. “We keep each other alive,” he says.

EQ has an ‘open-mic’ event which show-cases the poetry of Grahamstonians and visiting Festival goers. Mapfumo describes the daily ‘open-mic’ event as a perfect platform for undiscovered talent and an expression for marginalised performers who would not heard otherwsie. Each day has a theme that allows for genres, including reggae music and poetry in the vernacular. “If this is the time for discovery and expression, then we are more than pleased to join in the rush”, says Mapfumo.

Giving back to the arts, EQ has made the daily ‘open-mic’ evening free of charge.EQ opens at 6.00pm every day for the live performances. “It’s not just a regular club anymore,” says Mapfumo, “we have built a relationship with the society- we owe them what they want and when they want it.”

Menzi Sauke is a poet from Joza Township who performs at EQ. "Ah, for me this is it,” he says, “I don’t feel separated from the town during this time.” There are of course commercial pressures on EQ to keep its doors open and the club has a cover charge after 8.00pm. “But that’s when we have our usual music and the students come through for a joll,” Mapfumo elaborates. “It’s easy to lose business during this time. The open-mic sessions warm up the crowds which come back later for the party.”

Sizwe Hlasthwayo, a regular ‘party-goer’ says he has got the best of both worlds by increasing his appreciation for the arts whilst anticipating a hectic night-out.Other night-spots open up as well and pose a danger of completion for entertainment. “We try to be different and in most cases they can’t compete with us because the variety of events we have end up building a fan base which caters to all.”

At Cow Moon Theory, another evening hang-out place, Michaela Elburn, a regular says there is a balancing of the arts in Grahamstown and that is what makes people travel here for Festival. “They could never be bored”, Elburn says.

Anele Ngwenya is a student of Journalism & Media Studies. She is participating in the Winter School of the Future Journalists Programme at Rhodes University.

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