Lions, tigers and bare feet — Barefeet Festival 2013 review

Sara Drawwater
8 October 2013

Firstly, if you need a reminder of the excitement we shared over the Barefeet Festival in August, here are two related blogs: 2013 Barefeet Festival in Zambia — from car park performance to 2,000 festival performers and the 2013 Barefeet Festival Zambia — event guide. And now Benny will help you relive your best memories of the 2013 Barefeet Festival.


Some of you might think the Barefeet ROAR Festival had something to do with the discarding of shoes, and enjoying liberating footwear-free activities like footsies. To the contrary. I attended the festival and kept my shoes on the entire time! But there was a baring of sorts though. A baring of souls (or soles if you wish). The Barefeet Festival was a week long soul baring, rip-roaring event filled with performance art and discovery. You don’t believe me? Well read on naysayer!

A quest, dance, acrobats and clowns. Creative activism known no bounds…I’m a little late for the first day of events at the Lusaka Playhouse. I find that two of the workshops have already started. Naturally, I walk into the Clown Workshop first.

“In order to be a clown, you have to be true to yourself,” says a lady instructing a troupe of would-be clowns. They are participating in some exercises I can’t quite follow at first, but it seems each clown is trying to ‘infect’ the other with their act. The idea is to create a story from these acts and induce laughter according to each clown’s traits. The exercise is a kind of celebration of individuality.

The lady’s name is Lesley Quilty. Her partner in clown is Diane Thornton. They are from Tenterhooks Theatre from Scotland and had invited people working with vulnerable/sick children to come and learn how to make connections with those kids, and also to become certified clown doctors. A noble cause. Laughter is the best medicine after all.

Running at the same is a dance studio session instructed by Roni and Grace from Most Wanted; a dance crew from the UK. Grace is speaking a familiar dance instructor dialect as her one-day students follow her lead.

“Ooh, ah, cha-cha-cha! 5–6–7–8!…,”

And right on cue, the students break into a series of frantic dance moves. It all looks like an electric scene straight out of the 80s movie, Fame. You can almost grasp the enthusiasm, and Grace is really ecstatic.

“It’s all I do, I teach dance. And being here has been a lot of fun! I’m in love with Zambia,” she chuckles.

Right after the dance workshop, This Side Up, an acrobatics team from down under take over the studio and Dave, the moderator, invites everyone to join the circle. I humbly decline, as I have to take notes and document the possibly bone-breaking spectacle.

Bones were broken before this day though, as Christian, a member of This Side Up, has a cast on his leg, and is on crutches. He will tell me later that his accident happened about 2–3 weeks ago, and that it’s a good thing it happened now, because he’s been on a break from performing for a while. His tenacity to teach the kids, even on crutches, is admirable.

The last event for the afternoon was Randy McLaren’s Creative Activism workshop. Randy is a poet from Jamaica. He fuses dub reggae with spoken word to push for radical change, and speaks on social issues.

“Whatever your talent is, find a way to use it for good,” he says as he teaches the youth in attendance about artistic duty.

He then plays us a video he created, titled, ‘Armadale: Children on fire’. It is an emotional, government scathing poem about a fire that gutted a Juvenile correctional facility in Jamaica and the state’s inaction. Randy is an artist at heart, and social change is the message he preaches.

When the sun sets, the playhouse is host to Quest Theatre; the Barefeet Festival’s presentation of the findings of groups of young people across Zambia during their cross-country adventures (in theatrical fashion of course). Hivos orchestrated the whole initiative sometime in February.

The display of theatrical performances and Zambian history has everything from a ‘living’ representation of the mighty Mukuyu tree, to a cotton-wool-bearded David Livingstone, as well as a stunning collaboration by Randy McLaren, and a visually impaired guitarist.

By now I’m certainly looking forward to the next day of the festival, even though I’ve lost my voice from all the roaring I’d been prompted to do by the Barefeet performers!

Poetry, mediocrity, and stunning defeat. Bigfoot walks BarefeetThe NASDEC sports hall is crammed with people of all shapes and sizes when we walk in to watch the Heroes — Youth Festival Performance. I could swear I just saw a Sasquatch somewhere in the audience. I guess even Bigfoot appreciates good traditional song and dance.

The kids are putting on the show of their lives as they perform in front of a panel of judges. They are covered in face paint and traditional dress as they shake, drum and shiver up a roaring performance. I just hope Bigfoot won’t be tempted to join in, because it all is very infectious!

It’s afternoon and we make our way to ‘The Funeral’; a burial of mediocrity in the search for creative innovation. My cohort London Kamwendo and I will be sitting on a debate panel controversially titled, ‘Art in Zambia is boring and unambitious’ as part of The Funeral.

As we try to find seats in the audience of ‘mourners’, I notice that this wake is not quite the macabre event. A group of young performers celebrate, rather than mourn before a make-shift coffin. I soon realise though, that in that coffin, lays mediocrity. Mediocrity, we hardly knew ye.

I could go on about the rest of The Funeral, but those activities are overshadowed by the verbal thrashing, Phoebe, a teen representing the Children’s Council gives us when she takes the floor and opposes the motion ‘Art in Zambia is boring and unambitious’.

“Members of the general auditorium, affiliates of the chamber, allow me to stand here as a lawyer, NOT a liar! I said, NOT a liar!”

I realise then, that we stand no chance in this debate. Phoebe employed the arcane art of old school Zambian debating, and our team could not have been less prepared.

“…Before I enjoy the enjoyment which was once enjoyed by the fist enjoyer, allow me to enjoy this debate.” I’m left in pure awe of her lyrical prowess. Obama would be shook.

Randy McLaren makes another appearance for the festival’s evening events, as he and Marvin host the Poetry Slam at Chit Chat. Marvin opens the floor with an urban style haiku about office antics and debauchery with a fair lady.

Thereafter, Mukango, one half of a Rastafarian outfit here in Lusaka, recites a poem in patois touching on love and relationships. It is quite the contrast to Chembo Music’s acapela of her song, ‘Bobby’s Dead’, a dark ballad about heartbreak that complemented the dimly lit scene at Chit Chat.

Scarlet, the neo soul song bird follows Chembo’s performance and has me all flustered when her vocals grace the microphone with such ease. “Is your favourite colour bluuuue…?” she asks in melodious glee.

The event is a rich multi-cultural mosaic as demonstrated by Kay from West Nigeria. Even though the ladies may not understand his native tongue, Kay easily serenades them and has them snapping their fingers in excitement.

The excitement only escalates in more finger snaps and murmurs of agreement when Javier Perez’s touching poem on dependency and drugs resonates with the cosy crowd.

The Poetry Slam wraps up very nicely and one can only wonder how the events that are to follow will top what. I’ve already had a lion’s share of fun.

Stars, Hope and gratitude. The lioness roars with attitudeUnfortunately, due to my ongoing battle to grasp the mind bending concept of punctuality, I missed the third day of events and The Forest Beats. Thank the stars the last day of events more than makes up for it.

And thank the stars indeed, because the LIONESS-Music Under the Stars concert is an expression of gratitude of sorts. Mutinta comes on after the Mwale Sisters and asks the crowd at Goma Lakes to roar before she performs her song, Pumpkin leaves. The masses gladly roar in thanks and good cheer.

Pompi begins his set by giving the audience a short story about the title track off his album. “My first song is, Mizu. For those that don’t know the language, it’s Chewa. Mizu means ‘roots’”.

The crowd sings along as one of the band members plays a saxophone and brings the whole place alive. Throughout his performance, Pompi interacts with the crowd and makes his stage presence felt. It’s no wonder the people love him so.

The jewel of the night has to be Hope Masike though. A songstress reigning from Zimbabwe, she pleases the Zambian people when she starts her performance with a Bemba song. Her gold sequin dress glints in the stage light as she sings and dances with the energy of a thousand suns. Later, she will be joined by Theresa Kabeke and some children from Barefeet for a tear jerker of a beautiful song.

Theresa is from Home of Joy, an orphanage that the good people at Barefeet visit and have been lending a helping hand to. She tells me that Barefeet teach the kids a number of things from leading a healthy lifestyle to amazing nature facts. I realise then that with all the roaring I’d been doing, I’d forgotten to get a word in with a rep from Barefeet.

I’d been looking for the one they call, ‘Barefeet Adam’ for the entirety of the Festival. And to my slight disappointment, when I do find him, Barefeet Adam has on a pair of shoes. Adam and his team set up Barefeet in 2006 to work with young people through drama and performance. Their mission is to work with children and help them realise they are talented. The Quest program, supported by Hivos was an idea to teach children across provinces to communicate; “To promote the use of social media for social change.”

It seems that the Barefeet’s team went beyond provinces though, because as I am getting the low down on what they do; a collection of cross-country creatives create a collaborative collage of the coolest crooning. Randy McLaren from Jamaica, Hope Masike from Zimbabwe and Pompi from Zambia have the crowd singing and dancing like it was their very last time.

It’s time to go home now, and as with all great events such as this, I’m left with conflicting feelings of longing as well as fulfilment. As much as I’m sad to see the festivities come to an end, I’m also glad to know good people like the Barefeet team are doing admirable work. And thank goodness I got to keep my shoes on. ROAR.

Benny Blow spins tales of short fiction, and will write in exchange for food, clothing or shelter. You can see some of his work by clicking here; follow him on Twitter here; and friend him on Facebook here.