Diasporan Africans, their families, their Dutch friends and more, simply love The Hague African Festival – THAF. Year after year, for nine years now, they are there in droves, for the African music, for the African food, for the African clothing, for the African souvenirs and for each other. Come rain come shine, the weather may not always be favourable, nevertheless The Hague African Festival is always crowded in a positive way. It is also an opportunity to meet old and make new friends, which I did too.
I have to mention what is known to most that the main objective of THAF is and has always been to show African cultural heritage, tradition and contemporary developments to a broad public.
I dedicated my column to The Hague African Festival in the September 2009 and July 2014 issue of The African Bulletin, but more about that later.
Back to the Park
This year The Hague African Festival did not take place at the Spui Plein or Het Plein in The Hague, but went ‘back to the bush’, to paraphrase an African expression. However, the lush green and even watery surroundings of the Zuiderpark can hardly be called a bush. In addition to all the greenery and a small lake, there is a swimming pool, fitness and sports facilities, a restaurant, a police post, adjacent football fields and last but not least the open air Zuiderpark Theatre. This is an attractive amphitheatre facing a spacey stage with a beautiful canopy, while at the back one finds a small restaurant, bar and restrooms. The Zuiderpark Theatre offers space for up to 1,000 visitors, which at one point proved even too small for The Hague African Festival. The cultural entrepreneur and business leader of the Zuiderpark Theatre Marijke Reuvers called it a windfall to host The Hague African Festival, as she loves the intensity of African music.
What happened at The Hague African Festival this time?
Like always The Hague African Festival has a varied and attractive programme, which offers something for everybody, even children.
THAF started off with the Children’s programme.
From noon till half pas one the children enjoyed a multi-cultural programme with music, Theatre, workshops, story-telling and a play-ground. Musical kids could show their parents and the public their talent on the big stage. In African tents workshops like djembé playing, learning how people in Africa live. A climbing and gliding play-house and merry-go-round was there for the active kids.
After the kids programme it was time for ‘The Hague Talent’. THAF had opened up the opportunity for talented The Hague groups or individuals, preferably with an African connection to show what they had to offer. After a selection they were given a workshop on presenting the Saturday before The Hague African Festival and coached by the multi-talented Augustina Austin alias MS.ABA, a.o. singer-songwriter, fashion promoter and more.
The Hague talent offered a mixture of music groups and singers, with understandably mostly using contemporary rap-style.
DJ-Eric was of course around to fill in interludes, but also have his own show of his incredibly varied and extensive collection of Africa-wide music.
The official opening of THAF took place at four o’clock and featured a short introduction and an African libation.
The Cape Verdian Diasporan group RABASA, were first to perform followed by others.
Rabasa is a typical exponent of the Cape Verdian diaspora. They have lived in the vicinity of the Dutch harbour city of Rotterdam for many years now. In this city the success of a band that is now a respected guest of international podia and festivals, started.
The group consists of the four brothers, João, Jorge, Tó and Angelito Ortet with Terezinha Fernandes as lead vocalist and supporting musicians-instrumentalists Paulo Bouwman, Kabiné Traoré, “Tagus” and Hans de Lange.
Their performance got many people enthusiastically dance in front of the stage, with even a synchronic group dance.
EBOU GAYE from The Gambia is a drummer and sabra-player and member of the famous griot family Gaye Mbye from Banjul. I have known him for some years as an African traditional drummer based in Rotterdam. I was surprised to see him and his band Boka Halat playing very energetic music, which caused some of the audience joining him dancing with feet kicking high in the air.
DJ ERIC and THAF also belong together, as he keeps the music coming whether as interlude or in his own disco show. His East African Sound is one the most versatile entertaining bands in The Netherlands.
KYKYEKU is a rising start, a Ghanaian guitar wizard, who combines the traditional palmwine music with highlife and afrobeat.
NEWEN is a Chilean band using vibrant afrobeat in the spirit of Fela Kuti with, yes of course, some excitingly dressed female performers.
WASIFU a Congolese band is almost a regular and loved by the crowd and given the honour to close the festival.
THE Hague African Festival before, now and in 2018
“The Hague African Festival, a glorious Phoenix!” I wrote in the September2009 issue of The African Bulletin (TAB) after watching the first THAF at the ‘Roggeveld’ in the Zuiderpark in July that year. It rose from the ashes of the “Delft African Festival”, which had started in 1983 by reportedly Oko Drammeh. It continued for twenty years till 2004 when the Delft city lost interest and withdrew their support. The SANKOFA Foundation and Oxfam Novib organized it for the last time at Delft in 2007. The first THAF had stars like Guinean Mori Kante, Zambian Chiwoniso and Dutch Tiken Jah Fakoly to mention a few.
“The Hague African festival and more..” was the title of my column in TAB of July 2014. THAF had grown in six years to an extended event over three days in multiple locations. It included a performance by Fatouma Diawarra with a full Residence (The Hague) Orchestra in the Dr. Anton Philips Hall. On a stage at Het Plein the Nubish Cultural Band, the Burundi Drummers and DJ Eric performed, while at the Filmhuis ‘Sexy Money’ was screened.
THAF in 2018 would be the tenth edition and as George Duncan, Director of the Sankofa Foundation said in an interview: “We will certainly celebrate our anniversary in grand style. We might bring back some of the big stars of previous festivals.”
The Hague and THAF belong together said George Duncan in 2014 and that has been proven. Given that the promoters and sponsors can be kept interested or new ones attracted, THAF can go from strength to strength.
Success of a festival depends largely on the right and timely publicity, which was this time even more outstanding. The interviews were a nice tough. Another critical condition is the right stimulating presenter which in the person of Deborah Cameron became the entertaining life of the festival, a show by itself.
I and old and new friends I spoke to certainly enjoyed this edition of THAF and will look forward to the tenth anniversary edition next year.
*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org