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Why Ubumuntu Arts Festival Would Be Virtual In 2020 – Hope Azeda

Hope Azeda is a known face in the arts scene in Rwanda and East Africa for close to two decades. She is unarguably one of the leading figures in contemporary Rwandan theatre scene.

Azeda is the founder (amongst other official hats she adorns) of Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts which is
a leading theatre company in Rwanda.

Mashirika Troupe have performed more than eighty performances in Rwanda, East Africa, Africa and globally. From Rwanda’s Kwibuka

Commemorations, G8 World Summit: Edinburgh 2005; to tours in the UK; the biennial festival in Sweden in 2008; Los Angeles, USA. Just to name a few.

According to Mashirika and Ubumuntu Arts Festival official websites and other online sources; Hope Azeda’s work as a writer, performer and teacher has taken her to many theatres and universities around the world, including the Biennial Festival in Stockholm and the Caravan Festival in Copenhagen, the International Festival of the Arts in Sophia, Bulgaria and tours of the USA, Canada, Austria, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Italy Australia, South Africa and Northern Ireland.

She has also been an artist-in-residence at the Institute for the Arts and Civic Dialogue in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA. She is also an alumnus of Brown University International Advanced Research Institute and a member of the Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab.

In 2014, she was the Creative Director for the 20th genocide commemoration in Rwanda. She has also served as casting director for several movies, notably; Sometimes in April (starring Idris Elba), Shake Hands with the Devil, Beyond the Gates, and others.

Hope Azeda is the founder and curator of Ubumuntu Arts Festival. The Ubumuntu Arts Festival came
about as a result of Hope Azeda being a fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI-ASPEN-
Institute.)

Hope Azeda had an extensive interview with Dolapo Aina where the discussion was about the forthcoming sixth Ubumuntu Arts Festival which due to the current corona pandemic would be virtual from Friday, July 19 – Sunday, July 21, 2020. Do read the excerpts.

How long have you been in the arts’ scene and how long has that experience been in Rwanda? I have been in the art scene for as long as I have lived as a person. For me, it has been that space that lets me play as a child and help me dream and be as a person, possibilities beyond my imaginations.

So, it has been and as long as I have lived, I have always written poems, etc. But, professionally, on the art scene, it has been twenty years since year 2000.

You founded the annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival some years ago. Do shed more light into how it
all began, the highs and lows.

Ubumuntu Arts Festival came out of a leadership project. I was a fellow in the African Leadership Institute and you are identified and pushed to do more than you would usually do. They push people with the tag line “From success to significance.”

And it is a two-year course and when you are signing out with an arts festival called Ubumuntu Arts Festival. Ubumuntu means humanity and it was created for the sake of festival takes place at the Kigali Genocide Memorial which is a very great space people who want to tap on what humanity is because, at the Genocide Memorial, you have
about three hundred thousand victims laid there. And to create a festival around the space; it is not something you just jump in; you need to understand the space, the history (and you cannot go wrong.)

Since the festival takes place in this space, you have to go by the values of the Genocide Memorial itself which means the festival is free (this is a big challenge for us in the sense that if we make it free, how would the festival run?) You cannot sell alcohol or cigarettes and if you don’t sell.

These kinds of products, how would the festival run? You cannot sell alcohol on board. When you bring corporate firms onboard, you have to brand that kind of brand in this space. This was the kind of challenge we faced and that was the genesis of the festival. If we are going to talk about humanity, we need to go beyond the box and not organise a normal event but an event that would be a pathway or a channel for introspective path for human beings that would come and watch this festival.

With the coronavirus pandemic which gripped the world, how have the Mashirika Troupe coped and how have you adapted to the new realities being experienced?

We have been mapping out and trying migrating to the digital world because we are physical people (we love to touch, eye contact with people.) Our methodology of performance and line of art, indicate that we use touch as a tool for it gives us tools for social transformation.

So, most of what we do is mass sensitisation about behaviour changes. You can do behaviour change with just one
physical person. We have been looking for a way to migrate to the digital space. How do we still curate the human mindset to the direction we want our tomorrow to be without meeting them physically?

So, it affected us in many ways. For instance, we had so many contracts for community outreach projects and all that were halted.

It has been difficult because all this is on pause until the social distancing rules stop because a crowd is a crowd. A good example is the fact that you cannot go to a refugee camp that has three thousand people and tell them you are doing social distancing.

You have to adapt to how social distancing is been done there. The same thing goes for markets. You see, the art and the work we do are like pulling and the bee; it always pulls people closer to it.

For our art, you need to be closer to us to listen and to engage. It is a big challenge. Do you envision theatre groups and troupes fully digital post COIV19?

Absolutely and it is already happening. During the lockdown, we have seen people picking their phones and doing poetry, dance, music etc. We have seen disc jockeys (DJs) doing Instagram Live sessions.

It is a new norm that people are now beginning to adapt to. And trust human beings, they would always find a way out of their problems. And I see a lot of it going digital.

Researchers said that life would not go back to normal after the corona pandemic and we are seeing that. Since the
lockdown in Rwanda in March 2020, I have been on my feet trying to exist because what coivd19 cannot do is take the art from me.

I have the art with and within me and we are all looking for a way to migrate online. I think in the future we are going to have half of the arts practitioners on the ground and the other half online, and it would evolve to the digital space eventually.

What are the plans for Ubumuntu Arts Festival in 2020 considering the way the world has
evolved?

We have tried to stick to our story and how the festival used to run for three days at the Kigali Genocide Memorial with an opening of conferences and receptions with DJs with two powerful productions and ending with another DJ playing music. So, we have stuck to our game.

What is happening now is that it is going fully digital and it would be airing from 3 pm to 5pm Central African
Time (CAT.) And we have about twenty-seven performances and twenty countries onboard. Also, it would be run by different technicians around the globe. In the past, the technicians used to travel here but are now in their different locations running the festival.

Why is this year’s theme; stop, breathe, live?

This year’s theme came out of observation. In March 2019, anytime I observed and watched performances on social media, there was a sense of rush; there was a rush to everything. Instant lifestyle, instant internet, instant fame. And I thought life cannot run like this.

When you are born, you are given the gift of breath which goes with the pulse of your heart and there is a beat in this heart.

The moment you against this beat nonstop, the heart stops and people die. So, my thinking was that we are seeing a lot of mental breakdowns, mental health issues, depressions, strokes etc and all that these incidents indicate is that we need to relax but the lifestyles we are living is hindering us from relaxing.

Also, we are not having enough conversation about environmental issues. We were looking at themes centering on lifestyle and industrial pollutions.

That was where our aim was in terms of breath; but when 2020 came, it hit us in our face. And now, as a festival, we are now at a stop (in line with the theme) and we are trying to recharge and see which other way can we do this festival, so that it can never die.

This year 2020 looked like we had that element of prophecy as artistes who feel and respond, and when you do that
over and over again; of always feeling things before you approach anything, it helps you turn the same page with the world.

You may not know but I think our theme is on the same page with where the world is right now because breath is on everyone’s lips right now and people have begun to realise that we took it for granted.

What should delegates (who are now online and can’t be present) expect during the three day Ubumuntu Arts Festival?
Amazing works and a true testimony from humanity’s side from the face of the art that listens; history had it that human beings are born with a mass of resilience.

We have resisted (and not been crushed) and that regardless of how this pandemic had hit the industry; festivals can still run in different formats but they have run.

I think the delegates who would be watching online should expect magical experiences from across the globe. We have panels, panel discussions, speakers, exhibitions. We have an event app called whole and that is where people are registering and people should go to Ubumuntu arts festival’s website and register and be part of this beautiful
conversation.

In this article:
Hope AzedaUbumuntu
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