Zimbabweans do love their festivals, and come September/October, the country positively EXPLODES with music, dance, theater, poetry and crafts. Hundreds of artists descend on Zim from Africa and abroad to show off their talents — and show revelers a good time. Here are 10 of the best festivals, with apologies to the many excellent events that did not get included!
1) Harare International Festival of the Arts
HIFA is not only one of the largest festivals in Zimbabwe, but in all of Africa. It started in 1999 and occurs every year in late April/early May. Participants are treated to six days of films, plays, visual art and musical performances. In 2013 Senegalese musician Baaba Maal was the main act of the festival.
2) Zimbabwe International Carnival
Party in the streets! The first annual Zimbabwe International Carnival (also knows as the Harare International Carnival) took place in late May 2013 and brought color, dance and song to Harare. Organized by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the week-long Caribbean-style carnival included a beauty pageant, a gospel show, and a samba night, among other events.
3) Zimbabwe International Film Festival
For 10 days in mid-December, ZIFF showcases dozens of feature films, short films and documentaries made by and about Africans. The festival, which takes place in Harare, also offers workshops, discussions and other cultural/educational events related to film. Featured guests in the past have included top South African filmmaker and screen actor Vusi Kunene.
4) Chimanimani Arts Festival
Chimanimani, a small town in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands, swells to 10 times its size every August during Zimbabwe’s biggest free-entry festival. Visitors from Harare, Mutare, Masvingo and even bordering countries come to see three days of music, art, crafts, theater, dance, film, and poetry/storytelling. The festival is launched every year with an opening ceremony presided over by chiefs from Chimanimani.
5) Shoko Festival
This six-day festival in Harare bills itself as a “living experiment in urban culture, free expression and positive social change.” Comedy nights, poetry slams, photo exhibitions, and live hip-hop and reggae music are among the many events on the program. This festival attracts up to 6,000 people over four days, and it’s been growing every year since its inception in 2011. Shoko usually takes place in September.
6) Intwasa Arts Festival
The Intwasa Arts Festival, which just reached its 19-year anniversary, hosts regional and international artists from Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, the USA, the UK, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Belgium, Wales and Zambia. The six-day event based in Bulawayo takes place in September and offers music, poetry, theater, dance, arts and crafts.
7) Chibuku Neshamwari
Traditional dance groups from different parts of the country compete for US$9000 in prize money during the annual Chibuku Neshamwari festival, which takes place in Harare Gardens every September. Hundreds of dancers converge to perform popular dances such as mbakumba, mbende, bira, setapa and nyau. 2013 marked the festival’s 50th anniversary.
8) Zimbabwe International Book Fair
ZIBF, the biggest annual literature event in Zimbabwe, struggled during the economic down times of the mid 2000’s and was cancelled a few times, but is now starting to bounce back. In addition to stalls showcasing books, magazines, journals, CDs, and DVDs from around the continent, there are also demos of printing and publishing technology, as well as numerous readings and workshops. Admission is free, and the fair usually happens in late September in Harare, Bulawayo and/or Mutare. However dates and locations are subject to change, so be sure to check their website for the latest information.
9) Midlands Arts And Cultural Festival (MACfest)
Everything from jazz to theater to writers workshops are what you’ll find at MACfest in Gweru, which featured over 100 artists in 2013. Also offered are cultural tours to Dhlodhlo (Danan’ombe) Ruins, Nalatale Ruins, and the National Museum. Joe Wailer, the festival’s creative director, describes the week-long multi-disciplinary event “as a hive of happiness.” MACfest is held in September in Gweru, which is halfway between Harare and Bulawayo.
10) Lion Lager Summer Beer Festival
The Summer Beer Festival, which is sponsored by Lion Lager, is a massive music event that showcases reggae, jazz and hip hop artists from both Zimbabwe and abroad. In previous years, P-Square, Beenie Man and Fantan Mojah have appeared, and you can bet there will be a battle of the DJs. The main shows are held at Harare’s Glamis Arena, and a series of smaller events are held in university campuses around the country. Though it’s dubbed the “summer” fest, last year’s event took place in late October.