|A festival to celebrate the creative, artistic and intellectual expressions of people living around Lake Victoria in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania will be held in Kisumu, Kenya, between May 26 and June 1, 2005.ONDEGO ONDEGO reports.
Besides celebrating a wealth of talent manifested in music, dance, puppetry, theatre, film, literature, religion, art, design, fashion and sport in western Kenya, Lake Victoria Festival of the Arts 2005 (LAFESTA’05) will also identify new talents and market it to potential investors and promoters. This is likely to result in sales and income generation that would improve the socio-economic standards of the people here. The region around the source of the River Nile and Africa’s largest lake may be the cradle of creativity, but its talented sons and daughters are forced to live and practise in the commercial and political capital, Nairobi, that offers better career prospects than western Kenya that lacks infrastructure like theatres, galleries, and museums. In fact, it is estimated that two out of every three creative people one meets in Nairobi are likely to be from the shores of Lake Victoria popularly known as nyanza or inyanza.
Many of these city-based artists will return home to lead the celebrations at which popular artists from Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam have been invited. “LAFESTA’05 will give artists a chance to exhibit and sell their talents and products. We are also planning to create a website to market them to the world after the event,” says filmmaker Albert Wandago who also chairs the LAFESTA’05 organising committee. LAFESTA’05 will also seek to expose western Kenya’s unique but largely unknown cultural sites with a view to opening up the area as a tourist destination; this will be achieved through the anticipated media interest and coverage in the event; LAFESTA’05 plans to take visitors and guests of the four-day festival to these landmarks during the event.
“The ultimate aim will be to sensitise people living around heritage sites like Thim Lich, Simbi Nyaima, the “Weeping” Stone of Maragoli, and Kakamega Forest of their socio-cultural importance, and how these sites can be better preserved and protected to generate revenue for them,” Wandago says. “Visitors would pay modest fees to see these sites just as they do at national parks and game reserves.”
Kakamega forest, for instance, is the largest single indigenous forest south of the Sahara and a remnant of the tropical rain forest that once covered East and Central Africa and still boasts unique fauna and flora. Among these are 27 species of snakes, seven species of primates, more than 380 plant varieties and 400 species of butterflies. The “weeping” Stone of Maragoli is a huge rock producing a constant stream of spring water that flows on its sides, spawning myths and legends among the residents. The Luyia community is known for the vibrant traditional dance known as the isukuti and traditional sporting events like bull and cock fighting.
Artists from western Kenya districts of Kisumu, Kisii, Vihiga, Kakamega, Busia, Eldoret, and Kericho dominate the cultural landscape of Kenya as dancers, musicians, writers, academics, scientists, film and theatre actors and directors, athletes and a host of other professionals but their region remains on the peripheries. In fact, Wandago laments, artists are some of the poorest people in Kenya. He adds that LAFESTA, whose theme is ‘Art is Wealth’ and is meant to become an annual event, is “to move the arts from pure entertainment to commercial space so that artists may earn decent living from their talent and contribute to the economy.” But LAFESTA’05 is not just a western Kenya affair.
“Through LAFESTA’05,” says Maseno University Vice-Chancellor Prof Frederick Onyango Ngao, “we hope to amplify not only the cultures of and arts of the Luo, the Luyia, the Gusii, the Kalenjin of the Kenyan lake region but we also intend to spread out and manifest the cultures of the lake shores in Uganda and Tanzania.” Saying the Asian community has played a “remarkable role in blending the cultures and the arts around the lake shore”, Prof Ngao says LAFESTA’05 will strive to portray the cultures of the Kenyan Asian and European communities alongside that of their black brothers and sisters.
Among the dignitaries to grace LAFESTA’05 will be US-based scholars Ali Mazrui and Otieno Adhiambo, Kora winning Afro-jazz musician Lydia Achieng Abura and urbanative artists Gidi Gidi-Maji Maji; Makerere University and University of Dar es Salaam; Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam Music Theatre Group and Zemkhala Dance Theatre Group; and Kenya’s Women in Participatory Education Theatre Group (WIPET).
Also participating will be writer Asenath Bole Odaga, puppeteer Philemon Odhiambo, sculptor Bill Kaigwa, politician Peter Anyang Nyong’o, and several traditional musicians and herbalists. LAFESTA’05 is an initiative of Kisumu Cultural Forum, a non-profit organisation, and Maseno University.