Hotel Inter-Continental Leipzip is buzzing.
As one appreciative guest put it: “Kenya has given us a
wonderful surprise. It has
been some time, if ever, since we have seen any show of this quality and
beauty.” Yet another
vibrant African Heritage Festival performance is drawing to a close.
The audience, perhaps more used to the negative images of Africa
so often portrayed by the media, has been almost overwhelmed by the
array of delicious food, the joyous music and dance, the superb
fashions, fabrics and artifacts presented during an evening of
celebration of things African.
May and June this year, the African Heritage Festival toured nine major
cities in Germany and Austria in probably the most ambitious and most
successful attempt to promote Africa as a tourist venue yet seen in
Europe. With the support of
the Kenya Tourist Office and the relevant Embassies, and with
sponsorship from Inter-Continental and Forum Hotels and Lufthansa, the
models of African Heritage, the singers and dancers of Jabali Afrika and
the chefs from the Hotel Inter-Continental Nairobi took their
extravaganza on the road.
them in a caravan of buses and lorries were 3,000 kg of costumes,
textiles, exotic trees and plants, scenic backdrops, lighting, catwalks,
banners, musical instruments, art and artefacts.
Special supplies of food and drink were constantly being flown in
for the chefs to prepare the freshest of buffets for each performance.
the tour is now over and Jabali Africa went on alone to conquer America
- the full African Heritage Festival will regroup for the celebrations
of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations to be held at
the world headquarters for Habitat, Nairobi.
The following eye witness account of the Festival on tour,
however, gives a good idea of the impact it had on an unsuspecting
is the first time I’ve been in Germany when it wasn’t grey and
raining. We have brought
you the sunshine and colour of Kenya.”
Standing in front of a huge mural of Mount Kenya, Jennifer Opondo,
the spokesperson for the Kenyan Tourist Office in Bonn, entices visitors
to the Hotel Inter-Continental Leipzip to enter into the spirit of the
African Heritage Festival. She
is surrounded by other beautiful depictions of game parks and beaches
with swaying palm trees, set off by an exotic collection of real Kenyan
our food,” she invites the guests.
“It’s not packaged, but made fresh every day.” The chefs open steaming silver dishes of Swahili fish cooked
in coconut milk, Molo lamb, roast eland and crocodile. Behind the buffet tables are banks of exotic flowers and
mouth watering desserts and fresh fruits.
Roseabela Ashiruka flips freshly cooked chapatis while Titus
Kalulu stirs prawns pili pili in front of the waiting quests.
everyone has eaten their fill and the Kenyan Ambassador to Germany and the Kenyan Minister of Wildlife and Tourism have welcomed their guests,
the audience begins to settle. The
huge ballroom is draped in African textiles and banners and decorated
with more scenes of Africa painted by the artist Omondi Sospeter.
Jabali Africa files on the stage wearing spectacular traditional
costumes and headgear, followed by the lovely Lois Mutua in a
hand-painted gown of Ghanaian Adinkira cloth, with a towering turban by
designer Nike Seven Seven of Nigeria.
As Lois sings, the last clatter of cutlery dies away as her voice
begins to cast an African spell.
lights dim and change from the red of morning to the evening hues of
purple and gold. Jabali Afrika’s mournful flutes give way to a
crescendo of percussion to announce the African Heritage herald with his
ivory horn from Guinea. Eighteen
models, accompanied only by slow, sombre drumbeats, process through the
room in magnificent creations in Kente and Adinkira cloth.
the mood changes: lights redden and Mickey Ragos, the longest reigning
Mt. Kenya of all time, leaps on to the stage in an astonishing beaded
elephant mask from Cameroon and begins to flex his muscles.
He is rapidly joined by two other male dancers in brilliant red
feathered headdresses. The audience gasps at first before breaking into
loud and spontaneous applause. Now
“plastic Boy” Maina takes over to perform unbelievable contortions
while other acrobats and jugglers cavort around him.
Festival continues through a fantasy of Pan African costumes and
fashions, using the hand-woven and hand-printed fabrics of Africa, which
are true works of art and worthy of the museum it is hoped will be built
to house them. Jabali
Afrika reappear to close the first half of the show with a frenzied
dance, during which the costumes flap and swoop around them like large
second half opens with a collection of patchwork by Sheila Murumbi and
Alan Donovan of African Heritage, followed by a group of models wearing
beautiful hand dyed indigo garments, accented with red, from Phoebe
Ayuko. Erica Boswell, the
founder of Jax, contributes a sassy group of printed, beaded, bark-cloth
garments and these are followed by a sensational grass gown, worn by top
model Catherine Karl, and some more contemporary wear by graphic award
Maasai warriors in towering ostrich feather headdresses escort the model
PJ on to the stage wearing a spectacular wedding dress of bark-cloth
trimmed with porcupine quills. The design team of Sally Macharia and
Carol Wahome won the Smirnoff fashion award with this entry.
When not designing clothes, Carol is an avid rally driver and is
one of the few women ever to have finished the grueling East African
seven gorgeous Kenyan models reappear in gowns of leather, suede, silk
and satin, hand beaded by the Kikuyu, Wakamba and Maasai women of Kenya.
They are followed by the dancers Rodido and Diana in an exuberant rendition of the Luo dance, Orutu, before stilt dancer Mohammed Hussein
clambers on to the catwalk, only avoiding the banks of spotlights with
the finale, Mickey Ragos, Justo and Josek Aseko come to the fore in red
costumes. Daggers and spears glinting, they stalk into the audience and
return to the stage with their prey - enthusiastic guests who join the
entire trope that is now assembled..
Jennifer Opondo introduces everyone and the audience launches
into the umpteenth standing ovation of the evening.
shows were, understandably, well attended throughout the tour and besides
the live audience who were lucky enough to witness the African Heritage
Festival in Leipzip, Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Baden
and Salzburg, many, many more were reached through radio and television
shows, newspaper and magazine coverage.
the name African Heritage had long been recognized by the fashion world
as being at the vanguard of fabric and jewellery design, and their
products are on sale in the finest shops in New York, London and Tokyo,
this was not purely a showcase for them, nor just for Kenya.
Many countries around the African continent were represented.
Europe was, at last, being given an insight into just some of the
dynamic creativity of African people.
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