Review – The 5th Annual Mpumalanga Cultural Xperience: Soul Session

Mpumalanga closed off this past weekend with a glorious day of celebration, courtesy of its Department of Culture, Sport and Recreation. With reference to modern day clubbing culture, it was quite refreshing to experience a beautiful day out in an aesthetically pleasing environment- the Lowveld Botanical Gardens located in the capital of the province, Mbombela. This was the 5th instalment of the Mpumalanga Cultural Xperience and well deserving of the festivities to honour this achievement. Impressively, the event adhered to Covid-19 rules and guidelines ensuring the protection of attendees as outlined in current national regulations.

Hosted by Mr. Celani Dube and Miss Lungile Mhango, the department treated patrons to a soulful session incorporating performances by classic Afro-fusion band, Stimela which brought the audience to their feet reminiscently at their performance of old school hit ‘Me and Mrs Jones’. Dressed in theme reflecting the vintage era when soul and jazz music flourished in the country, spectators enjoyed a line-up of artists ranging from local musicians including former Idols winner, Musa and Reshen Music, to Afro-pop musical duos Blaq diamond and Mafikizolo to name some of the talent that graced the stage. Music has always brought people together, formed and strengthened relationships and it was truly awe-inspiring witnessing strangers bond over the sounds of their youth or simply their enjoyment of these genres of music. The hosts did not hesitate to take the audience to church with a mix of gospel music honouring the Sabbath and allowing attendants some time to relax or praise if they wished to.

Although this event may seem concerned with entertaining the masses, the subtle goal underlying the consistent procession of the show and engagement of the community can be aligned with the promotion of local tourism. The national lockdown has affected the tourism industry in one of the worst ways and getting South Africans back into the routine of travelling and accessing parts of Mpumalanga without fear of the virus has not been a smooth transition. Ultimately, an invitation of individuals from across the country to this event encourages the utilisation of local services including, but not limited to, hotels, transportation, restaurants and attractions. Patrons were motivated to go out (with caution, of course) and support the many services that the Mpumalanga tourism industry has to offer, and to follow the Department of Sports, Culture and Recreation’s ‘gig guide’ including the Comedy Xperience show hosted on December 3rd at the Emnotweni Arena.

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The Cultural Xperience took it a step further by granting local visual artists, designers and an assortment of vendors a platform on which to display their products on site. Each stall with a unique story to tell in line with how they are fiercely contributing to the economic culture within Mpumalanga. One stall hosted by visual artist, Mr. John Ncube, featured a captivating exhibition of visual artistry in the form of paintings. A noteworthy piece that stood beside him in alignment with the soulful theme of the Mpumalanga Cultural Xperience was a portrait depicting the iconic late South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela trumpeting away on stage. This artist essentially captured a piece of musical culture and transformed it into an immortal piece of visual literature, then served it to the attendants of the event.  Mr. Ncube explained how he primarily does garden work and makes room for his art whenever opportunity presents itself. Needless to say, Mpumalanga is deserving of accolades in undiscovered and uncelebrated art in all forms. Optimistically, events like these will bring artists closer to their deserved recognition and ultimate appreciation.

Aspiring fashion designer ‘Ironsister by fatima’ displayed 18th century inspired clothing and noted how important events like these are for people like her who are constantly seeking spaces within which they can show their specific type of work. Fashion has always been a central part of culture in any community and Mpumalanga is no different, and the Mpumalanga DCSR seemingly values the significance of this aspect in the recreational development of the province.

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A small business van was spotted among the vendors founded by a local resident and representing the role of food in modern day culture and economic participation. Surf ‘n Fries is a unique addition to the food industry in Mbombela, providing a distinct take on the traditional way ‘chips’ are usually served. Interestingly enough, this event showcased the multifaceted culture of Mpumalanga residents through the diverse representation of the people as well as small businesses.

The 5th annual Mpumalanga Cultural Xperience: Soul Sessions was a remarkable function of its own kind, running its own league and designed for the soulful niche audience within the province. The incorporation of various modes of present day culture outside of ethnic heritage truly represented what the department stands for- establishing culture as an economic investment. Covid-19 served as a limitation to the heights that this concept could have been taken, but its presence allowed a more intimate show to proceed displaying the connectedness of the people through the appreciation of truly South African music and artistic culture. This event is destined to elevate the culture and social development of the province. For this reason, a huge standing ovation for the team and mind power behind this movement is necessary.

Images courtesy: Malumbi Sindane

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