John Maytham pens his thoughts on performances at the National Arts Festival

CapeTalk presenter John Maytham has been impressed by the display of talent at the National Arts Festival 2016.

Below he reviews some of the events that he has attended so far and describes the mood on the streets of Grahamstown.

TIGERLILY: JOSIE FIELD AND LAURIE LEVINE

It was a soft and velvet start to The National Festival of the Arts 2016 on Sunday evening after arrival from Cape Town. 70 minutes of gentle listening in the company of Tigerlily - a blues-tinged folk duo from Egoli.

Josie Field and Laurie Levine joined forces about three years ago after some individual success as solo singer-songwriters. They've built a very good reputation on the festival and tour circuit. Josie has the smoky contralto blues voice, Laurie is more folk tinged with country.

Between them they have a dozen SAMA nominations, and their first co-written album, the eponymous Tigerlily, has just been released and forms the bulk of their show. The songs are catchy - melodic and rich in emotional lyrics and musicality, and the two raven-haired songstresses perform then with wit and brio. The two voices harmonise together beautifully, and each is very able on a variety of guitars, which they swop regularly.

"There isn't room in the car for two of everything" quips Laurie. A kick drum, blues harmonica and even a brief appearance by a kazoo add texture to the sound. In addition to their own songs, they do a kick-ass mashup of Nancy Sinatra's Boots with Time Warp from Rocky Horror; as well as blowing the roof off the Graham Hotel with a rousing version of Dolly Parton's I am the Seeker. They deserved the standing ovation they received from the capacity crowd.

UNIVERSITY OF JOHANNESBURG CHOIR

Next up was another celebration of the magic and wonder of the human voice - this time the University of Johannesburg choir in the rather grander surroundings of the Guy Butler Auditorium. Three different 'sets' in the marvellously uplifting programme of just more than an hour. Western spiritual music, followed by Western popular music, and then an African section comprising both sacred and traditional songs.

Common to all three sections was an exceptional purity of voice, total control of harmony through the range from bass to mezzo-soprano, and a wholehearted emotional involvement in the music from the roughly 50-strong choir, and both conductors. Especially memorable was the hauntingly beautiful setting to music by young contemporary American composer, Paul Mealor, of the medieval poem, A Spotless Rose.

The audience delighted in the sly wit of the approach taken by conductor, Renette Bouwer, to Randy Newman's Short People and a most un-Peggy Lee like Fever. The African section was conducted by Sidumo Nyamazele and he rocked the house with a fabulous tribute in song and dance to Mahlatini and the Mahotella Queens. I wasn't alone in a disappointingly small audience in responding to the music with both tears and laughter, and a renewed appreciation of just what a wonderful thing is the human voice.

THINKFEST!

Monday started with a difficult but rewarding two sessions at the Thinkfest section of the Festival. First up a panel discussion about the hashtag movement and student politics of the last year or so; followed a short while later by the screening of a documentary film, Disrupt, made by journalism students about the week on campus that followed the release in April of the #RUReference list; and the turmoil on campus and confrontations with police that followed.

In both sessions there were some very, very angry black voices raised at the ills besetting the country and the campus. Difficult to listen to, but important to hear. A reminder to those present, if such reminder was necessary, that the protests might have muted, and the marches been put on hold, but the sense of grievance and exclusion that underpinned the hashtag movements still burns most fiercely in the minds of many students and some members of the academy.

CHASING SHADOWS

And then to the Centenary Hall at St Andrews College for my proud Dad moment. A multi-theatrical arts performance, with the concentration on dance, called Chasing Shadows by The Cape Academy of Performing Arts. Conflict of interest alert - my daughter is a final year student there. Setting aside paternal bias, the choreography was thrilling and inventive, and the ability of the young students to realise the choreography fully professional in approach and ability. Allowing a (little) bit of bias to creep in, Emma was brilliant.

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