National Arts Festival 2019: Highlights from the stellar line-up and where you can get tickets

Makhanda - Held in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) from 27 June - 7 July 2019, the main programme for National Arts Festival forms part of a much broader offering of independent works and multiple focus areas for discussion and experience. 

It is a richly stimulating and thought-provoking journey through some of the issues at the top of artists’ minds and makes for a deep dive into what South Africa is grappling with and can reimagine if it has the will. 


Core to the mood of the 2019 programme is a desire to reflect on identity. From the rich celebrations of indigenous African music and dance to reworkings of classical and contemporary pieces, there is a desire to explore culture and connection, land and belonging.

As if a talisman for this journey, 2019 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance Kitty Phetla has collaborated with 2015 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz Nduduzo Makhathini for a dance titled Going Back To The Truth Of Space.

2019 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, Kitty P


The louder voice of Afro-centric and Afro-celebrant themes is echoed on through numerous works such as Jefferson Bobs Tshabala’s Ekasi Lam – An Ode To Kwaito, Un-Owed To Kwaito (theatre), which takes the audience into the heart of township life, and Amawethu (dance) that challenges slave-era stereotypes of traditional African spirituality as demonic and asks that we reconnect with our true culture.  

Nowhere is this growing affirmation of African culture and identity louder than on the music programme, which is filled with music from the African continent and a blending, remixing and repurposing of Western, contemporary or classical music into this landscape. From Ingoma Ka Tiyo Soga, a collaborative exploration of the 160-year-old works of intellectual, composer and evangelist Tiyo Soga by visual artist Sikhumbuzo Makandula and singer/songwriter Mthwakazi to Eastern Cape Divas with Afro-acoustic, indie-folk singer Nombasa Maqoko and jazz/performing artist Titi Luzipho.  

The Divas are joined by the Kwantu Choir, a combination of Rhodes students and the voices of the residents of Makhanda’s Rhini and Joza townships. The Eastern Cape Philharmonic Orchestra will present the Gala Concert and the Symphony Concert. Also, among those taking to the stage are South Africa’s globally recognised performers Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Drakensberg Boys Choir, Mafikizolo, the Springbok Nude Girls and Freshlyground as well as more.  


Moving to finding the humour in our very unique circumstances, South African comedians will sound out our nation’s psyche in The Very Big Comedy Show, hosted by Rob van Vuuren and featuring Loyiso Madinga, Tats Nkonzo, Mojak Lehoko and more.  

Continuing Conversations (visual art) challenges notions of who sees art and where, and considers the juxtaposition of power and powerlessness, identity and body politics, perceptions of the other and the exotic, memory, and the masks we wear. The exhibition is made up of about 40 works that have been selected from the extensive collections of the University of Johannesburg and MTN.

Artists on show include Gerard Bhengu, Reshada Crouse, Wilma Cruise, Phillemon Hlungwani, Maggie Laubser, Judith Mason, George Pemba, Cecil Skotnes, Irma Stern and Edoardo Villa. 

Brett Bailey’s much-anticipated Samson (theatre) puts the biblical story of Samson through a sensational treatment, bringing it into the 21st Century to explore the global underbelly of political extremism, inequality and violence.  

American actor and playwright Steven Fales brings Confessions Of A Mormon Boy (theatre) to the Festival. Inspired by his own true story, it follows the experience of a sixth generation Mormon who is excommunicated from the church when he comes out as gay. Sexuality and acceptance is also in the spotlight in Pink Money (dance), a collaboration between Swiss, Dutch and South African artists. 

Steven Fale from Confessions of a Mormon Boy
(Photos: Supplied/National Arts Festival)

Both of these works will resonate with the exciting new South African voice at #NAF2019 —the winner of the Distell National Playwright Competition, Koleka Putuma, who will interrogate structures and beliefs through her first adventure into playwriting in No Easter Sunday For Queers (theatre).  

German-Chinese choreographer Hannah Ma explores rituals that transcend cultural boundaries in Wanderer (dance) and also brings a light-hearted, poetic interpretation of the ballet Les Sylphides in Sylphides to the Main dance programme. Nigerian dancer, choreographer and activist Qudus Onikeku presents Spirit Child, another piece inspired by a literary work — this time Ben Okri’s classic,The Famished Road.

The Main Curated Film Programme, selected by Katarina Hedrén, is a journey across time and place. Many of the films on offer are African in both content and origin but otherwise tackle multiple ideas and stories.

A series of musical documentaries include a fascinating look at the life of Afrobeat creator Fela Kuti in Finding Fela (2014) and Gimme Shelter (1970),labelled ‘the best rock film ever made’, classical fans will enjoy contemporary films of the exquisite productions of Faust and The Taming Of The Shrew from the Royal Opera House Collection.


According to their official website, National Arts Festival ticket sales open in May. Select, exclusive early bookings opening in April.


ONLINE: If it’s your first time buying tickets via our website, you will need to register – it’s a once-off, simple process. Once you are registered, follow the easy steps to make your booking. You can pay by Visa or Mastercard credit card, Instant EFT or SnapScan. Please note that website bookings attract an online booking fee of R2 per transaction.

Note that once you add tickets to your basket, you have 30 minutes to pay for them before they’re removed. It’s a good idea to know what you want to see before you start booking.

CALL CENTRE: Phone the Festival Call Centre 0860 002 004 and book your tickets with one of our friendly box office operators – you may use your credit card to make payment or make an EFT or direct deposit payment.

EMAIL OR FAX: Complete the booking form that you get with the printed programme, and return it according to the instructions on it. Once your booking has been made, your reservation will be emailed to you and you will have 48 hours in which to provide us with proof of payment.

GROUP BOOKINGS: Large groups are encouraged to book through the Grahamstown Box Office – contact the Box Office Manager on 046 603 1186 / 1163 or email your bookings to Concessions are available when buying 10 or more tickets for a single performance – Fringe shows only.