Is The Hilton Arts Festival Still a Thing?

South Africa’s most expensive private school hosts an art festival every year, and in 2018, overbearing yummy mummies in yoga pants got trashed by John Vlismas and the Drakensburg Boy’s Choir made everybody cry. Lumumba Mthembu and Niamh Walsh-Vorster saw the whole thing.

 

Images by Niamh Walsh-Vorster

 

The organisers of the 2018 Hilton Arts Festival saw fit to hire us a car to commute between Durban and Howick for the duration of the festivities. Accommodation in Maritzburg would have been convenient but I suspect it would have been awkward too. The variety of racists we encountered on our daily trips to Hilton and back ranged from apartheid-flag-bearers at rest stops, to smug one-percenters on the campus of South Africa’s most expensive school.

    John Vlismas tore into the upper class on opening night at the Falcon Tent. The veteran comedian made sure that he did not leave with anything left to wonder as he interrogated the excesses of KZN’s glitterati. He went after the housewives in yoga pants, who shop and run errands in SUVs: “Where are you going with all that horsepower?” is a question that has crossed most sensible minds. The bone Vlismas had to pick with white power was magnified by the venue he was allocated. How, at a school where the fees are R280 000/year, is one of South Africa’s premier comedians housed in a tent? The question boggled the mind as I took notes on a plastic garden chair, under a half-empty canopy.

 

 

    The organisers had deemed it appropriate to house Hilton College music students in the Chapel before Vlismas’s The Good Racist, so the contrast in surrounds – from an ornate place of worship to a flimsy outdoor tent – was stark to behold. Perhaps the authorities did not want any desecration of their holy places with profanity. A shining crucifix hung on stage and bibles littered the pews, as a respectful audience comprised mostly of parents, watched their sons sing and play their hearts out. The standout performers of Going Solo were Avumile Mcunu on piano, Nathaniel Stoffel on vocals, and Kgosi Pule on the keyboard. So supportive were the parents of their kids that Avumile’s mother and father approached me after the show to make sure of a glowing review. Another father did the same on the following day, and I was happy to set him at ease. You do not invest hundreds of thousands in your child’s musical education without some positive reinforcement, I guess.

 

 

     Saturday belonged to the Springboks as I flew through the market high on the victory the national rugby team had scored over the All Blacks that morning. Once my feet had settled and gaze returned to eye-level, I was free to take in the variety of the festival wares on offer. You would think that only high-end stalls would be allowed to peddle their goods on the hallowed grounds of the most exclusive private school in the land, but the counterfeit commodities typical of any South African CBD, could be found alongside gluten-free foods and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

    The KZN All-Stars Big Band was just as motley in its arrangement, as it assimilated instrumentalists from bands including those of the SAPS, UKZN, and KZN Youth Orchestra. Their big-band sophistication was supplemented by a smooth vocalist who changed outfits before every song, and two Latin dancers who brought energy to some of the bossa nova numbers.

 

 

    Sunday was the best day as we were pleasantly surprised by a show that had been booked for us by members of the festival’s media team. The King of Broken Things turned out to be a queen, as a young lead actress embodied the existential struggle of a teenage boy in a broken home. Her solo performance lent gravitas to a script that tended toward glibness at times. The only pity is that her name was not presented in the festival programme (online or in print), neither was it announced before or after the show. We can take solace in the probability that talent like hers will not remain anonymous for long.

 

 

    The coup de theatre of the 2018 Hilton Arts Festival was the Drakensberg Boys Choir, who underlined why they are headliners the world over. The well-drilled boys did not make a single mistake as they balanced the intricacies of choreography, with technical choral demands. Several standing ovations followed pieces in English, Xhosa, Sotho, and Afrikaans. It is sad that we were nearly denied this spectacle by the gatekeepers of the festival, who did not want to let us into the venue before they realised we were media. I wondered whether they realised that they were there to serve festival attendees, and not power-trip over who can or cannot enter as the doors close.  

 

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Comments
9 Responses to “Is The Hilton Arts Festival Still a Thing?”
  1. Anthony Stonier says:

    The Arts battle to survive at the best of times. This irresponsible and inane ( I will elucidate presently ) hack ‘journalism’ is precisely what is NOT ‘a thing’.
    The expensive private school provides a magnificent setting for the Festival. For Free. That is ‘a thing’.
    It is called The Hilton Arts Festival. NOT The Hilton College Arts Festival. The generous sponsorship of a free setting with all attendant support and facilities is invaluable.
    To assume that the Hilton Arts Festival is ‘Elitist’ purely on an assumption of association with a private school is outrageous and merely highlights the complete lack of research that this adolescent scribbling enjoys.
    I could go on but I am afraid that any further comment by me executed in complete sentences coupled with the novelty of grammar and punctuation, will tax the puerile and ignorant little minds that thought it might be edgy to attempt an attack on this 26 year old festival. Put your crayons away, go and sit in the corner and be quiet. Grow up and learn to know a little less.

  2. Radmin says:

    Can’t wait for more people who go to an arts festival once a year to tell us how wrong we are.
    Should be mildly entertaining for a bit.

  3. Ashleigh says:

    What a pathetic article. If not for the first comment by Anthony Stonier, this would have been a total waste of time.

  4. Anne Fettameen says:

    The Arts battle to survive at the best of times. This irresponsible and inane ( I will elucidate presently ) hack ‘journalism’ is precisely what is NOT ‘a thing’.
    The expensive private school provides a magnificent setting for the Festival. For Free. That is ‘a thing’.
    It is called The Hilton Arts Festival. NOT The Hilton College Arts Festival. The generous sponsorship of a free setting with all attendant support and facilities is invaluable.
    To assume that the Hilton Arts Festival is ‘Elitist’ purely on an assumption of association with a private school is outrageous and merely highlights the complete lack of research that this adolescent scribbling enjoys.
    I could go on but I am afraid that any further comment by me executed in complete sentences coupled with the novelty of grammar and punctuation, will tax the puerile and ignorant little minds that thought it might be edgy to attempt an attack on this 26 year old festival. Put your crayons away, go and sit in the corner and be quiet. Grow up and learn to know a little less.

  5. Martin Evans says:

    What a beautiful article. You summed up the privilege of South African arts festivals in general. The decay created by these single minded events are the death of the arts. Blind to their own euthanasia.

  6. Cal says:

    What reaction are you anticipating to achieve from this article? Media always has an agenda. What did you hope to achieve from this bigoted article? The Hilton Arts Festival is open to all to enjoy. Were you expecting differentiated attention because you were “media”? Poor journalism.

  7. Radmin says:

    “Media always has an agenda”

    We’re a blog, bruh.

  8. Louis says:

    While we might not like or agree with the contents of this article, it helps to publicise the Hilton Arts Festival.

    It has singlehandedly inspired me to attend this festival next year. Having lived in Durban all my life I have never felt the urge to attend.

    As the old adage goes, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”.

  9. Calvin Cozens says:

    The fact that you think John Vlismas is a decent comedian really makes me wonder why people take your opinion seriously.

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