Arusha shines at ZIFF
Charlotte Hill O’Neal
courtesy of ARUSHA TIMES newspaper   .....July, 2005

This was my third time participating in the ZIFF Festival of the Dhow Countries.  It seems that each year the weather has gotten hotter and the events have gotten even better!  This year was the eighth annual festival in Zanzibar and the theme was “Monsoons and Migration”. 

 Jakub Barua, this year’s festival director, put it well when discussing this years theme when he explained that  “It is the yearly recurrence of monsoons that generate the winds that power our sails.  Nature’s forces harnessed to the needs of humanity.  Like the wind of the monsoons, freedom can never be shackled.  And when we move, we do it to be free from or for.  Freedom to be our own better selves – that is what the arts are for.  So migrants we all are, wherever and whenever we transcend physical, mental or spiritual spaces.”

Mama Charlotte had the honour of opening this years ZIFF Women's Panorama and also served as MC for the event that featured poetry; dance; song; fashion; fine art and fellowship among women from around the world!  Here Charlotte welcomes Mama Anna and her group of Maasai women singers.

Sisters having fun together at the Stone Town Cultural Center during the Women's Panorama closing event... an all Women's Disco Party!
Charlotte again served as MC.


Mama Charlotte during rehearsal at the Palace Museum stage for her monologue drama for the innovative Journeys and Spaces, a Women's Anthology Project initiated by Prof. Aida Ayers, coordinator of the Women's Panorama and filmed by Ms. Florence Ayisi, winner of the 2005 Cannes film festival award

Mama Stella Chiwesha, Zimbabwean musician, prepares for her mbira performance during the Women's Panorama festivities.

This concept was carried over into the Women’s Panorama activities whose main coordinator was once more, famed artist and professor, Ms. Aida Ayers.  I had the honour to open the Women’s Panorama Art Exhibition Our Voices on the Wind, with dramatic clouds of incense smoke, gong sounds and blessings to all the many women present. The exhibition which was held at the Stone Town Cultural Center, was attended by several internationally known artists including Stella Chiwesha, the Zimbabwean musician labelled the Queen of Mbira Music.  During her performance, as she shook her long flowing dreadlocks to drape and shield her face from onlookers and as she pranced about on her bead bedecked feet, in trance and at one with the spirits of her ancestors, I saw the validity of  the description that I had read about her…”during her 35 years as a traditional Mbira musician she has established herself as one of the most original artists in the contemporary African scene using popular music to show the depth and power of her spiritual music at home and abroad.” 

Aida Ayers was also responsible for coming up with one of the most innovative activities that I’ve ever had the pleasure to participate in called Journeys and Spaces, a Women’s Anthology Project.

For four days during June, eight women from different cultures, different countries and different generations came together to share the stories of their personal migrations to Zanzibar.  The women discussed their sometimes tragic, always touching, life stories behind closed doors in an atmosphere of love and understanding which ultimately led to a catharsis of healing for all involved.

Each day was exciting...meeting talented artists from all over the world.  Here Prof. Aida Ayers introduces Mama Charlotte O'Neal to spoken word artist Sister Mshai Mwangola and Prof. Kokahvah Selassie who led one of the Literary Forum sessions 

These life stories were later sent to eight other women of the African Diaspora, including internationally acclaimed performance artist Ingrid Mwangi; spoken word artists Mshai Mwangola and Beth Muuna; dance professor Leah Nelson; Zanzibari actor Nadyah Mwinyi Aboud; award winning author and executive director of ZIFF, Yvonne Adiambo Owuor; and yours truly, artist and actor, Charlotte O’Neal.  Our task was to interpret as monologues using theatre, dance, mime, music.  Each riveting performance held the audience in tears of sadness and shouts of heady triumph. The women who shared their stories remained anonymous to the interpreters unless she chose to reveal herself privately or publicly after the performances.  The anthology project was filmed by Cameroonian director Florence Ayisi, winner of the Prix Art et Essai Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  The resulting documentary is slated to be screened at next years ZIFF and also at the Wales International Film Festival among other venues.

Arusha was also represented among the nearly two hundred films being screened during the festival.  Anwary Msechu and Sam Obae, both volunteer teachers and filmmakers at the United African Alliance Community Center, were delighted to have their documentary film titled The Warangi Tribe and the Kolo Paintings not only accepted to be screened at ZIFF but also as one of the documentary films in competition!  Obae and Msechu had received a grant from the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival project last year which helped to get their project off the ground.  The documentary will later be screened in America later this year.

Arusha was additionally lauded for the unique styles represented at the Wearable Art Fashion Extravaganza, a ZIFF fund raiser in support of the tsunami victims in Dar es Salaam.  Art wear designed by Charlotte O’Neal in a collaboration with UAACC artists Pere Williams, Margaret Mbise and Aminata’s Fashions located at the Naaz building on Sokoine Road, were modelled at the well attended event staged at Africa House along with beautiful clothes from both up and coming Tanzanian designers and seasoned designers like Farouk Abdalla, whose chic fashions have graced the catwalks all over Africa and Europe for years.

Arusha was truly shining at this year’s ZIFF!

To learn more about the Zanzibar International Film Festival ZIFF go to

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