Planning a festival can be a daunting task and ours has been nearly two years in the making. The Jalada Literary and Arts Festival kicked off on March 3rd and ran to March 31st with visits to five countries in-between; Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and DRC.
It was essentially a festival on wheels, the first of its kind in Africa.
But Pan-African collective, Jalada Africa is known for many first. This is a digital publisher with five well-received anthologies and an annual Translations Issue where a new story by a renown author is translated into as many languages as possible. Fittingly, this first honor went to Prof. Ngugi wa Thingo’, the foremost proponent of decolonizing the mind whose story is presently at 61 languages. With a joint print publication with Harvard-based magazine, Transition in the works, Jalada is truly barrier-breaking.
I was fortunate to join the collective in 2014, a few months after my return from a writing workshop in Lagos. The workshop was many things but it was also a 10-day crash course on why all writers need a tribe of “truth-tellers”, literature-loving friends who provide feedback on one’s work minus bullshit.
Jalada is a family of talented black and brown writers scattered across the continent and diaspora joined by an intense love for the written word and storytelling in varied forms. With members based in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia and the US, we don’t often get to meet up. We correspond primarily via email, hold group Skype meetings and shoot quick messages via Whatsapp. Once a year we synchronize calendars and harness technology to congregate and review our collective’s progress.
Working on the Jalada Literary and Arts Festival though required a lot of face-to-face time with my colleagues. The amount of tea, fruits and ugali Moses Kilolo (Festival Director), Richard Oduor (Festival Coordinator) and I consumed among us is unquantifiable.
From research to concept note writing and programme design, we had to be in constant communication, running day-long strategy meetings or keeping tabs on matters via text. But sometimes, that heartening email from a potential festival partner can come through at 7pm while you’re reviewing poster designs by Jalada’s Creative Director Marziya Mohammedali in a matatu on the Thika Superhighway. In that moment there’s only one way to express one’s joy…through a phone call. I tend to call Moses with a whooping and hollering and Richard for an omera yawa-peppered conversation.
When that happened, I didn’t care that I was making these calls in public where both unassuming and prying ears got to listen to one-half of an excited exchange between exhausted writers who were one step closer to getting the festival on the road.
Hell, I hope it inspires them to call their friends and family and share a happy moment from their day.