A Gallery Without Peer  








Nation November 26, 1992


In the art of pageantry, Nairobi’s own African Heritage has no peer.  The African Heritage Cultural Festival has perfected Pan-African pageantry and crafts to such a point now it is acclaimed throughout the World.

From Dallas to Dusseldorf and from Cologne to Jadini Beach, the fantastic Heritage stage show cum cabaret - featuring Kenyan musicians, models and dancers as well as hairdressers, crafts people and chefs - has received rave reviews from the critics wherever the troupe has performed.

“Bedazzling” is the way one Belgian critic described the overall effect the African Heritage Cultural Festival had on European audiences who saw the show - sponsored by Hilton International and Sabena Airlines - when the troupe made its second European tour in 1980.

“Sheer magic... a rare treat for city dwellers... a breath of fresh air...  a show that vibrated with colour, style and pomp,” said the Kenyan press after seeing the fete 10 years later, in 1990.  The occasion - a benefit celebrating the Kenya National Museum’s 60th anniversary.

During African Heritage’s three-day 20th Anniversary festivities starting on December 16 at the new Libra Makuti Pavilion and the Hotel Intercontinental poolside respectively, all will have a chance to see for themselves what exactly is so delightful about the much-acclaimed African Heritage extravaganza.

Is it the traditional costumes - from Cameroon and Ghana, Nigeria and Swaziland - or the chic Pan African fashions made from hand-woven and hand-printed textiles?

Is it the lithe and leggy models many of whom go on, after cat walking on African Heritage Nights, to become super-models in Europe and United States, like Iman, Khadija, Esther and Gaudentia among others? 

Or is it merely music, dancing and acrobatics provided by popular groups, like Musically Speaking and Dajo Dancers?

The flavourful food?  The colourful, upbeat handicrafts?  Or a magical mix of all these!

In actual fact, the Heritage Cultural Festival has evolved and changed tremendously since African Heritage first decked out Hollywood models as Maasai and Turkana warriors, feathered headgear and all, as part of Alan Donovan’s presentation of African Jewellery and artifacts at the California Folk and Craft Museum, then called the Egg and Eye, while on his first cross-country tour of the States in 1971.

At that time, African Heritage was still in embryo form and specializing in “ethnic” jewellery. But the Madagascar Festival, organised by Studio Arts 68 and then African Heritage, helped to open Donovan’s eyes to the glorious artistic options that a full “cultural festival” could provide.  The fabulous Malagasy National Folklore Troupe, led by Odeam Rakoto saw to that. Not only was the Malagasy Festival the largest ever to come to Kenya from another African country, it was also a multi-media affair; included were musicians, artists and dancers as well as assorted exhibitions, daily slide-lecture shows and several fantastic fashion shows, featuring elegant hand-woven Malagasy silk and raffia fabrics.

But before these fabulous design ideas could be translated into African Heritage terms, Studio Art 68 and Heritage organised yet another equally vibrant festival in 1972, this one featuring Nigerians.

The African Heritage Pan-African Gallery was officially opened in January 1973 by the Mayor of Nairobi, Miss Margaret Kenyatta.

But it was actually later on that year that the first grand Heritage pageant of costumes and fashion debuted.

This took place at the newly finished Kenyatta Conference Centre for the first World Bank meeting ever held there!

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