Excitement has reached fever pitch in Bulawayo with the hosting of the 12th edition of the National Arts Merit Awards tonight. For the past two days, the volume of traffic has increased in Zimbabwe's second largest city with scores of artistes invading the bustling "City of Kings and Queens".
This is the first time that the awards are being held in Bulawayo, a city which plays host to Amakhosi Theatre, the ceremonial home of artistic talent which has churned out a number of artistes.
Although the night life is always amazing in Bulawayo with women and men who love to enjoy themselves, expectations are high that the city will deliver one of the best awards ceremonies to date. Nicholas Moyo, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe deputy director, was upbeat the show will live up to its top billing.
"All I can say is let the good times roll. Everything is now in place for what should be a memorable gig," he said.
Asked what guests and viewers at home should expect, Moyo urged fans not to miss the showcase saying there was a stellar line-up of performers tonight.
"We have received support from the business community here and those who are going to attend the reception will have something to smile about," he said without elaborating.
Cont Mhlanga, a well-known theatre practitioner and owner of Amakhosi Theatre, said there was nothing much to celebrate about Nama being moved to Bulawayo. "Nama will always be what it is. It doesn't matter whether you have it in Bulawayo, Chiredzi, Gwanda or anywhere. However, what is important is that the young artistes are using the platform to sell themselves to the world," Mhlanga said.
Member of the task force charged with bringing together the event, Raisedon Baya, said all was set for tonight's extravaganza.
"Everything is coming together nicely and I am pleased to say that we are on track with the preparation for Saturday's show. The awards are coming to the city for the first time and we want to make it a memorable night," he said.
Baya allayed fears that this year's Nama performances will be disjointed due to the failure to bring Harare artistes to rehearse together with their Bulawayo counterparts.
"The guys that are rehearsing together here are going to do an ensemble piece, so it is vital that they get used to each other. They are cooking something from scratch and trying to weave it into one seamless performance," he said.
Baya said artistes from the capital would have specific roles that did not require them to rehearse together with artistes from Bulawayo. He added that failure to hold rehearsals at the City Hall itself would not derail the hosting of what was promising to be the biggest event on the city's cultural calendar.
"Artistes from Harare will come in for their own specific acts and it is not necessary that they choreograph their performances with those of Bulawayo artistes. We could not rehearse at the Large City Hall because we are still in the process of setting up the stage and equipment for Saturday's ceremony, but by Friday (yesterday)everything will be in order," he said.
Baya said they were still waiting for the arrival of artistes from the capital.
Bulawayo-based queen of dance Sandra Ndebele spoke highly of the event.
"I think it is the biggest awards ceremony in Zimbabwe and we are hoping that Bulawayo will extend a warm welcome to the visitors," she said.
Stand-up comedian and nominee for the Nama Comedian of the Year award Clive Chigubhu said he was delighted to be nominated for his first Nama award.
"The Comedian of the Year award, for which Chigubhu will go head to head with Carl Joshua Ncube and Ntandoyenkosi Moyo, who is also making a debut at the awards ceremony. "It feels great to be one of the three nominated for the Nama Comedian of the Year award.
"It feels like it's reward for all the hard work that I have put into my work and for me just being nominated is an honour. Win or lose on Saturday night I will go home a happy man," he said.
Chigubhu said he felt elated to have the award show in the city, adding:
"Just to have the award ceremony in the city for the first time is itself an honour and I just feel this reward for all that Bulawayo has given to the arts industry in Zimbabwe," he said.
Mhlanga, who for years had lobbied for the awards ceremony to be held in the city, said he was happy to see the progress that had been made by the task force committee.
He said his scepticism on the city's ability to host the ceremony as scheduled last year, had spurred people to take the organisation of the ceremony this year more seriously.
"On Saturday I will be the happiest man in Bulawayo because years of lobbying have finally paid off. Sometimes it takes deliberate action to bring about results and I am happy to say that when I said the city was not ready to host the award ceremony last year, it inspired people to work hard.
"The committee has kept me informed every step of the way and Saturday will be the culmination of all the hard work that has been put in thus far," he said.