Zimbabwe's Book Cafe, flagship venue of Pamberi Trust, is a laureate of 2011 Prince Claus Awards. It is amongst the most prestigious global awards in culture, presented annually to individuals and organisations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean for outstanding achievement in culture and the positive effect of their work on the wider cultural or social field. Quality is a sine non qua for an Award.
The award has been described as “a momentous achievement for Zimbabwean performing arts, and for Book Cafe”, which becomes one of the first live performing arts venues of this kind in the world, built on a platform of freedom of expression and focusing across music, poetry and theatre with public discussion, film and multi-disciplinary arts, to win the acclaimed global award. Book Cafe was awarded the prize for its role in “culture and development”.
Four African recipients in performing arts have previously received the award; Baaba Maal (Senegal, music), Werewere Liking (Ivory Coast, spoken word), Yousour N'dour (Senegal, music) and Zimbabwe's Edgar Langeveld (comedy), who fittingly achieved his major successes in Book Cafe. Coincidentally, the award for Book Cafe comes as it commemorates its own 30 years of history (including Grassroots Books, the famous radical bookshop that transformed into Book cafe in 1997).
The Jury Report for the 2011 Price Claus Award to the Book Cafe reads:
“The Book Café (launched 1997, Harare) is a vibrant platform for free cultural expression in a country suffering political and economic upheavals, repressive laws, stringent censorship and a lack of cultural infrastructure. Operating under the umbrella of the Pamberi Trust, with creative director Paul Brickhill, and a dedicated team of staff, this unassuming café and bar presents more than 600 cultural events a year to enthusiastic capacity audiences of people from all racial and cultural groups and all sectors of Zimbabwean society.
“Its open door policy welcomes all genres and disciplines as well as new fusions and experiments. Live performances encompass spoken word, poetry slams, stand-up comedy, literary readings, drama and all types of music, from traditional mbira, blues and jazz to hip hop and rap. It has developed strong links with the African music scene, frequently organising exchanges and hosting visiting musicians including stars such as Abdullah Ibrahim. Many of its performers, like Chiwoniso Maraire, have gone on to develop international careers.
“The Book Café runs artistic workshops and practical training programmes throughout the year, and provides access to rehearsal space and equipment. It emphasizes gender equality and youth development, running special initiatives such as FLAME (Female Literary, Arts and Music Enterprise) to promote women in the arts, and BOCAPA (Book Café Academy of Performing Arts) open-mic sessions which are well-subscribed opportunities for new talent. Home to Zimbabwe’s thriving movement of protest poets, the Book Café is renowned for debates on current issues such as land justice or journalistic ethics, and for staging often controversial performances.
“The Book Café is awarded for its exemplary support of culture and development in Zimbabwe, for the diversity, quality and wide reaching impact of its activities, for stimulating creativity and fostering aspiring young talent, and for its tenacity and commitment in upholding freedom of expression in a difficult context”.
Each year the Prince Claus Fund invites 250 international experts with expertise in the field of culture and development to nominate candidates. It is not possible to nominate oneself or one’s own organisation. Nominations are confidential. The Fund receives about 80 nominations and thoroughly researches the nominations and asks for advice about the nominations from advisors in its network. The Prince Claus Awards Committee meets twice a year to decide the final laureates.
The Award is extremely broad in scope, and mainly presented to individuals across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Caribbean. In winning the award Book Cafe joins a world-acclaimed group of philosophers, choreographers, writers, architects, fashion designers, art critics, film makers, fine artists, cultural magazines, publishers, comedians, cartoonists, photographers, radio and TV stations, poets, book fairs, festivals and carnivals, record producers, dramatists, music schools, museums, curators and designers.
The principle Prince Claus Award for 2011 went to Cape Town's arts magazine, "Chimurenga" which has broken new ground in cultural journalism in South Africa. Chimurenga is a pan-African publication on culture, art and politics. It is an innovative platform for free ideas and political reflection by Africans about Africa.
The other laureates, joining Zimbabwe’s Book Cafe in 2011, include Kazakh artist Said Atabekov, Nicaraguan rural community arts organiser Nidia Bustos, the photographer Rena Effendi from Azerbaijan, Guatemala’s radical performance artist Regina Galindo, the Ilkhom Theatre from Uzbekistan, Haitian writer Kettly Mars, performance artist Rabih Mroué from Lebanon, the RIWAQ Centre for Architectural Conservation in Palestine and Tibetan writer Tsering Woeser.