In Summary
  • The Hotel Intercontinental was the site of the debut of the first African Heritage Night nearly 50 years ago in 1971.
  • The release of a new double volume opus, African Twilight, has stirred Alan Donovan to reconstruct Kenya’s African Heritage Festival once more.
  • Alan has contracted beaders, tailors, and embroiderers to reconstruct Kenya’s African Heritage Festival.

In 2003, Kenya’s famous pan-African gallery, African Heritage, co-founded by Alan Donovan and former Vice-President Joseph Murumbi, closed down its 51 outlets worldwide and suspended its shows highlighting African culture, textiles and fashions through Kenya’s African Heritage Festival that had travelled the world with its troupe of models, musicians, acrobats, stilt walkers, chefs, hairdressers and others.

The last major tour of Kenya’s African Heritage Festival was across Kenya to 23 Kenyan hotels, heralding the African Millennium in 1999-2000 after two nights of shows on a specially built metal catwalk over the pool of Nairobi Serena.

The shows were in honour of the double volume opus African Ceremonies, by the intrepid photographers Angela Fisher and Carol Beckiwth, who signed hundreds of their books during the tour.

In 1998, African Heritage had travelled to South Africa to produce the African Renaissance show for 4,000 guests arriving for the First Telecoms Conference in Africa. African Heritage made its last European tour in l995, to 11 cities with its troupe packed into a luxury bus, followed by a caravan of lorries loaded with plants, lighting and sound equipment, musical instruments, costumes and fashions, plants and hand painted murals to transform every venue into Kenya with scenes of the Kenya Coast, mountains and game parks, courtesy of Lufthansa Airlines and the Hotel Intercontinental. The Hotel Intercontinental was the site of the debut of the first African Heritage Night nearly 50 years ago in 1971.

Alan Donovan was even asked by the OAU to give a lecture on his recipe for the unprecedented success of the African Heritage shows and tours which attracted many private sponsors.

Now, l8 years later since the African Millennium Tour, Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have produced another double volume opus, African Twilight, seeking out and concentrating on the vanishing cultures, rituals and traditions not surveyed in their first 16 books. Thus they have done what no photographers can ever do again, as most of these rituals and ceremonies are now extinct or vanishing.

The release of their new double volume opus, African Twilight, has stirred Alan Donovan to reconstruct Kenya’s African Heritage Festival once more. Most of the more than 100 costumes, fashion designs, textiles and jewellery have been stored in a warehouse near Nairobi, and are now owned by Kenyan designer Makena Mwiraria.

Alan has contracted beaders, tailors, and embroiderers to reconstruct Kenya’s African Heritage Festival. This work has been going on for several months and will continue until the Festival is presented on March 3.

It will recall another memorable show he did to launch Angela Fisher’s first magnificent book Africa Adorned on African body ornamentation and jewellery in l984.

American Alan Donovan, Founder of African Heritage House during an interview on August 1, 2015.

American Alan Donovan, Founder of African Heritage House during an interview on August 1, 2015. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP


It was not long before that show that he had introduced Carol and Angela to each other, a collaboration that has resulted in several more beautiful books.

For that show in 1984, he combed the continent to present a show based on the theme Africa Adorned, which won wide acclaim. As recounted by Kenyan journalist Margaretta wa Gacheru, the show at the Hotel Intercontinental in Nairobi “was an evening of African magic and sheer joy ... one of the rare occasions when one feels just slightly smug having been in attendance to witness “history” ... well, at least a most extravagant occasion with a mixture of awe and epicurean appreciation … a chance to see Mr Kenya Mickey Ragos flex his bulging biceps or Miss Africa Khadija Adam careen along the catwalk waving at her fans.

There was the blend of feathers and fetishes and fabulous frocks made out of mainly hand stitched, hand-woven or spun pan-African fabrics from Madagascar and Mali, Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda… and the incredible hand embroidery from Ethiopia...”

It will be difficult for Alan to top that show as many of the most gorgeous textiles of Africa are also vanishing or no longer woven or worn due to massive imports from China, used clothing from the USA and the very labour intensive work required to create these fabulous textiles which he considers one of the greatest gifts of Africa to the world.

It all started back in 1971, just a year after Alan’s arrival in Kenya. After staging his first exhibition of artefacts from Northern Kenya in October 1970, which was attended by Kenya’s first foreign minister and second Vice-President, Joseph Murumbi, the two linked up to savour Murumbi’s dream of a Pan-African Centre in Nairobi, where artists and art works and artefacts from all parts of the continent could be shared with local people and the many tourists who visit Kenya.

African Heritage was borne and was a success from the beginning.

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