After lining up at the border for over an hour to get our passports stamped we finally made our way to the Malkerns valley via the capital of Swaziland, Mbabane. Now in it’s seventh year, the festival gets bigger and better every year. This year there were four stages; the Main stage, the House on Fire amphitheatre, The Barn and the Ekhaya stage.
The Main Stage
The festival was scheduled to start at 5pm on Friday evening and things went according to plan. At 5pm, Toti, a Swazi male vocal band that infuses choral and classical music with African sounds, kicked off the official line up of the main stage. At this time, the masses were still manoeuvering between the food court, beer garden and the Swaziland Fair Trade Market. As the night progressed, the main stage became the centre of attention. The performances there on point over the three days and nights with great sound and lighting. The best performances came from Jazz P and The New Generation, Toya Delazy (she was great!), Jeremy Loops, The Brother Moves On , The Soil, Bomba Estereo, Shangaan Electro, Black Motion and Swaziland’s own KRTC of Hip Hop.
Though the diversity and variety was something to appreciate, the line up was a bit of a let down compared to previous years with many unknown names from the oddest of countries of the world. There were acts from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Columbia, Spain and, of course, Swaziland among other countries.
However, chatting to festival director Jiggs Thorne, he made it clear that Bushfire Festival is not a commercial event but rather an event with a unique heartbeat. Defending’ the line up he said, “The line up reflects our philosophy and that is the “Bring Your Fire” theme. It’s really about a conscious response to using the space to develop the arts but also engage with social concerns that affect the broader society that we live in. So it’s using the creative platform to dialogue, to ask questions and to generate participation. I think that’s a a very exciting space.”
In its second year, The Barn, is just that, a barn! A real farm barn that was cleared and made into a venue for audio visual exhibitions and performances, it was surely the most innovative part of the festival. The highlight exhibition was the “Song of the weaver” which consisted of some art pieces created by rural Swazi women using indigenous materials including straw grass. The pieces featured intricate symbolism and had the weaver’s song emanating from within them. This, as explained by one of the creators, was powered by the Gone Rural creative. Also hosted at The Barn was the South African audio visual music duo, Tonik. Their innovative set involved a pair of headphones for every member of the audience. The sad part was that there were only 80 pairs of headphones available and without them, one would just see two dudes playing (one strumming keys and the other playing percussion). An audience bobbing their heads to silence was something to see. They also played in the mornings for the campers during breakfast.
The ever amazing Swazi collective of poets Rooted Soulz, were quite a marvel to watch too. Showcasing a couple of their brilliant poets including The Last Man, Blaq Note and Swaziland’s number one poet, Qibho Intalektual. The highlight of The Barn came on Saturday evening when the Rooted Soulz collective and Tonik collaborated on a drama piece. In my opinion this was the best portion of the festival. Festival director Jiggs Thorne also rendered a chilled performance with Tonik. Quite refreshing.
The House on Fire Amphitheatre
This stage provided a club/disco atmosphere. Most of the DJs and dance music acts such as Veranda Panda performed here into the early hours of the morning after. This was where the late nighters gathered to dance the night away after most of the audiences had left and campers returned to their tents. In the late mornings, this venue hosted the less hectic and more chilled acts such as storyteller Gcina Mhlophe and singer Nakhane Toure among others.
The Ekhaya Stage
Sponsored by the Swaziland Electricity Company (S.E.C), this stage was there to celebrate Swazi traditional dance and performances. It had a traditional ceremony type of feel and S.E.C also gave tips and lessons on how to save electricity and use alternative renewable sources of energy.
The Swaziland Fair Trade Market
Products exhibited on the stalls ranged from fashion accessories, clothing items, publications, corporate companies’ brands to non profit organisations’ services. Companies, collectives and brands got to showcase their brands and products to the masses and managed to sell some products as well. Information and contacts were exchanged and new potential business partners were born.
The festival was quite well organised and it was worth braving the freezing winter nights to witness all that was offered. In Jiggs’ words, “The most challenging part of organising such a huge event (more than 20,000 people attended) is making sure everything runs smoothly”. And smoothly it did run, except for a very few minor hiccups of which some were not the organisers’ faults such as performers arriving late. Two issues that a majority of the attendees complained about was the insufficiency of toilet facilities and the fact that the golden lounge was crowded meaning the people would find themselves standing because of the shortage of seats.
With tickets for next year’s event going on sale really soon, I would advise lovers and appreciators of the arts to purchase theirs and to bring their fire next year!
All images courtesy of MTN Bushfire Festival.