Ever since I arrived in Swaziland, I have lived in anticipation of the Bushfire Festival – Swaziland’s International Festival of the Arts. For the last few weeks, my workplace has been consumed with preparations for the festival – not surprising given it is held on the farm where I work and my organisation benefits from the sale of Merchandise. I have watched on as an outfit for the fashion parade has been made from Gone Rural products, as our merchandise and Turkish coffee stand has been designed and made out of pallets, and as 600 condoms have been transformed into dance costumes to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. My right brain was involved in the less creative tasks of putting together Press Packs, packing T-shirts and manning the Merchandise stall during the festival.
Finally, last weekend, I got to experience Bushfire.
The festivities got off to a great start as I was joined by five Australian friends who had escaped the Lesotho elections to join me in my ‘hood. It wasn’t long before some funky tunes were being belted out by the likes of Mango Groove, with more foot stomping from MXO, House from twin DJ’s Revolution, and drumming beats from Mozambique’s Napalma ending (for me) at a respectable 2:30am.
Saturday brought more diverse acts, starting with a fashion parade and the Giant Puppets of Mozambique, and followed by an inspiring talk by prophet Joy Ndwandwe who espouses King Sobhuza II’s philosophy of mutual respect and dignity (Swaziland’s previous, and highly respected, King). There was Tonik, who only provide music through headphones – all too pretentious and exclusive for me. The highlight of the day, though, was the happy, foot-stomping tunes of Jeremy Loops, followed closely by the Ayo. Despite the Swazis’ love of Mi Casa, Saturday’s headliner, I was less than impressed at his chubby white-boy girly sounds, so headed home early, at 1:30am.
Unsurprisingly, Sunday was more chilled out, and despite missing out on comedian Joey Rasdien and Bushfire Ambassador Richard E. Grant, I was able to settle on the grass to take in some Asian-African fusion of Sakaki Mango and jazz from Adam Glassers Mzanzi Project, ending my Bushfire experience as the sun was starting to go down.
Between all of this were several shopping stints through the marketplace, featuring the multiple (mostly handicraft) members of Swaziland’s Fair Trade Association. There was an array of tasty vegetarian food on offer (a rare find in Swaziland), most notably chickpea fudge from the Hare Krishna’s, and amazing muesli from “Guba”, Swaziland’s own organisation devoted to training in permaculture and building from renewable materials. Most satisfying, though, was hearing comments from the Lesotho-based crew about how amazing Swaziland is, and how hopeful they had become after seeing what a poor, land-locked Southern African country can achieve.
After all the anticipation, Bushfire didn’t disappoint – quite the opposite in fact. The diversity and quality of acts, time spent with friends, and the best of Swaziland on show, all combined to give my soul a good feeding. More importantly, it confirmed for me how lucky I am to be living this extraordinary existence in such an extraordinary country. I’m sure I’m not the only person who felt this way. On Sunday night, Swaziland apparently experienced an earthquake – I would like to think it was triggered by the festival’s 40,000 feet dancing in unison.