Archive | May, 2012

My Festivals of Africa

25 May

One of my hobbies is outdoor performances. I love the energy from the performers, the sound of instruments and many other good things about outdoor events. Africa has many festivals be it Film, Music, Books, Arts, Cultural, and each and every one is remarkable on its own. I have seen many of these festivals around the continent and there are still more to see.
I’d like  to share some of these festivals that I have attended  in no particular order.

Splashy Fen Festival – Underberg – Kwazulu Natal

It’s a 5 Day long camping festival happening on the slope of  southern Drakensberg near the town called Underberg, it has been happening for the past 24 years, so it’s kind of an  institution in South Africa. I can classify the festival as family festival because it attracts moms and pops. The are no star attractions for the festival, many of the acts performing are upcoming or unknown bands, with the exception of the legendary Syd Kitchen who has played at the festival since its inception till death caught up with him.

The fact that’s it’s family festival does not make it boring at all, the debauchery that you find at such festival is on display. When parents decide to rest in their tents after a day of festivities its time for youngsters to party for the rest of the night as bands perform till late, drinking goes on all night, people get lost and can’t locate their tents in the wee hours of the morning. It’s usually raining during the time of the festival and it gets muddy and that adds to the fun.

If you want to have break from music you can take 30km drive to Sani Pass in Lesotho, its a highest driving pass in Southern African and its were you find ‘Highest Pub in Africa’ its scary as hell to drive there and you need a 4×4. The view from the top is magical.


Umhlanga Reed Dance – Ludzidzini Swaziland

It happens between end August and beginning of September. It is famously known as the festival where King of Swaziland picks a wifen but that did not happen when I was there.

Like many guys I went to the festival to look at women’s breasts judge me if you can but that was one of the motivation for going there. I feel its a justified motivation having grown up seeing pictures of these half naked beautiful women in newspapers after the event. On the day of the main event we went to the stadium bought ourself traditional Swazi attire to fit in with the festivities.

The beauty of the festival takes you over when you are there, and you forget about ogling a young virgin breasts as you get consumed by song and dance, colourful costumes and the spectacle of seeing 80000 virgins from different villages of the Kingdom. You appreciate the pride Swazis take in their culture, families with young children will be there with their offspring dressed for the occasion. Parents of teenagers will also be there to watch as their daughters enter womanhood, within the confines of their culture. It’s a beautiful cultural festival and I would be happy to check it out again.


Bush Fire Festival – Ezulwini Swaziland
It happens at the end of May at a place called House of Fire in Swaziland, the festival attracts some of the best local and international stars. The likes of Jonny Clegg, Oliver Mtukuzi, Viex Farka Toure, Freshly Grounds have graced the festival. It’s a 3 days of beautiful African music, crowds and atmosphere.

House of Fire is big venue it can accommodate about 3 performances, the main stand, second stand and dance club. I went there with number of South Africans and many European friends who were visiting for 2010 World cup. We booked ourself the whole backpackers lodge for the duration of the Festival, there was a choice to camp close to House of Fire or book yourself in the hotel.

The after parties with ‘virgins’ maidens are epic


Lake of Stars – Mangochi Malawi

I was first introduced to this festival by my friend Merushka, “Lake of Stars” was name given by the explorer Livingstone describing the the lake of Malawi. The Festival is fairly a new Festival but one that has gained the reputation as one of the best to see on the continent.

The line up is mix of big musicians and up and coming local Malawians. When I was there it was headlined by the Noisettes and Oliver Mtukudzi.

The festivals happens on the shore of the lake, in the middle of hot September month, it happens over a period of 3 days. To get there I flew from Jo’burg to Lilongwe. The following day I took a lift with a local Malawians to head to the festival.  As usual I preferred to camp instead of staying at a hotel. The festival performance goes on until the early hours of the morning. Some revellers prefer just to sleep on the beach, i also did this when my tent was infested with insects.  It’s a beautiful festival that’s is attended by music lovers from all over the world.


Festival au Desert – Timbuktu Mali

One of the best things about this festival is that its happens in Timbuktu, yes it does exist and it’s a historical place to visit. Getting to Timbuktu where this great festival happens its a mission and half, not because the roads are unbearable, (simple sedan cars can drive there), but because of the monsoon dust of the Sahara desert its only preferable to drive a 4×4.
It took us 48hours to get there a combination of rude tour guides, overheating car and constant Muslim prayers along the way.

Festival au Desert happens in the 2nd week of January in the Sahara desert in Timbuktu, yep that’s very early in the year, but which African music lover cannot take the opportunity to attend a festival in Mali, a country known for some of the best musicians in the continent. The line up for the festival has who is who of Mali music scene and musicians from neighbouring countries like Senegal and Niger.  When I was there I got to see Viex Farka Toure, Oumou Sangare, Habib Koite, B0mbino (Niger) etc

Festival au Desert is for Africans and I discovered that $150 late, when I had already paid for my ticket, on getting  to the reception to get my tag I was told its free for Africans. As compared to all other festivals that I attended the aspect of letting citizens and other Africans for free impressed me most.

If I had booked for accommodation it would have cost me about $30 per night but i choose to take my chances and when I got to the festival I asked a local guide to allow to set-up a tent that I had bought in Bamako, the area we camped was at least 300m away from the main stage and had organic ablution  facilities and if lucky enough will be observed by nomad camel when doing your thing.  There were no bathing facilities. I only saw a shower after 6 days after the trip to Dogon Country. Dogon Country is an ancient city in Mali that still traditional cultures of Mali till today, modernisation and urbanisation are still to change the character of this ancient place.

This festival remains the best i have attended the music is great, Tuareg people welcoming and you are in the great ancient city of Timbuktu. Pity there is war going on now I hope it gets resolved and Africans can attend this festival.


Festivals I am yet to see

Sauti za Busara Music Festival – Zanzibar Tanzania

I have always wanted to attend this festival pity it clashes with the Mining Indaba a conference that pays my bills, it happens in the second week of February.

Ouagadougou Film Festival – Burkina Faso

Biggest film and Television  festival in the continent

Festival of Black Arts – Senegal

Its a once a decade festival that happens in Dakar Capital city of Senegal, it attracts black artist from all over the world the last one happened in 2010, the next one will be happening in 2020

Harare International Festival of the Arts – Zimbabwe

Its one of the biggest arts festival in the continent happening between end of April and beginning of May

Africa is the place of rhythm and soul go out and enjoy your continent