Bushfire Festival: Beats about the bush

By Yolisa Mkele




"For many international artists, performing in Swaziland is not a great way to boost popularity."


Earlier this year, Erykah Badu found herself on the receiving end of Twitter activism after she performed Happy Birthday at a party for King Mswati III. Many of her followers accused her of endorsing the status quo in Swaziland by singing in the kingdom.

Over the years the kingdom has developed a reputation for repression that has led many artists and their followers to unofficially boycott musical events there. It would seem, however, that this does not extend to Bushfire.
Ranked by CNN as one of the "Seven African Music Festivals You Really Have To See", Bushfire brings together world music artists from more than 10 countries. This weekend's lineup included Oliver Mtukudzi, Grammy winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo and jazz quintet Imperial Tiger Orchestra. There were also artists from Colombia, Spain and the US.
Bushfire's musical lineup is virtually devoid of names that might excite the average adolescent, and this means the festival generally attracts music- lovers rather than party animals. Freed of the fear of having their children trampled by tequila-crazed maniacs, many parents brought their children along to run free with other tiny humans.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more eclectic group of festivalgoers than the motley crew of dreadlocked hippies and their offspring who attended this year's Bushfire.
Surprisingly, few of the voices ambling around a field in the middle of the Ezulwini valley, where the festival is held, were South African. French, Portuguese, American and British timbres floated through the air asking for Sibebe, the local beer.
To the outside observer, fireside conversations sound like a bizarre UN meeting in which Portugal, having missed his flight, was unsure how he was returning home, and Germany fawned over Zimbabwe, even though the latter had a wandering eye.
What was most surprising was that Bushfire was a tiny oasis of freedom in the repressive kingdom.
Outside of the festival grounds, merely mentioning the king leads to uncomfortable silences and awkward requests to change the subject.
Criticising Africa's last remaining executive monarch is unthinkable for most Swazis, yet the relative safety afforded by an open field fenced with trading stalls gave people a chance to open up about their king.
Bushfire is the miniature African equivalent of Woodstock. It is all about breaking a couple of rules in the name of freedom, and who doesn't want to break rules every now and then?
Founding Graphic Design Partner - Vincent Caudry.
Official Photographers - Bram Lanmers and Sydelle Willow-Smith
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