Africa Month commemorates the founding in May 1963 of the Organisation of African Unity, which later became the African Union. Southern Africa celebrates the entire month with an inter-linked series of world music festivals called Firefest.
The “fire” metaphor was developed by artist Jiggs Thorne in the heart of Swaziland’s Ezulwini Valley, about four hours’ drive from Johannesburg.
Inspired by the beautiful, free and uplifting “outside-art” creations of the roadside sculptors of Swaziland, Jiggs built a multi-disciplined venue as a sustainable base for artistic expression. This venue he called House on Fire.
Artists announced so far include:
Songhoy Blues (Mali / Paris), Pablo Nouvelle (Switzerland),
Manu Delago and Pepe Auer (Austria), Bombshelter Beast featuring Pitch Black Afro,
Mafikizolo, Native Young, Nomadic Orchestra,
Felix Laband, and Toby2Shoes (South Africa).
Bholoji (Congo), Vieux Faka Toure (Mali),
Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe), Nathi, Thandiswa (South Africa).
Says Jiggs: “House on Fire is a fantasy-scape that is inspired by meeting points where different stories, symbols and icons come together promoting tolerance and respect. It is a collective picture, a symbiosis of harmony in contrast, that creates an alternative mind-set. It is an Afro-Shakespearean globe theatre.”
The fire metaphor represents conscious and creative sharing for positive social change, and it quickly burnt beyond the four walls of its building into a week-long annual Bushfire festival that started in 2006.
Today Bushfire brings the country of Swaziland to a standstill, using all bed space for the 20 000 visitors who enjoy the festival, and generating more than 30 million lilangeni (equal to the rand and about $1.8 million) for the Swaziland economy.
From 2007, Jiggs and the home for African music in Johannesburg, the Bassline in Newtown, shared musical performances.
International bands could land in Johannesburg, perform at the Bassline Africa Day festival and then drive to Swaziland to perform there. This collaboration reduced costs, increased exposure for musicians and allowed the two festivals to expand at a rapid rate.
The Bushfire festival immediately set about using its success for positive social development. Jiggs’s mother, Jenny Thorne, initiated the extremely empowering programme “Gone Rural”, which uses the local Lattanzi Highveld grass to create handmade crafts.
Today more than 750 women are employed in the Gone Rural programme which brings much positive change through health care, education and water projects.
Following on from the great example of Gone Rural, Bushfire donates 15 lilangeni of the festival ticket price to an innovative development programme called “Young Heroes”, which provides food, education and support for HIV orphans.
And they have developed a strong feeder programme for professional music development in Swaziland as well as pioneering an arts curriculum for the schools.
Due to the success of the Bushfire / Africa Day Festival collaboration, the fire of creativity quickly burnt beyond South Africa and Swaziland.
Jiggs began to look around for other festivals happening during Africa Month, and to network for a fully functioning southern African tour circuit.
One of the oldest festivals in the southern African region is the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA). It was established in 2000, during Zimbabwe’s political isolation, and immediately became a great initiative in bringing people together and influencing the socio-cultural landscape of Zimbabwe. The festival employs more than 1 000 Zimbabweans in various roles and sells over 50 000 tickets for all the shows. HIFA is expanding its festival to offer year-long arts and culture entertainment and development events and collaborations.
Founder and director Manuel Bagorro says: “A touring circuit allows presenters to share costs in more efficient ways, meaning that we’re able to do more with the resources available. It’s also stimulating and constructive to exchange ideas and opinions with colleagues in the region.”
The Southern African Tour Circuit also linked with the Sakifa festival in Saint-Leu in Reunion and the Azgo festival in Maputo.
In 1999, tourism ministers from Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa came together to form the East3Route, an arts, culture and heritage exchange.
- Harare International Festival of the Arts, May 18-20 Harare, Zimbabwe www.hifa.co.zw
- Azgo Festival of arts and culture, May 20-21 Maputo, Mozambique www.azgofestival.com
- Zakifo Muzik Festival, May 27-28. Durban, South Africa www.zakifo.com
- Bassline Africa Day concert, May 28. Newtown, Johannesburg, South Africa
- Bushfire, May 27-29 Ezulwini Valley, Swaziland www.bush-fire.com
- Sakifo, June 3-5 Reunion Island www.sakifo.com
As the Southern Africa Tour Circuit was creating content for the East3Route by linking the festivals of Maputo and Swaziland, it became imperative for a Durban festival to join the network, and as a result, a new festival, Zakifo, has joined the circuit. Zakifo is the little sister of Reunion’s Sakifo.
The Southern African Tour Circuit is a pioneer of tourism, arts and culture development and collaboration. It is a forerunner in the “creative economy”. An independent Danish study has shown that for every cent spent at the Bushfire festival, six times that amount is brought in for the economy.
The effectiveness of the tour circuit is illustrated by the planned visit by Paris-based Malian Blues quartet, Songhoy Blues, as a main act for 2016.
As the cost of the international air flights are shared between the participating festivals, each festival can host such an international act for about half the cost, while that international act gets exposure across six territories instead of just one. It is a win-win situation.
There is a strong possibility that more festival destinations will join the tour circuit in the future. Cape Town is still seeking a successful world music festival, while Namibia is increasing its interest rapidly in world music with its hosting, on March 20, of the Kora All Africa Music Awards. And Seychelles recently joined the East3Route.
There is great promise for this fire of creativity to rage all over southern Africa.