Me: This is the best Bushfire yet!
Andrew: Oh wow, really. Why?
Me: It’s the first one where I’m completely myself.
That exchange was the last day of Bushfire 2018. Sunday evening on the last weekend of May. Andrew and I were waiting in the crowd for the Africa Tribute from Salif Keita, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Yemi Alade with our friends Jackie and August. It just hit me what an amazing festival this particular one had been and how much better it was that I could be my authentic self the entire time. Wigs, printed palazzo pants, statement tees, silky kimonos, ripped pantyhose, the shortest of shorts and just living my best life!!
It’s no reason CNN named it one of the 7 best African Festivals and it continues to be recognised as the most responsible one of the bunch for it showcases themes of environmental sustainability, education, sexual health (seriously there were condoms on everything), human rights and from this years theme of “Rainbow Fire” focusing on the visibility of the LGBTQ community. Goodbye code-switching. Hello queer-festivity. It’s not all perfect but it’s one hell of a good start. For my sixth Bushfire, I’ve watched it grow and improve to make it more than just going to stand in front of a main stage.
Oh my… well now that I’ve started at the end, let me go back to the beginning. 🙂 Waking up at 5:30 am to beat the border rush is ESSENTIAL. We flew through the normally excruciating border experience. 25 minutes tops. Since Swaziland is full on bordered by South Africa, it has all the shops we know and love… and they take Randelas. Grocery shopping, booze top up and straight into Malkerns Valley to check-in. Wristbands on. Car offloading to our campsite. Real estate is everything at a sold out fest. Last thing you want is to be meandering through hundreds of tents that all look the same to find yours. A cute sweaty Swati man by the name of Chester in green overalls helped us get all the loose crap we managed to stack up in the boot and flattened back seat of Onika. Camp set up. Castle Lites. *clink* and Coals on the braai.
You never want to peak early but I only went to bed at 8am the next day. Mess. I wouldn’t change anything about that though. Highlights for Day 1 were silver draped Nakhane giving me all the life and queer pride performing tracks from my fave album of 2018 so far. Swazi native Velemseni giving us jazzy neo-soul and rock vibes – loved! A fresh electric surprise from accordionist Mario Batkovic and Reunion Island singer Nathalie Natiembe who seemed like she teleported herself somewhere else during her barefooted performance. Gorgeous. Ooooh! I need to do a Spotify playlist of all this goodness actually. Will share soon!
After barely sleeping, I managed to squeeze in 3 hours. Got up and got straight back into it. Sleep when you’re back in Jozi I’d say changing into my day lewk after just washing my face, brushing my teeth and reshuffling my nappy pillow hair. Saturday shower missions are not a real thing if you don’t wake up ridiculously early. I saw y’all queuing while I drank beer in front of the Campsite Cafe fire at sunrise. There’s nothing like that sense of being where you are and not thinking of anything or anywhere else.
Day 2 was good fun. For the main day it kind of failed in comparison to Friday and Sunday. I spent loads of time at the Firefly Stage which only had performances from Swati and South African DJs. Gqom, Kwaito, old school Hip-Hop, 90s R&B just a delicious pot of good music. You opt in and out as you wish, but it was always a guaranteed nice time on the sandy dancefloor. The main stage saw Samting Soweto doing his usual. He’s got a heck of a voice but there seems to be a trend of always using the same artists at these things. I guess it’s not their fault I go to basically every festival out there. Awks. Dear Ribane gave us all the robotic futuristic mastery they are known for. Manthe tears any stage up, I really admire her commitment of giving to get. I need those vizers they wear! By the time it got to Kwesta, Sho Madjozi and DJ Lag I was FINISHED. My body came to call collect. 3 hours of sleep could only get me to midnight. I was content. Most of Saturday night were SA acts I’ve seen a bunch of times. I slumped into bed and that was that.
Sunday was a nice and easy vibe. In the past you’d usually wake up around 10/11 to find that half the campsite had ghosted. The scramble to beat the border rush. Nope. Everyone was still there! It’s almost as if we all decided we were staying put. The rain came down. We stayed put. It stopped and we hit the main stage for the main event that was the Africa Tribute to Eswatini. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a national treasure y’all. Hearing and seeing them makes you think of home, wherever that may be. Obvs everyone went completely bonkers for Salif. He only did one or two songs but that did the trick. There was a feeling of a great sense of pride and unity at this point and in the distance behind me someone was waving a massive flag. The rainbow. It doesn’t really get better than that.
To my best Bushfire experience. Thank you. It was wild. It was even sweeter having the people I grew up with also there experiencing their first fire. This lot have been there through every nickname from uBoom-Boom to uChaklas. Mad love for you cuzzies. This year has re-energised my love for this festival. The organisers understand growth and improvement. I’m just really glad those damn paper coupons are not a thing anymore. Cashless baby! The bar has been raised and so will Bushfire’s global footprint as Africa’s best.