Dancing with the Diaspora
Putting fire in the heart of Africa : THE BUSHFIRE EXPERIENCE
The scenic Malkerns Valley of the Kingdom of Swaziland comes to a standstill annually on the last weekend of Africa Month (May) as a multi-coloured and multi-generational global audience converges for a multi-dimensional and multi-facetted Bushfire experience of art, music, innovation and sharing. Music gives over to its broadest implications: not just entertainment, but edutainment and inner-attainment.
Bushfire has created a successful feeder system throughout the year. There is an annual schools festival and a monthly “Friday nights live” contest where the best acts battle it out for a spot on the stage at Bushfire. The selection process is based on audience popularity - the crowd decides who the eventual winner is.
A great achievement is the good balance between economic benefits and social upliftment. Bushfire is a R5M festival that generates R30M for the Swazi economy. It is a for-runner in the “creative economy”.
HIV is one of the strongest focuses of the Bushfire social upliftment with condoms and the ‘condomise' campaign having a strong presence at the festival. R15 of the festival ticket price is donated to a development programme called ‘Young Heroes,' which provides food, education, health care and vocational skills training for 1000 HIV orphans. This programme has tripled in size since its inception; however there are 300 000 HIV orphans in Swaziland and the highest infection rate in the world with 31% among people aged 18 to 49.
Bushfire has also commenced with strong “greening” initiatives with indigenous tree planting, recycling of all waste, solar powered film screenings and cooking on gas.
Who built the House of Fire?
I studied art, drama and politics at University. After university I started working with roadside sculptors in Swaziland. I set up a shop in Johannesburg and ultimately at the end of a five year stint I thought it would make sense to come back to Swaziland and set up shop down here. There was a need to develop arts and also to create a space where I could oversee the development of a sculpture we had started to create. The sculptural project has in a big way informed the architectural and spatial development of House on Fire. I work with two main Swazi artists Shadrack Masuku and Noah Mdluli. They have been very involved in a lot of the art work that you see around the space. We work primarily with soapstone and wood. The space is inspired by outsider art creations. A couple of examples are the rock garden in Chandigarh and the Owl House. It is art that doesn't necessarily follow convention and I like to think that the festival also breaks that mould. I don't see us as a commercial outfit, it is really about the aesthetic and it is about using the creative space to inspire. The space grows daily and of course it is the wonderful venue that hosts Bushfire and really inspires, you know it kind of manifests this environment that wants people to reach out for more during the festival. It is certainly a special place.
Does the concept of Fire come through your sculpture?
The House of Fire, I was kind of thinking of a name for the venue and I was lying in bed one Sunday morning listening to Sankomoto's House on Fire, it is a song about a cross border raid into Lesotho. That certainly wasn't the kind of theme I had in mind. But House on Fire, the connotations of warmth and celebration and energy seemed very appropriate at that point on Sunday morning. That was the concept behind House on Fire. Bushfire was about taking that concept beyond the 4 walls of the venue and reaching outwards to a larger audience. In the first year we had 4500 people and the first year was magical. You look around you and you wonder how it is all happening and why it is happening. Bushfire has a magic about it that has resonated with so many people. Word of mouth is a very big tool for us. Whoever comes here takes away the spirit and the message and brings people back with them. There are a lot of returning festival goers.
How did Firefest come about?
We kept the fire them rolling through all our platforms and Firefest obviously comes back into both Bushfire and House on Fire. Firefest was essentially developed through a need to be more practically minded in how we formalised networks that would essentially help with the developmental needs of festivals. We are part of a festival network called the African music festival network. It has a continental focus. I think after the first couple of sessions I was very aware of the scope of the project... If you look at the continent there are huge distances between events and developing a more kind of regional focus, a more practical orientated regional focus and network seemed to be the obvious thing to do. Azgo was in its infancy then and I had spoken to Paulo Chibangu who is its director there and I said it would make sense if you happened a weekend before us or after us so we could work together in soliciting acts and promote exchange between our festivals. It then seemed obvious to try and expand that relationship with other festivals in the region. I looked around and there was Africa Day, there was Sakifo also happening in Reunion. HIFA was a month before and gradually a kind of network of events emerged. It has been incredible to appreciate the opportunities that Firefest has presented because I think for the first time in the continents history we have a festival portal that allows members to solicit acts and promote exchange between member festivals. We now have artists within the region, traveling internationally and it is great. We have cultural ambassadors getting out there. It is certainly moving the arts around. We have got a whole lot of partners who have come on board. They are very excited about being able to export their culture to the region. We work with the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Columbians, the Americans and the Swiss to name a few. It means they can export their cultural performance to not one country but possible five or six. We all share a similar aesthetic. There is a professionalism and a capacity that supports regional exchange and touring opportunities. It hosts a whole number of other opportunities as it develops. Creative tourism is an exciting prospect this year and we are working with various PR agencies to sell the idea of a festival tour circuit for the audience so the idea of people coming into the region and being able to move around between festivals in a manageable time frame.
Are there plans for expanding festival circuit such as Durban or Indian Ocean festival circuit?
Yes we are in discussion with a Durban based partner and it looks like it is actually materialising. Although I can't confirm it, but it looks like we will have a Durban partner for the second weekend of June and we will know if this is happening within a week's time. We are very excited about the opportunity of having Durban based partner, because it really makes sense for the ‘Swazi Mozambiqe KwaZulu Natal' triangle. We also have a partner who is very interested in Namibia so as the network develops and with the host of opportunities to presents we are certainly getting a lot of interest from other interested parties.
A word on the school festival, will the artists participate in the development?
Exactly. We use the opportunity and we basically coincide the two events in the week so the artists that are coming through for the main event will come and support schools. We also have people coming in for schools that support the main event so it has made practical sense that we have who have no formal arts curriculum opportunity in schools. We are presently working with other stakeholders mainly government and our local university to see how we could formalise an arts curriculum in Swazi schools going forward.
Regarding politics, is travel between borders a constant?
I don't think so. I think what I must acknowledge that this is not a one size fits all scenario. Not all festivals buy into the same artists, or exchanges. It is important to mention that we are all at different stages of our growth and development. Budget certainly dictates what we can commit to in terms of projects, touring programmes etc. I would say the same thing for the audience, we certainly don't expect the audience to visit all the festivals on the route, but it certainly could be a couple or 1,2,3. It is a question of what is practical. I think that has been the driving force behind all of this. How do we create a practical results driven network that really helps audience goers, artist and of course the festival teams themselves. We have got something dynamic happening and it can only develop going forward and it certainly offers a lot more profile to members. We certainly looking at selling ourselves collectively overseas and to the African continent and certainly there is strength in numbers. It is going to be exciting to see how the network goes.
The big buzz word at the moment is creative economy and I think the Firefest at the moment supports the development of a creative economy. We had a Danish company come in and do a survey and they said for every rand spent at the festival we bring in six for the economy. The figures are astounding. I think there is a real opportunity to use this creative network to develop not only the creative economy but the broader economy with our events. We literally take over Swaziland for the week of the festival. It is literally a creative coo if you like. A lot of the other festivals have equally powerful creative economies. The general impact of festivals within the sub region is very supportive and encouraging for creative growth.
I see Gone Rural program?
We have a local company here called Gone Rural which uses Lattanzi which is a local Highveld grass. Gone Rural was basically set up by my mother who has passed on now and is run by my sister in law and has 700 women involved who sell product all over the world. They are doing exceptional work and are one of the family businesses here on the farm. There are a group of family businesses.
Interview Two … January 2016
What is the effect of “outside art” on Bushfire …?
The creative process started about 20 years ago, when I started working with roadside artists and needed a base to oversee the development of that work. At that stage I was buying roadside sculptures and taking them up to Johannesburg to sell at the roof top market. I then started to run my own shop in Mellville and after about 3 or 4 years I decided to create a base. My creative and artistic background meant that I wanted to be part of the creative process and that gave birth to House on Fire which is the venue that hosts the Bushfire festival. House on Fire has been an ongoing creation for the last 15 or so years. “Outsider art” is a concept that I have been familiar with from the onset and that is certainly the way we like to try and sell the space here. It is a “fantasy-scape” that is inspired by meeting points where different stories, symbols and icons come together: the collective picture, the symbiosis the idea of harmony in contrast. The idea is one of promoting tolerance and respect through the sharing of our common stories. And that is really what is depicted in the physical nature of the space. Soapstone relief, mosaic, sculpture, paintings, poetry, you name it.
Visit the House on Fire website for images and improvement on the copy.
My work with roadside artists inspired the creation of House on Fire, the venue that hosts the Bushfire festival. House on Fire has a year round programme for performance. It is an ‘Afro-Shakespearian globe theatre'. It is a creative shell where we host a variety of shows and accommodate corporate events and weddings throughout the year. And more broadly look at how we could develop the arts in Swaziland as a whole. The space catered for a gallery and a stage and performance arena where we could have various artistic codes shown throughout the year.
Are you a sculptor?
I am an artist. I have designed and created the identity of the space. I work with artists to realise the creation. The principle artists I have worked with are Noah Mdluli who works with soapstone. And Shadrack Masuku, he works with wood. I met these guys on the roadside and it has been a process of developing the style and technique and concepts and that is the process we have undertaken together; very much a collaboration and I have steered the creative vision.
Is there a parallel between outside art and the festival circuit?
The concept of creating the festival was born out of the creative vision of the space itself. We have always done things slightly differently. The question was what do we want to do with the festival and I think part of it was bringing people into this amazing environment, this “outsider art” space. It is magical. It oozes creativity and I think it creates an alternative mind-set. That kind of mind-set was about trying to get people to participate in an event where we could collectively engage ideas around positive social change. We wanted to use the creative platform to engage social concerns but also the developmental needs around arts development and more especially issues around the HIV aids situation in Swaziland. We have a beneficiary called Young Heroes. If you go onto the Bushfire website you can read more about that. The consciousness was what can we do with an event, where we bring people in and how do we inspire people to engage and be more aware of their environment. We ask people to bring their fire to Bushfire, paraphrasing, it is a collective responsibility for positive change. We are really trying to set a tone here. People can bring their fire to Bushfire and also take that fire back home and let it inform positive acts and concepts, ideas that they can take away.
Was Africa Month a coincidence?
That was a coincidence and has been a handy one. Bassline is one of the Firefest members and actively celebrate Africa Day on Saturday which is the 28 th this year. They bring through African acts which supports our programme which is largely embodies a Pan African line-up.
Does African Music Network add to what you can do?
That network was the initial impetus for me creating the Firefest route. It provided some initial funding and mentorship and it really was the kickstart for the formation of the Firefest route. The Firefest route will be changing its name into a more generic title, the Southern African festivals network. We have decided to do this so all members feel that the title of the network embraces all partners. Because it is a growing and evolving network it makes perfect sense we do this. We have a new event joining us in Durban, a sister festival to Sakifo. They bring a festival to Durban. That happens over the same weekend as Bushfire. It is about developing strong relationships with similar minded organisations that aid the development of arts across the continent. The more we do, coordinate and network the better.
Last time you said you bring the village to a standstill…
We bring the country to a standstill. There are no bed nights left in Swaziland during the festival. This year we are promoting the idea of Air B & B, we are bringing in a lot more tents but we have reached a ceiling in terms of the number of people we can accommodate. It is a good position to be in but it does mean we need to look at how we can grow sustainability. One of the buzz words is the creative economy and festivals such as Bushfire can have a positive effect on the country. An independent study done by a Danish organisation has suggested that for every malengene we spend on the festival, we generate six for the broader economy. I think last year we were looking at 30 million generated for the Swazi economy.
What is the common aesthetic of the festivals?
We route ourselves in Pan African performance with a sprinkling of international acts. We say “world music” festivals. It is music that has a strong texture and identity. It is certainly not popular sound although we do need to be quite pragmatic in the way we programme. We do have a few commercial acts that prop up he programme. Most of these events are for an alternative line-up which is quite refreshing because a lot of events these days pander to a popular market. We have a role to play in supporting and developing the emergence of good solid art within the region. I am sure artists will be very happy to know there are platforms that exist that do recognise work that is slightly left of centre.
Are you affecting the arts curriculum?
We have an extra day of the schools festival this year. We have four days of school festival that precedes the main Bushfire event. This day we expand our festival to include primary schools. And previous years we have just dealt with high schools. We bridge that gap and create a nice continuum and bring primary schools into that process now. There is no formal arts curriculum in schools and we work with the European Union and the MTN Foundation to open up the schools festival to more students. And we are hoping that this initiative will help us take a pilot project into a limited number of schools next year where we work with teachers and students and hopefully start the broader process of introducing arts into schools with all the stake-holders. That would be for a defined period of about three months throughout the year, which would conclude the festival event itself. Teachers and students would create a performance piece that would then be produced at the festival. Through that process the teachers and students would be introduced to the various elements of the course. That is something we will introduce in 2016/2017 year …
Is the “gone rural” project still going from strength to strength?
www.gonerural.co.sz : They have a website up. They are doing some amazing work and through their non profit wing Gone Rural Amagwe ” are supporting primary health care amongst women groups, artisans that they work with they support water projects and the like. Gone Rural Amagwe receive 100% of our merchandise profits at the festival. Young Heroes receive 15 imalingene of every ticket sold. That is the organisation that supports orphaned kids in Swaziland.
What percentage of ticket sales is that?
Last year it worked out to 160 000. Last year we had 11 000 unique ticket holders. But because we had repeat attendees over the weekend, the attendance figures we calculate per day. We have over 20 000 attending Bushfire. We have donated in the region of 1.5 M to date to both organisations.
There are a few intergovernmental initiatives are you active with them?
East3 Route deals primarily with the Maputo, Mozambique Swaziland triangle. Seychelles have recently come on board as well. We are aware that we have content. We now have three festivals happening on consecutive weekends. This creates a scenario where we can sell and market creative tourism. This is something we will be pushing with the East3 Route. We have got content for this route and I am really hoping this is an initiative that they see value in.
Are there new festivals?
Namibia hasn't transpired yet. There is a new event in Durban called Zakifo. The network is certainly open to new membership. The criteria is around a common aesthetic. We will programme similar acts. There is certainly the opportunity for other organisations and individuals to come on board. The practical nature of the tour circuit is it is quite concentrated in a manageable tour time frame, meaning acts that come into this part of the world, and local acts who are involved in exchanges between festivals, it all happens within a realistic time-frame. If the time-frame becomes too broad it becomes too difficult to manage. But it is not one size fits al. You can have an act coming out and doing a couple of events as opposed to the entire route. That is a matter for festival directors to decide what is most suitable. It opens the scope up for unique partnerships and other festivals joining and tagging onto the existing framework.
Have you seen an impact on Swazi music?
Absolutely. We have household names partly due to Bushfire and House on Fire. We have a feeder programme that supports local arts development throughout the year. The feeder programme is basically a battle of the bands. It is open to application. It is a series where we then arrive with the final four groups that battle it out to play Bushfire. We are getting local acts onto an international stage and exposing them to an international market. We have exposed local acts to international festivals so our Swazi acts are becoming cultural ambassadors within the region which didn't happen before. At the end of the day it is about having quality product. If you do want to 6ravel the world you have got to have what it takes. Bushfire is a vehicle for artists to expose themselves, professionalise their product. It is bringing a lot of people into Swaziland. Our early bird tickets go on sale next week. We had a sold out festival last year and I don't see why things will be any different. It is our tenth anniversary. We are expecting fire-works.
What are the names of Swazi musicians … ?
Bholoja represented Bushfire in the Reunion at Sakifo, Flo D represented Swaziland at Azgo last year. We have a new rising star called Belemsini. Nomsa M and we have a whole series of artists performing this year and Nancy G who is based in Johannesburg. It is certainly getting there and it is an exciting story to be a part of.
Do you have anything you would like to add?
We have to be brave enough to tell our own story, popular culture can be fairly invasive. For me it is really about exploring our own stories and being able to express them in a way where they find value as an experience in their own right and it is something that people want to be part of and it is a story that we can celebrate as Africans. We need to embrace our own story. I feel like Bushfire and the Firefest route are helping us to tell our own story. It is certainly something that is capturing the imagination of people all around the world. Bushfire and the network is also something that locals are finding pride and especially for local acts. It is a vehicle for them to get their stories out there. We are in a very good space and we need to make this sustainable and that is about finding the partnerships going forward.
Bholoja Interview 28/06
Swazi Soul is still on promotion. It is in stores especially in Mpumalanga. I have worked with SA and French musicians. The whole project was mixed and mastered in France. Kwa Magoga Number 43 was a special project still not finished. It talks about the ANC during the apartheid era when our comrades moved from South Africa to Swaziland. House number 43 was Grace Masilele who is called Magogo. It talks about everything that happened there like when the president Jacob Zuma was staying together with ex president Thabo Mbeki. Although they were based at George Hotel. There are only 4 tracks … I hope it will be released at the end of the year. Don Laka is producing the whole project under House of Masekela.
What about the big braai?
It is the second time it is happening but my first time to participate because it is charity work. The profits will go to the Philani Mswati Charity organisation under the Queen Mother in Swaziland. The charity is mainly for the elders in Swaziland, they give them food blankets and clothing, sometimes shelter. It is growing every year and as musicians we are partaking to support that charity. It is also for people who are handicapped. Sometimes they give to them wheelchairs.
How is it with the elder musicians?
I started my career and got my experience from the few guys who managed to break the boundaries – Isaac Gamedze and Buddy Masango. They are mostly playing country and western music. I was looking up to those guys and eventually they taught me. I continued on my own and started to listen to music Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, Jonathon Butler, South African music. And of late I listened to world music. I had to find my own style of singing and my own brand which is called Swazi Soul. I have to sing in SiSwati language and promote my culture.
The world musicians you have performed with have influenced you ?
Vusi Mahlasela has been my mentor and role model. I am happy in August he is inviting me to the festival that he is doing. I have also had the opportunity of being supported by the Alliance Francaise in Swaziland. Since 2007 they have been supporting me to have workshops. In 2009 trough Culture France I was part of the Visa pour la Creation competition that they host for the best up and coming African musicians which also discovered from Cameroon and Assa from Nigeria. 2010 I was on top 10 Radio France and won the best SiSwati album. That was my first album. It has been gradualy growing and finally last year I recorded my second Swazi Soul album which was pushing and marketing. Most of my work has been supported by Alliance Francaise. Culture France created a tour to 17 countries including Camores, Reunion, Madagascar, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia … It has been good experience and I have learnt a lot. In France in Toulous I had the opportunity of opening for Salif Keita …
Is Swazi music on the rise?
Yes. There is much support that we are getting as musicians. But when I started in 2005, being supported as musicians was at its lowest. Everything happens and accelerates because government is being part of it. As we are alone as musicians it is hard to make it on our own. It is the survival of the fittest. If government is supporting then things are better. We are getting somewhere slowly. Government is offering even music scholarships which is something they have never done before.
In the year 2000 I wanted to go to music school in university. And they said they are not sponsoring that unless you are doing engineering, doctor or teacher. I had to do Mechanical Engineering my second choice which I did until I finished in 2005. And then when I finished I went back to my career and worked for 2 days and then I realised I can't continue because my passion is in music. I started performing in restaurants and bars until I was performing at House on Fire where Jiggs Thorne did great work giving me opportunity to open for musicians coming there. That is when I was spotted by Claude Gonin. He was the director of AF by then. He believed in me but my craft was not solid. He said I have got something unique but I have to be exposed to the kind of music that I fall into. I started organising some trips for me to go to France and have workshops. Everything happened so fast and so quick. The mind-set back then is that you cannot live with your talent especially if you are doing music, but today everything has changed. Now parents in Swaziland are really supporting their kids to do arts because they have seen that we can make a living out of it. If others can, why not Swaziland?
Chatting to Mike Temple?
Mike Temple played a very big role for instance he opened an opportunity for me to be an ambassador for MTN. It was the first time. I had never heard of that in Swaziland before seeing big comp[anise doing it. But today companies in Swaziland are also believing that you can work with musicians, they can also be ambassadors, they believe in what we are doing as musicians and see the impact in the community. We are messengers. We are able to change people's lives. We need to be supported. He taught me even paperwork and clearly taught me that when the demand is too much you need to get someone to assist you now because you have grown and are able to do things on your own because also my work is demanding.
He talked of song lyrics?
Inzawayo - In the rural areas we all go to town to look for jobs but we don't bother to come home when things are going well. People abandon their home and go to the towns to search for work. They find work and don't go back home. One of the children will stay home with the parents and make sure they look after the parents until when they pass on they take their responsibility of the funeral. And all the other guys are not around they are in the mines in JHB and so forth and they never bother to go back. But when life is tough in the cities, they remember they have a home and you find that when the parents died they offered everything to the son that was always at home. And now they come back to fight for their place as well that this our home. Inzawayp means this is my place because my father left it for me. The others were irresponsible.
There is another one called Hiyi – like when you greet someone. This girl has got a boyfriend in the rural area, the farms. They have never been in town looking after cattle and the life style in the farms. They were a couple and decided to improve their lives. The boyfriend came with an idea that his girlfriend goes to town and becomes a tea-maker in one of the big companies. So they agree that the lady will go to Mbabane. Two weeks down the line the boyfriend decided to go to visit his girlfriend in town. He went there only to find that when he is greeting his girlfriend in his mother language. He is saying Sawubona Kunjani and the girlfriend is saying Hi! She is no more wearing flat shoes, she is wearing high heels. She has taken the life style of the city. The boyfriend was having difficulties because whenever he was talking in his SiSwati language the girlfriend was saying get a life boy, this is Mbabane. It is song that talks about losing ourselves. Being colonised by Western influence. It is a song saying be careful about this. Most of the time we are influenced by foreign things and we lose our self being.
Gospel music … ?
Don't be surprised when one day I am a pastor or a pareacher. I grew up in a Christian family and of course all my life I have been listening to gospel music at home and at church. The biggest thing about my music I am in the field because I know that I have been sent by God to play role in people's lives. It cannot be something that is like preaching like most gospel musicians are singing about but for me it is about bringing peace and happiness and motivating people who have low self esteem and addressing the issues that we are facing as a nation ad Africans in a nice manner and also bringing solutions to that. I believe if you are a musician you are a messenger for hope. And an ambassador for your country. My music is all about that bringing peace and inspiring people. It is all about unity.
Is there any influence of Izimbongi?
Your work in development?
Every year during my spare time I tour at least 20 schools in Swaziland motivating students and encouraging them to believe in themselves and work hard no matter what challenges they face and to perservere in life and also talking about the issues that are affecting us like HIV / Aids. That is sponsored by the US embassy in Swaziland. People must be responsible and look after themselves. Focus on studying and look after their future. They have to do things the right way. And also making examples that myself I was not a good student in mathematics but in order to do engineering I had to work hard to qualify. It happened and then I realised that I had never studied music but it had been through my hard work and believing in myself and working through the right people. You help yourself and believe in yourself before other people help you. That is the message. They can achieve anything they want, but education is important as well. They have to work hard, work smart and never mind about the challenges. The challenges should not be a stepping stone. It is there to make them stronger so they are able to be successful in the future whenever they reach problems, they know these are waters they can cross. Also educating them about the SiSwati language the culture and tradition we don't have to loose. It is good to know other people's cultures but don't loose your culture on the way but keep your culture your tradition know where you come from know where yo are gong and be the best story-teller about your livelihood and your culture in Swaziland. This year I will be doing it again and this time I incorporate traditional music and traditional instruments which will also be part of a festival that I am looking to have end of October called Yebo Mzala Yebo Gogo. This tour I will have a platform to lecture about traditional music and instruments and run a competition for students and scholars who are able to make the traditional music instrument to play it and compose a song on it that will talk about the history of Swaziland. To fuse that instrument with modern sounds for instance if you play Makhoyane with isitolotolo and fuse it with hip hop. That is to make them aware that you must have your signature in everything you do. You must put your culture first and you must be proud of who you are. You can appreciate yourself and your culture working hand in hand with other musicians as well.
In studio with?
Velemseni is 24 years old, young and up coming, embracing the Swazi Soul vibe. She is keeping the roots but embracing the modern vibes. We have just started something. It is long that we have been working together and we have decided to try and come up with a collaboration of songs which we are looking at having our own album for the duet. It is taking shape.
Chatting to Jiggs Thorne 10/06
We are working with local stake-holders, this is a collective initiative both government, the EU are a very big player particularly in driving a new creative based curriculum for primary schools that will be instituted in 2019, this their involvement with the schools festival. This is the first year we had a schools festival geared toward primary schools, in the past it was just for high schools. We felt a vacuum there as we wanted to engage students as early as possible.
This year we had our 6 th season. The format is that it starts in a couple of months time. It is set up to promote, nurture and develop Swazi acts. We call it Sibebe Friday Night Live, the road to MTN Bushfire. It is a development and feeder programme into Bushfire. Every year about 3 or 4 acts are selected from the series and get a chance to perform on an international stage. We also support the general professionalization of groups, we help them with press kits, proper images, good high res images, craft a biography and look at the professionalization of the process. A lot of the groups here don't have a call card. There is no formal press kit. There is the performances and the final selection of groups through a judging panel and audience participation results in the battle of the bands. The criteria for selection is based on the groups ability to promote itself over the lead-in to the battle of the band, they market themselves and their general performance on stage, their look, how they infuse and inspire their performance through what they wear bring to the stage and how they engage with the audience. All of these criteria speak to a set of judges and an audience vote on the final evening that sees 3, 4 acts go through to Bushfire. A great programme supported by Sibebe and a social responsibility project on behalf of House on Fire. It has an exciting interface with Bushfire.
We have the arts round table which is an arts industry development workshop that happens on the Friday day of the festival and that's a workshop where we have a number of artists both local and international who are performing at Bushfire to come in and relay their experiences on themes and topics which are defined and advertised. There is an opportunity for people to apply, RSVP for that event and every year we get about a hundred industry stake-holders to come and be part of that session. It is much needed as we are a young industry and it speaks to the business side of the arts. It is certainly something we work on annually and try and spread out over the course of the year with at least 3 of this sessions and the opportunity to take on the issues and the things we would like to action through the course of the year.
There are more seasoned artists who offer their time and expertise to younger up and coming artists.
Bholoja is a wonderful success story. He started out as a young musician here in Swaziland. He usd to pitch up at House on Fire when he first started and would offer to get up on stage at any opportunity. He didn't have any transport, money and in the early years he would stay the night at House on Fire after the performance because he couldn't get back. Didn't have the money or the transport. He then had the wonderful opportunity of partnering with the Alliance Franciase and Claude Gonin the then director of the AF recognised the talent and Claude was able to get Bholoja to France to record his first album with a group of amazing musicians over there. That was a fantastic formal start to his growth as an artist. Swaziland is a very small industry there are a limited number of venues you can play in Bholoja has done a lot of corporate events, but if you are going to make it as a musician you have got to perform outside of Swazilands borders – despite the gospel industry. But for other artists it has been very difficult to make that transition. But Bholoja has lead that within his genre. More and more we are hearing about local artists getting out and getting airplay in SA. It is something he has lead. He has managed to travel extensively with the AF. There were a few sponsored tours that got him around the continent and offered him the ability to perform in Europe. The SAFMC got him to Reunion, Moz. He is in Madagascar at the moment. He is out there and he needs to be in order to develop and grow his profile. It is great to see him achieving this. The life-blood is about being able to harness an international tour network within the sub-region and then te continent and then the world. He has what it takes to travel. His most recent album have dabbled with more popular style and a gospel sound. You need to be pragmatic as an artist and I am hoping he will keep true to his roots. His traveling team needs to be small and manageable and cater to the limited budgets people have available to get artists around the world. He is kind of a one man band, I actually enjoy him most when he is alone. He has a voice which soars. Bushfire has been a major platform for him to share his work with Swaziland and the world. Bushfire offers this wonderful vehicle – an annual international platform. It is an exciting opportunity for us all.
The SAMFC is a network of festivals that allows us to not only solicit acts but supports and promotes arts ability between member festivals and this ultimately means we are getting cultural ambassadors out into the region and for the first time you have Swazi acts traveling around the sub-region and is certainly offering local artists the opportunity to get out there and exposure is the big teacher and a major catalyst for growing the arts in the region.
Mike Temple managed Bholoja and there was tremendous growth for Bholoja during that period and making sure things were happening. When artists can attract management. When the products strong enough, management can really help grow and develop product.
Chatting to Michael Temple
Bholoja was probably one of the initial reasons that Swazi music started to rise. He became recognised locally, regionally and internationally. That then got Swaziland on the map. Although there have always been good musicians in Swaziland, the exposure has not been there and he managed to get the Swazi music name out there under his banner and he was one of the pioneers in making it available to the outside world.
I helped him a lot. The role I played was not one of artist management, I acted like a fatherly figure helping him to understand the business world of music and we were one of the first Swazi artists to have a meeting with SAMRO. I was more involved on that side. His music side I did assist him a lot. I cannot remove the assistance the ex-director of AF played in getting him on that African tour and the development of his first CD Swazi Soul which was done with their guidance, monetary and production assistance. David F was the sound engineer on the first CD that was produced and that made it an internationally recognised CD from a sound quality. I used to try and guide him in the right direction which he has gone as he has stuck to his music and his roots. To me it was a hobby and something I really enjoyed doing.
I heard him at House of Fire he was very raw but I did hear something. After that he went to Jiggs looking for assistance and Jiggs asked me to assist him. It is not something I normally do. Most of my life I have had businesses and I have been in politics for about 30 years. I did it and enjoyed it and I don't know if I would do it again. I looked after Joe Dlamini for many years. He was the first professional golfer for many years. I used to guide him help him, caddy for him every now and then. It was quite an interesting time because it was during the apartheid era so to see a white man caddying for a black man was a strange thing and we did have quite a few issues particularly playing in South Africa but it worked out fine. And it was the same thing I did for Bholoja. Here is a young guy, he needs assistance, guidance help and that is what I did. I managed to negotiate for him to be the MTN brand ambassador for two years. It was a pleasure. Hopefully he feels the same day. He is almost like a son to me.
I am chairman of Bushfire so have fortunately been involved in the industry for a long time working with creative guys like Jiggs and others. There is a hip hop guy called Courtesy, very good. He was MC-ing the event and it was on a Thursday and he called three school-boys up and I was blown up. He said the guys came to him on Tuesday and they know how to perform I gave them an open-mic session I was blown away and what you have seen is raw talent. I do believe there is a lot of musical talent. I don't know what it needs to make it take that next step. Is it money, I don't know. Is it exposure – yes. How do we get that exposure. Bushfire is an ideal opportunity for that exposure. It creates a lot of exposure for local artists.
Arts and Culture is a very strong department within the ministry and they do a lot of work in arts culture and the music industry but in such a small country with a limited fiscus, sometimes to spread the pie becomes very difficult. Often we need outside assistance like AF and others. US embassy was helping. Bholoja did a special song for Obama and he received a CD and wrote a letter back to Bholoja thanking him. That is the exposure. We have had Bushfire, what next?
There is a youngster called Lungani Makwang. He is a bassist, based in Johannesburg. He is in the band that performs for Nathi, Soul Brothers. There is Tlade Makhene. He is a Swazi but decided to base himself in Johannesburg. One thing we are proud of is our musicians, our music and culture. I do believe there is a huge opportunity, it is to get it out there for the world to appreciate.
Bholoja is an example of somebody using his culture. Most of the songs that he sings. Isayamo means this my plot of land that was given to me by the chief and nobody can take it. He sings about all the cultural things, how you are able to get a plot of land. In one of the songs he talks about ladies migrating from the rural areas to the urban areas and putting on high heals and forgetting where they come from and when they get back home their mothers scold them so it is bringing out a lot of culture.
And we have other musicians that sing like that, Nomzamo, she is with Joyous, she sings a lot of Swazi cultural songs. I don't believe
Bushfire developed the firefest circuit which was obviously the pre-cursor to Igoda. I got some funding to try and kickstart a project and the firefest route came out of that. As the network developed the various partners in the group felt that the name needed to be more representative of the collective. Firefest route spoke to Bushfire and was a bit of a branding exercise when I kicked it off. Subsequent discussions lead to how to redefine the brand and how it would generate more of a collective input. Initially Bushfire was driving the project.
From my side and I am sure that this is a general sentiment that with the evolving of the partnership and with Igoda taking hold there has been a much more collective participation and input into developing the network. We have created a website, video, constitution and all members are actively contributing to promoting awareness around Igoda, identifying acts that we would like to collectively have tour the circuit. We have annual meetings. The framework, general commitment and evolvement have certainly developed with the transition from firefest to igoda which is very exciting for the future and sustainability of the tour circuit.
Igoda literally means knot in Zulu, We have kind of knotted ourselves together. The idea is to formally set ourselves up so that we have a presence and there is a clearly defined portal for people to get in touch.
One of the exciting developments of the network is the creative tourism aspect which we are looking to develop going forward. You have a number of festivals over a short period of time. The Australian delegation will be attending Azgo then going to Kruger Park for a couple of days and then attending Bushfire, so it is an exciting package. This was always foreseen to be one of the off-shoots and deliverables of this kind of circuit that we could collectively promote packages to tourists both regionally and internationally.
There is strength in numbers. From the get go it was about compromising on dates and aligning dates so we could create this network structure. And it would only make sense in a manageable tour time frame. You couldn't have a tour circuit extending over 3 weeks, it just gets too long. There was consideration to package the core group of festivals into a two week period. Sakifo happens just outside of that. We all have our zones. All the festivals have their individuality and uniqueness and as a result attract a particular audience. With certain acts you will get cross over. With Damien Marley coming in a lot of people will go down to Zakifo but that doesn't detract from Bushfire in the sense that we provide a much broader experience. It is not just about the performances, there are a whole range of experiences, it is a much more holistic event. We would like to feel we have something unique to offer and I am sure Azgo will say the same thing. They are dealing with acts that cater for a Lusophone market. They are on the beach, they are in Mozambique for goodness sakes. And the same goes for Zakifo. We try to be aware of our programme and find diversity as much as possible, so we are not purely replicating each other's programme, there is enough diversity to warrant having four different festivals over the couple of weekends we stage them on.
I was part of a continental network so firstly there was a language issue with people from North, East, West and South. We would have to have translators. And the objectives were very ambitious. To try and make anything work on a continental level was very difficult. It was about trying to create a manageable block and thus the firefest route which was a precursor for igoda. It was about getting a group of festivals into a block where we could collectively solicit acts and promote regional exchange between our festivals. That has happened and it is an evolving developing concept. It is a very fragile framework and every year we all go about trying to find sponsorship to sustain what we do. We do have a recognised block now. Igoda will certainly facilitate sponsor partner engagement. There will be a lot of people out there interested in what Igoda offers, particularly international acts coming into Africa. I have been invited to Switzerland by Pro Helvetia and they are introducing us to the Swiss music market and are looking to bring out annual acts. We have partnerships with Austria, America, France, Portugal, Spain; they are looking for a portal and professional festivals. They are looking to export their culture to the region and if they can support travelling acts and get them to 3 or 4 countries they are ticking all the boxes.
Ticket sales are up by 50%. We are coasting along which is very exciting. We are not looking to expand. We feel the intimacy of the festival works. We have reached a ceiling. There are no more bed nights in Swaziland. We literally take over the country so it is a creative coo of sorts. We are looking at strategic ways to generate increased revenue. It speaks to space useage, sponsorship, budgeting, etc. I would imagine the Glastonbury team at some point maybe said the same thing. My feeling is certainly that bigger isn't better. It is about a take-away experience and we are very protective about that.
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