Dancing with the Diaspora
The Organisation of African Union was founded on the 25 th May 1963 by Haile Selassie and Kwame Nkrumah with the ideals of “ embracing our collective identity and rejoicing in our unique rich heritage and culture.”
A network of multi-facetted world music festivals called Southern African Music Festival Circuit (SAMFC) continues the celebration every May. Bushfire festival in the Malkerns valley of Swaziland is the heartbeat of this initiative and happens on the same weekend as Johannesburg's Africa Day and Durban's Zakifo festival. The circuit also links with Maputo's Azgo festival, Harare's HIFA festival and Saint-Pierre in Reunion's Sakifo festival.
HIFA is the oldest festival in the region, established 1999. It has begun to expand its increasingly influential position in the socio-cultural landscape of Zimbabwe with programs running throughout the year offering innovative performances and exhibitions, community engagement projects, high entertainment sports events, audience development initiatives and event management services. Sakifo, established 2004 have expanded the festival to include an Indian Ocean Music Market for the business of music. Sakifo is instrumental in the start-up of a “little sister festival” in Durban, Zakifo, now in its second year.
The festival circuit adds content to existing intergovernmental arts, culture and heritage exchanges, such as The East3route (South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, Seychelles) and gives a point of focus for international embassies, institutes and sponsors to extend the reach of their promotions. Festivals on the circuit share costs in more efficient ways, and are better positioned to overcome challenges, whether financial, logistical, social or political.
These festivals all share a common creative aesthetic and vision for arts development in the region; in a word, “fire.”
The conscious fire spread like wildfire into the bushfire annual festival, which celebrated its tenth year with a capacity crowd of approximately 20 000 visitors from all over the world, all sharing in different and dynamic perspectives of the Bushfire experience.
On the SAFMC, performances and exchanges between the countries of the SADAC region are given greater exposure. The greater exposure of performers from the location is a big feature.
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.
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.
Interview Two … January 2016
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.
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.
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.
Southern African Music Festival Circuit took place in Maputo, Johannesburg, Swaziland, Durban and Reunion. HIFA in Harari will join the circuit 2017.
HIFA (Harari) www.hifa.co.zw
Zakifo (Durban) www.zakifo.com
Africa Day (JHB)
Bushfire (Swaziland) www.bush-fire.com
Sakifo (Reunion Island) www.sakifo.com
© 2018 African music, writing, philosophy and multi-media creations Struan Douglas