With the smell of flavoured cannabis in the air, Swaziland’s citizens sadly stood outside of the music festival they hosted.
The mountainous kingdom welcomed thousands of Europeans, South Africans, Mozambicans and Americans to the annual MTN Bushfire festival of arts this weekend.
Over 30 acts completed the line-up but less than 10 Swazi musicians and DJs performed at the event along with South Africa’s Cassper Nyovest, The Soil, Freshly Ground, Shortstraw and The Parlotones and international acts like 123 from France and Sweet Sweet Moon from Austria to name a few.
But South Africa stole the show. The two star performances of the festival were Freshlyground and Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC), the seven Soweto musicians whose music will never be heard on a commercial radio station.
BCUC’s afternoon performance set the tone for inter-racial relationships and had everyone standing and grooving to their melodic ancestral sound in the Swazi sun.
With the sweat running down his body, wearing only shorts, Rens Hoogendelm from the Netherlands said: “This festival was amazing, but the performance that changed everything was BCUC. When they played even though I didn’t understand it, my heart felt it and it was awesome”.
Emily Steward from England said Freshlyground’s Saturday evening performance brought her to tears when they had the crowd chanting “Be my love when the fire is cold”.
Many South Africans were unimpressed with Cassper’s “tired” performance of his hit “Doc Shebeleza”, wondering if he lost his fire at the border gate traffic.
Despite the child-friendly festival’s popularity, the international guests far outnumbered the locals.
After the performances, the campsite bonfire was the unofficial meeting place for language lessons, early morning snacks and liquid courage.
Sleep was optional and fun was guaranteed with surprises like naked bodies at the open field hostel-like showers and spontaneous communal braai’s. It’s no wonder that some campers never made it past the entrance.
The only Swazis other than the musicians to be offered free passes to the festival were the police who were there in their numbers. But even the local authorities understood that festivals like Bushfire are where freedom is expressed and they looked the other way when some were enjoying Swaziland’s local delicacy (weed).