Bushfire 2018

I admit, I have Romantic ideas about “Africa”. They lean towards pan-Africanism, and as my friend Vuyi put it, they may also sound like I want to take Africans back to the bush. True. My Wakanda has no need for a fast train! So, as long as I can have an experienced ranger by my side, you’d find me at the front of that bush-trekker movement. Having said that, I’m well aware of my Romanticism, and as much as I am sometimes frustrated by what I consider a Westernization of African cultures, I own my frustration and accept (and do enjoy, yes) 21st-century African realities. The MTN Bushfire Festival in eSwatini is part of this reality. If my previous experiences of festivals in Africa, especially at Sauti za Busara (Zanzibar), but also at Lake of Stars (Malawi) fed into my Romantic views of “Africa”, Bushfire was rather sobering – pun intended … 

Bushfire is just as defined by the heavy consumption of alcohol as major European festivals I’ve been to (plus the consumption of even more dagga, or “Swazi gold”). At previous festivals on the continent, I’d never seen anyone throw up, nor even annoyingly drunk, and still everyone was having fun, dancing and so on. I liked that in particular about Sauti za Busara and Lake of Stars. Bushfire is different in that respect, and yet it also differs from the festivals I’ve been to in Europe: toilets and the premises are cleaner, people don’t piss everywhere, and while I’ve attracted some grumpy looks, perhaps because of my African attire, I never felt the amount of aggressiveness that I remember from Hurricane or other festivals. While the choice of music at Bushfire is more mainstream than, say, at Sauti za Busara, the festival at large is also “African” because of the dancing and especially the laughter everywhere. Oh, how I will miss this when I’m back down north!


Apart from the joy and fun we had, I had great conversations with people who I got to know there – Omo, Sandile, Dudu, and numerous others. They ranged from relationship issues to music, politics and racism to spirituality. Or involved the most hilarious nonsense, as when “the pastor” stared into the camp fire and came up with his prophecies. 

“the pastor”

The journey to eSwatini started with a bus trip. I had booked a return ticket with TransMagnific, who promised a luxury ride to Ezulwini valley, which is near the festival site. Well, I found myself waiting together with Omo to be picked up by them in Sandton at 9:45, departure time was 10 a.m. We got nervous around 10:30, and at 11:30 I eventually called their head office in Mbabane and was told to wait till 1 p.m. And indeed, the bus arrived at 1:30, only three-and-a-half hours later than we meant to go. The driver said the previous bus had been at the allocated pick-up point at ten, but neither Omo nor I had seen it. Anyway, here we were, Omo and I plus newly arrived Anna, on our way to Bushfire. Crossing the border was quick and easy, and we arrived at Ezulwini at around 8 p.m. Anna had been talking to a local guy on the bus, and as he was picked up by his brother, they offered us a lift to the campsite. What a nice welcome! Once there, I pitched my tent with Anna and her friends, who had arrived an hour earlier, with Sandile, by car from Durban. They were great company! True, except Sandile they are much younger than I am. The three girls are German volunteers in Botswana, and were joined by three guys, likewise German volunteers, though in South Africa and Mozambique. The atmosphere was great, and the champagne and Tequilas did not exactly diminish our high spirits … (hi “mama”!) When a friend of Sandile’s from Soweto arrived he looked at me and two of the guys and went “Are they yours?” LoL!!! Well, they could be.

In our group competition I took the lead as I met as many as three friends (from Jo’burg) unexpectedly. Che and Anna got in as performers, and Che walked around as a giant locust for a while, which I realized when that locust grabbed me and kept on calling “Dirk, Dirk” πŸ˜‰ . Quite a number of people approached me about my clothes. I was mostly wearing African attire (nice things!), and often people – women as well as men – said they loved it and where did I get it. Those were always good moments to make new friends, and I did. It also happened that I met someone new only to find out later that we have common friends in Jo’burg. Now ain’t that a sign? Anyway, it felt good to hear people shouting “Hey, Dirk” or “Vuyo” (my South African nickname) when I was walking around the campsite. Some other guys had brought two drums and a guitar, and when I asked if I could join in I ended up singing Tuku’s “Neria” and other songs for them. More than once some would say in surprise, “eish, that mlungu!” Yay! One of the ladies there had such a great voice, and the guitarist was really good as well – we could have performed in a small club without rehearsals.  Awesomeness!

by and with Lorraine Handel

The location of Bushfire is just amazing: surrounded by mountains, there is a small park and some very fantastic architecture, the House on Fire. One main stage, and three smaller ones as well as a food area and a market cater for over 20,000 visitors, and in its 12th year there are fears that it’s becoming too big and too commercial.

I’ve already mentioned that some of the permanent architecture there is quite fanciful, and especially the House on Fire behind the main stage is a stunner with its amphitheatre-stage, cafeteria and bar. There was plenty of good food for still affordable prices. A lot of people would braai, and braais were even available for rent. Again, I enjoyed African hospitality when people started talking to me and eventually invited me to share in the cow kidneys or steaks or boerewors they were preparing.

Friendliness incarnate selling vegan burgers

The best cujon (cajon?) chicken by the funniest chef ever

Wakanda moments



Most importantly: the line-up. One stage featured mostly DJs, and while I went there every once in a while and did dance, I focused mostly on the main stage. As for the other two stages I’m afraid I must have missed quite a lot, but hey, I only have one life!

Firefly – the realm of DJs

Most performers were unknown to me, which has its pros and cons. My highlights: Timbila Muzimba (Moz), Elida Almeida (Cape Verde), Dear Ribane & Okzharp (SA), Sekou Kouyate (Guinea Conakry), Bholoja (eSwatini), Sipho Hotstix Mabuse (SA). I loved the performance by Sho Madjozi – she’s like a hyperactive kid spreading joy in a workout fashion (and I realized I knew some of her music). Naturally, the performance of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (SA) together with Yemi Alade (NGA) band legend Salif Keita (Mali) was the absolute highlight. What a privilege to hear “Nowhere be like Africa” and “Africa” live – in Africa! Bushfire became little Wakanda in those moments. I was dancing and singing away with a Zulu guy next to me, who laughed whenever I threw in a Zulu “hay” and such. Really good fun!

And then the last night was done, fog settled in and I was overcome with melancholy. Is there a way we could make life more like such good festivals? Warmer perhaps (nights in May in eSwatini, eish, can be really cold!).

Here’s some coverage of the music and more pics.


eSwatini TV coverage of some performances





Timbila Muzimba


Manthe Ribane

Not exactly my kind of music, but her movements are absolutely enticing.


Sho Madjozi

Elida Almeida


I was a bit worried about how the audiences would respond to him, after all it was one of his first public performances after the release of, and subsequent outrage about Inxeba. To me it felt like the first 15 or so minutes both sides, Nakhane and the audience, were rather apprehensive. Eventually there was more noticeable joy and ease on both sides, and when much later he asked whether there were any people from the Eastern Cape in the audience, and whether would still like him, the support was strong enough for his initially rather tense smile to become genuinely relaxed. That’s what it looked like to me anyway.

Velemseni (SWZ)

Oki Dub Ainu Band (JPN)


Sekou Kouyate

Sekou had the misfortune that a mild drizzle turned into serious rainfall during his performance, so the audience was rather limited in number – but not in spirit. He’s one of the few artists at Bushfire whose music I know and love. 

Africa Tribute to eSwatini: Ladysmith Black Mambazo (SA),
Yemi Alade (NGA) and Salif Keita (Mali)

What a great mix, two legends, and Yemi, who is one of the most popular pop singers across the continent these days. It was “Africa-ohh, Africa-ohh” all the way through! Taking turns, they performed alone and also together, and it was good to see Salif Keita again after last year’s performance at the Afrikafestival where he left the encores to his band and was reportedly ill afterwards.  


Sipho Hoststix Mabuse

… a legend, together with an excellent guitarist and an amazingly charming and beautiful singer whose name I forget, shame!



… more pics

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