MTN Bushfire 2015 lived up to its name – with well over 20 000 people celebrating Africa’s largest world music and arts festival. For the first time in its nine-year history, Bushfire was completely sold out the day before the festival even started. Thousands of music lovers from across Africa and around the world enjoyed three days of music from a range of artists as diverse as the crowd itself.
As in previous years, this year’s edition boasted an incredibly diverse selection of artists to please all tastes. On Friday night, the festival kicked off to the sounds of local diva Nomsa M, followed by Turkish indie band 123. Next up was Haja Madagacar & the Groovy People, a special musical collaboration for the Firefest route of festivals of which Bushfire is a part. The band featured some of Southern Africa’s most talented musicians: charismatic Malagasy guitarist, singer and multi-instrumentalist Haja Madagascar, along with South African bass player Sibusiso Motsoeneng, Mozambican drummer Stelio Mondlane and vocalists Spirits Indigenous from Swaziland. They put on a tight, well-rehearsed set of funky, pan-African grooves that set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
They were followed by Johannesburg-based indie back Shortstraw, now regulars at most of South Africa’s leading rock festivals, who around midnight put on an energetic, fun-filled show that underlined the band’s status as one of the region’s most talented and likeable rock bands. As the night wore on, big names Cassper Nyovest and Culoe De Song put on rather unremarkable performances, with Cassper lacking the energy of a backing band, and Culoe seemingly going through the motions.
Meanwhile, at the nearby amphitheatre stage, Zimbabwean/Australian band True Vibenation got the party started ahead of French electro act Poni Hoax. An unexpected highlight of the night was the performance by DJ Invizable (formerly one half of globe-trotting Afro-centric duo Gazelle) and the Champions of the Sonarverse. With each member disguised in outlandish masks and outfits, the band put on a breathtaking display of stage theatrics and instrumental virtuosity, before DJ Danger Ingozi closed out the night with his signature brand of intelligent, Afro-centric dance music.
With Saturday offering a full day’s worth of entertainment on both stages, sleep deprived and hungover festival goers made their way into the heat of the day to catch performances by local percussionist Tlale Makhene and his band (including Malawian guitarist Erik Paliani), followed by BCUC and Bongeziwe Mabandla, all of whom were at the top of their game. Mozambican band Transito delivered more tight, Afro-centric grooves on the amphitheatre stage while festival headliners Sweet Honey In The Rock, the Grammy-winning American outfit, took to the main stage around sunset. The performed a few songs by the late Miriam Makeba and were joined by Swazi diva Floewe for a few numbers. Later that night the capacity crowd rocked to the sounds of Mozambique’s Banda Kakana, South African favourites Freshlyground, global neo-soul superstars Les Nubians from the US and Malagasy legends Jaojoby.
Sunday’s line-up featured American journeyman Stelth Ulvang and his Cape Town-based trio, delivering a passionate set of folk-inspired indie tunes that had some teenage girls lining up next to the stage for autographs afterwards. They were followed by the Amandla Freedom Ensemble, a group of supremely talented young South African jazz cats who are re-ignitied the glory days of South African jazz. The band includes young Oscar Rachabane, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, sax legend Barney Rachabane. They were followed by another popular rock band, The Parlotones, and SAMA-winning Afro-soul act The Soil, before local Swazi talent Continental Drift and Ras Reggie & Ras Ritchie Project ended proceedings around sunset.
Other acts on offer included the Austrian violin-and-cello duo of Sweet Sweet Moon and Australian Ethio-funk act Black Jesus Experience, who both performed twice during the weekend (once on each stage) to make sure their long flights to the Swazi kingdom were justified.
All in all the festival was a huge success. The event also lived up to its worldwide reputation for its visionary approach, authenticity and call to action for igniting a collective response to social change, a unique concept to events in Africa. With 100% of MTN Bushfire festival profits donated to local charites, the festival’s clarion call to action of #BringYourFire has never been stronger. Festival Director Jiggs Thorne had this to say of the 2015 event: “We were truly blown away by the support of fans this year! Never has such a large crowd gathered in Swaziland to peacefully enjoy such a range of musical and cultural talent.”
One minor gripe this year was the relatively poor turn-out of Swazi music lovers, unlike last year that arguably saw more day-visitors from Mbabane and the rest of the kingdom. This year most of the audience consisted of South Africans, European and American expats living in the region, and Mozambicans making the trip down after last weekend’s Azgo fest in Maputo. This might be a result of the specific artists on the bill, as well as the fact that the event was broadcast on local Swazi TV (more on that here). But balancing the demands of locals and tourists is a challenge for any music festival.
Nevertheless, MTN Bushfire 2015’s massive success looks set to only continue into 2016 as the festival celebrates 10 years. The MTN Bushfire 2016 team promises an even better experience built on the learnings and successes of the the past nine years. “We are so excited to continue to improve the MTN Bushfire experience as we head into 2016, and the tenth anniversary of Bushfire,” added Jiggs. “We want to thank all our sponsors and especially all the fans who join us every year and ‘Bring Their Fire’!”