There are no trophies at the end of festivals

The Igoda festival network – which includes Zakifo in Durban, the Bassline Africa Day Concert in Johannesburg, Bushfire in Swaziland and Azgo festival in Maputo, Mozambique – is a partnership that’s making it simpler for festival directors to book big acts and share the costs and logistics. What it’s also done is caused wreaked havoc on the calendars, budgets and leave days of festival-lovers in the southern African region and beyond. Just this weekend, 26 to 28 May, Zakifo, Bushfire and Bassline will stage their festivals, each of them promising strong musical line-ups and great vibes.

When Damian Marley was announced as the headline act for Zakifo, I had a frank conversation with the three friends I’d planned to attend Bushfire with. (This after making “Damian Marley is coming to South Africa” my greeting to every person I came across, including Ranjit from the spaza shop around the corner, who started ignoring me completely after the third or fourth time.) I explained to my compadres-in-fest that there was no way, in this or any parallel universe, I’d be missing Damian Marley’s first performance in South Africa. But after finding out that he wouldn’t be playing Bushfire, we had to reorganise what our Africa Day weekend festival road trip would look, sound, taste and feel like.

For weeks, we’ve planned, executed whatever we’ve had the time and budget to do, shopped, argued, have got annoyed and forgiven each other. I’m not sure if we still want to be friends at all anymore; the only thing keeping us together might be our Airbnb, the meals we’ve bought and the Zakifo line-up.

And after all this, the day before the busiest festival weekend in Africa this side of Lake Kariba, some “wet behind the ears, haven’t really been to a three-day festival, too old to be a cool kid” critter decides to raise our collective blood pressure. This critter doesn’t understand the principle of peaking too soon, which holds that if you have too much fun the day before a major event, you’ll either end up not going or not be in the best form to have the fun you could have had if you’d just stayed home and crocheted.

Secondly, he did the most abusive thing you can do to anyone serious enough about festivals to have a headlamp: tell them the festival they’re going to isn’t as good as others. Attending festivals, of any kind, is not a competition. It might be an accomplishment, but certainly not an achievement. There are no trophies at the end, no matter what people who keep branded festival cups tell you.

In that moment, I saw this critter calling his friends across the border this weekend to tell them how amazing TKZee or whoever was at Bushfire was, then calling all the friends who couldn’t make the festivals to humblebrag and “I told you so” away the set-up time between performances. At that moment, he was almost as annoying as the “I’m coming to the festival” people who actually have no intention of even smelling festival dust.

Unusually, I didn’t foam at the mouth, sprout claws and attack him. Instead, I patiently listened, then replied by saying, my breath as light as a feather: “Damian Marley is in South Africa.” I felt like I’d won. Not because I’m clearly going to the better festival – I felt this way because many of us have been and still are sometimes him. Because choosing to go to any African festival and really going brings us closer to a more robust music industry on the continent and because festivals don’t pay patrons to be loyal. When a festival get the line-up right – like I believe Zakifo has done with Ray Phiri, Bombino, The Soil, Thandiswa Mazwai, Jojo Abot and Petite Noire – it deserves our support. And when they get it wrong, rather stay home, crotchet and sip from the cup of last year’s memories.

Images courtesy Setumo Thebe Photography

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