We Are One - if you can afford R290

The We Are One festival saw thousands of people at Emmarentia Dam. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

The We Are One festival saw thousands of people at Emmarentia Dam. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

The Holi One festival, rebranded the We Are One colour festival, saw hordes of festivalgoers toss around coloured powders in the spirit of togetherness. But is there something wrong with cashing in on a Hindu event?

The celebration of Holi hails from India and celebrates the arrival of spring in that part of the world. According to Uwalzi writer Yoveshine Pillay, “The legend of lord Krishna is also linked to the festival of Holi.
Lord Krishna enjoys playing and applying colours on his loved ones, especially his beloved Radha, hence Holi had the ideals of the triumph of good over evil and as well as the spreading of a sense of oneness and love with the people around us."

In South Africa, Holi is celebrated largely, but not exclusively, in Durban and marks the arrival of the Indian slave labourers, who carried with them their traditions and cultures.

The We Are One festival, held at Emmarentia Dam in Johannesburg on Saturday, however, seems to celebrate pretty colours and drunkness. This is probably why they had to change their name from Holi One to We Are One a few weeks before the festival hit Johannesburg.

Ah, but their PR people put it so nicely: "Dear fans, our colour festivals are about bringing people together and celebrating the fun and colour of everyday life. To support and reinforce this ethos more strongly we have rebranded to We Are One colour festival. We also wanted to clear up any ambiguity between our event and the Hindu festival that it’s based on, and so have removed the word Holi from the title."

While Holi celebrates togetherness, We Are One celebrates the togetherness of those able to afford the 290 bucks of a general admission ticket. The festival organisers went so far as to state on their page: "No VIP tickets will be sold as We Are One promotes the concept "We are all one".

Not that people cared about coughing up that amount. Tickets sold out long before the festival and some shrewd festival goers were cashing in on selling theirs for up to R1 000 a pop.

Traditionally, Holi is a free event, with anyone in the community welcome to take part. We Are One tickets ran at R190 a ticket if you didn't want the pre-approved Holi powder, and R290 if you wanted five packets of powder at the festival. You cannot, of course, bring in your own powder. Perhaps because unapproved powders could be environmentally damaging – not that having thousands stomping around Emmarentia Dam is doing wonders for the environment.

But who am I to rain my righteous judgment on this festival. The commercialisation of religion, spirituality and advocacy is nothing new. Think Christmas and Easter, the Spice Girls cashing in on women’s empowerment through "girl power" and the alleged "pink-washing" of Jo'burg Pride.

Despite this, or probably because of it, I had an amazing time at We Are One. Mindlessly throwing around coloured powders on your friends turned out to be far more fun than I ever could have imagined. The festival seemed seamlessly organised, the live DJs were incredibly good and the booze was flowing.

I by no means felt the togetherness or spirituality that the Hindu festival embodies, but I came home smiling, giddy and looking like a unicorn had puked rainbows on me. Not a bad fare for the state of my car today.

Grethe Koen

Grethe Koen

Grethe Koen has an Honours degree in political science and worked at an organisation for prisoners’ human rights before joining the Mail & Guardian online team as a sub-editor. When she’s not replacing commas with full-stops and taking out pesky html coding she likes writing about music, gender issues and whatever is trending on Twitter. Read more from Grethe Koen

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