/ 17 May 2013

Bushfire Festival gets a continental shift

Tuareg guitarist Alhousseini Ani-volla
Tuareg guitarist Alhousseini Ani-volla

When it comes to the best music from the African continent, Swaziland’s Bushfire festival has built up a fearsome reputation in Southern Africa and, in 2013, it looks like the latest edition has some unusual offerings from faraway places lined up.

Tuareg guitarist Alhousseini Ani-volla, who made his name with the band Etran Finatawa, will be heading down from Niger to present new material from his acclaimed solo album Anewal/The Walking Man and Ghanaian/Swiss experimental pop outfit Oy will be showcasing their new work.

One of the gems of Bushfire 2013 is set to be Colombia’s finest, Bomba Estéreo, whose fusion of cumbia beat with electronic production should move the crowd into the early hours.

The South African contingent will include established and emergent talent: Nakhane Toure, The Soil, Shangaan Electro, The Brother Moves On and Bokani Dyer.

The Mail & Guardian chatted to the headliners of Bushfire 2013 to get a sense of what to expect.

Alhousseini Anivolla (Niger)
“For a long time I had this idea to record a solo album,” says Anivolla, talking about his new offering.

He says that all the experiences he has had, the people he has met and the places he has travelled to since 2004 with his band Etran Finatawa have inspired him immensely, and with his recently released solo album he wanted to find a balance between recognising that inspiration and addressing what it feels like to be away from home as well as his strong cultural roots.

“The new album is a lot about me and my relationship with my culture; it is a call for solidarity and respect of our traditions,” he says.

Anivolla is no stranger to South Africa — he visited the country in 2009 with Etran Finatawa, and in 2011 for a project called Guitafrik.

“I enjoyed our first tour in 2009 so much,” says Anivolla. “I appreciated the audience; the welcome. I felt very comfortable here in South Africa.”

This time he will be playing shows in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Harare, Durban and at Bushfire.

The tour will be something different for Anivolla, who will be collaborating with KwaZulu-Natal guitarist Guy Buttery.

So how did the collaboration with Buttery come about?

“We met in 2009 in Mauritius for the first edition of Guitafrik,” says Anivolla. “We stayed for three weeks in Mauritius and we enjoyed it very much, rehearsing and working together.”

So what can local Southern African music fans expect at Bushfire or one of his many gigs?

“Two very rooted guitarists who inspire each other and who will create something very special,” says Anivolla. “We will perform parts of our own work and will show a couple of new creations and will of course let the audience be part of the artistic improvisation.”

Oy (Ghana/Switzerland)
Returning to South Africa is Ghanaian/Swiss musician Joy Frempong, who performs under the stage name Oy.

Frempong previously toured South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique in 2009 with the band Filewile, and in 2011 she returned to play some gigs in Swaziland and South Africa as a solo artist under the Oy moniker.

Her music borrows from the palettes of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music, but is very improvisational and experimental in nature, using loads of found sounds.

Her latest album, Kokokyinaka, was recently released on Creaked Records and features samples that Frempong collected in Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and South Africa.

Anything from knives being sharpened at a market in Ouagadougou, the sound of an ill-fitting door being opened in a cottage in Johannesburg to Frempong’s mother’s loud washing machine made it on to the album.

Frempong says she cuts her found sounds into snippets and uses them as the sample base for the new tracks.

“I wanted the lyrics to be based on stories, traditional and everyday, nowadays experiences of people I would meet on the way,” she says.

“Back in Berlin, Oy became a duo. Lleluja-Ha, a drummer and producer, joined in with acoustic drum beats and arranged the songs,” says Frempong. “He produced the album and we perform the shows together.”

So as a duo the band will be playing shows in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland this year.

Bomba Estéreo (Colombia)
Bomba Estéreo’s Simón Mejia says the band has only played in Africa once before — the Agadir Festival in Morocco last year — so the band is very excited about their Southern African tour.

The tour will take them to Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.

“Colombia has a rich heritage of influence from African music,” says Mejia. “My own personal influence with African music is huge, from the 1970s up until now.”

Mejia name-drops Fela Kuti and the Afrobeat movement, which tore through the continent, but also references newer artists such as Kinshasa’s Konono No. 1 and South Africa’s very own Shangaan Electro.

“I’ve been listening to lots of Tinariwen also and Staff Benda Bilili,” he adds.

Bomba Estéreo have dubbed their music electro vacilón or “electro tropical”. I ask Mejia what this tags means to him.

“They are terms to try to explain a certain mixture that is difficult to categorise, as there are many influences … from traditional Colombian music to African music, to electronics, rock, dub, ambient …”

Let’s just say it’s a heady brew from the global South or, if you are looking for pointers, imagine MIA was Colombian.

Bomba Estéreo have a new album out, titled Elegancia Tropical.

“It’s our third album and basically a new exploration of traditional Colombian rhythms mixed with electronica,” says Mejia. “We have been exploring this fusion for many years and I think this is a good result.”

So what can music fans at Bushfire expect from Bomba Estéreo??

“Dance, energy, fire and complete madness!” answers Mejia.

The Southern Africa circuit is on fire
This year sees the launch of what is arguably Africa’s first festival circuit.

The Firefest Route includes Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe, the Azgo festival in Mozambique, the BlackMajor festival in South Africa, the Bushfire festival in Swaziland and the Safiko Musik festival in Réunion.

All five of these festivals take place between April 30 and June 9.

Bushfire director Jiggs Thorne says the festival partners chose to align festival dates in order to realise the benefits of the Firefest Route.

“This alignment of dates of festivals in the region provides a massive tourism opportunity for the festivals and their host countries,” says Thorne.

“With over 20 000 people attending the well-established Bushfire festival annually, newer festivals such as Maputo’s Azgo festival can benefit from the many foreign and international visitors looking to experience events that truly showcase regional talent.”

One of the main benefits from the formation of the festival is the sharing of costs when bringing top acts from the continent to perform.

Colombian act Bomba Estéreo will be headlining the Firefest Route — appearing at all member events.

South African act The Brother Moves On  will also be joining the Firefest Route for its full duration, along with Hope Masike (Zimbab-we), Masikane (Swaziland) and Muzilation (Mozambique).

Thorne says the route has allowed for cross-cultural music collaborations to take place.

An example is a special Fire­fest Route project, in which Masike who will be working with Muzilation and South Africa’s Bokani Dyer.

Another collaboration sees Nathalie Niatembe from Réunion working and performing with Cheny wa Gune from Mozambique at the Azgo, Bushfire and Sakifo festivals.

The Firefest Route kicked off with the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe (April 30 to May 5) and is followed by Azgo in Mozambique (May 24 to May 26), BlackMajor in South Africa (May 31) and MTN Bushfire in Swaziland (May 31 to June 2), and wraps up with Sakifo Musik in Réunion (June 7 to June 9)