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Casting the music festival network wider

The Igoda festivals during Africa month, which commemorates the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity on May 25 1963, are taking place across Southern Africa.

“Igoda” means “knot” in Zulu and symbolises the five art and music festivals tied together in an inter-regional exchange to promote arts development financially, logistically, socially and politically.

The circuit originated in 2007 when Bushfire in Swaziland and Bassline Africa Day in Johannesburg began sharing musical performances. This collaboration reduced costs and increased artist mobility.

The early successes of the Swaziland/Johannesburg cultural corridor led Igoda festival circuit founder Jiggs Thorne to approach the Sakifo Festival on Réunion. “Sakifo”, a creole term meaning “what you need”, was started in 2004 by Jérôme Galabert in the coastal town of Saint-Leu.

Next to join the circuit was Maputo’s Azgo Festival, founded in 2011 by Paulo Chibanga, drummer for the band 340ml. Durban joined the circuit in 2015 with the Zakifo Festival, founded with Sakifo, Native Rhythms Records’ Sipho Sithole and publisher Andy Davis.

The inclusion of a Durban leg completed the triangle of co-operation between South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland.

This triangle rests on an intergovernmental arts, culture and heritage exchange known as the East3route.

Pan African circuit
Damien Marley, youngest son of Bob Marley, is headlining both the Sakifo and Zakifo festivals as part of an extensive five-stop tour up the east coast of Africa from Durban to Mauritius, Réunion, Kenya and Ethiopia.

More festival destinations will probably join the Igoda Festival circuit in the future. Neighbouring countries Zimbabwe, with its Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), and Botswana, are looking to participate.

And there is the long-term vision of using the template Igoda to replicate festivals in East, West and North Africa.

Thorne said: “When each region develops its block, it solidifies and strengthens the industry through the creation of networks. This generates interest, brings in acts and facilitates regional exchange and sponsor-partner engagements.”

Brad Holmes, founding director of the Bassline Africa Day festival, started the Bassline jazz club in Melville that operated between 1994 and 2003. It showcased the power of jazz music to break social barriers and change the way people thought. The forthcoming book, Last night at the Bassline, details the story of the Bassline jazz club and will be released on June 8.

Holmes said: “Today, Igoda is the pioneer. It is the next really great thing. It is growing and spreading. And we are giving audiences around the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region content they might not have necessarily seen.”

Festival on fire
A focus of the Igoda Festival circuit is the development of local talent. The 2017 Bushfire programme is 40% local, bringing 11 Swaziland acts to the main stage. A year-round feeder programme, Road to Bushfire, develops local talent at the House of Fire venue. Established Swazi performers include Afro-pop musician Bholoja and producer Mozaik, who performs with Siyinqaba. Exciting newcomers are Sands and Flameboy Universe.

Bushfire is a leader in balancing economic benefits with social upliftment. The R5-million revenue from ticket sales generates an effect six times the amount for Swaziland’s creative economy.

The festival is a leader in innovation and sustainability, including initiatives such as indigenous tree planting, recycling waste, solar-powered film screenings and cooking on gas. Emphasis is placed on raising social consciousness and changing people’s attitudes to encourage positive change. The Young Heroes programme provides food, education, healthcare and vocational skills training for 1 000 HIV orphans.

Zakifo in Durban has a 20% local participation that includes singer Lu Dlamini and electric duo Easy Freak. Festival director Gabriella Peppas said: “Zakifo is still a young festival and we are trying to grow. We are hoping to start a schools festival as well as a project called ‘Sound of Zakifo,’ which will lead up to the festival and look at developing KZN [KwaZulu-Natal] talent.”

What to expect
“A festival is a very egalitarian space. You get to create a world and populate it the way you want and be free to imagine a different reality,” says Davis.

The third consecutive year of the Zakifo Festival will have three stages overlooking the Blue Lagoon, a point of convergence of the Umgeni River and the Indian Ocean.

Between 50% and 60% of the performers across all the festivals are part of the Igoda circuit. These include Tuareg blues-rock guitarist Bombino from Niger, French electro trio Birdy Nam Nam, South Africa’s Thandiswa Mazwai, guitar maestro Ray Phiri and Yannick Ilunga aka Petite Noir, Ghanaian electro soul singer Jojo Abot, Congolese performer Baloji and Réunion’s Grèn Sémé.

Sakifo on Réunion, now in its 14th consecutive year, brings the town to a standstill with a capacity audience of 30 000 people enjoying nine different stages, satellite bar areas and a variety of local merchandise and trading opportunities. The festival includes the Indian Ocean Music Market, an annual record industry trade fair.

With the drop in Mozambican metacais, the Azgo Festival has cut its programme to one day of amazing music, art and culture. The festival, the theme of which is gender equality, is headlined by Latin Grammy award-winner Maria Gadu from Brazil and is 50% Mozambican with marrabenta masters Ghorwane and electro newcomers Batuk.

Africa Day has a new look. It has expanded out of Newtown and into the amphitheatre at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, a point from which the festival is expecting to expand. Gauteng artists, folk singer Vusi Mahlasela and popular singer Thandiswa Mazwai are included on the line-up. The department of arts and culture, Trace Africa TV and Khaya FM are partners.

The Azgo Festival takes place at University Eduardo Mondlane, Maputo, on Saturday May 20.

Africa Day will be at the Johannesburg Expo Centre Amphitheatre on May 27.

Bushfire in Swaziland takes place in Malkerns Valley from May 26 to 28.

The Zakifo festival at Blue Lagoon in Durban runs from May 26 to 28.

The Sakifo Festival will be held in St Pierre on Réunion from June 2 to 4.

Visit for more details.

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Struan Douglas
Struan Douglas is a South African based African cultural writer, performer, presenter, activist and educator.

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