Alade sets bush festival on fire

Blazing: Nigeria’s Yemi Alade will perform at the Bushfire festival in Swaziland. Photo: Emmanuel Oyeleke Photography

Blazing: Nigeria’s Yemi Alade will perform at the Bushfire festival in Swaziland. Photo: Emmanuel Oyeleke Photography

Technically, it would be possible to attend each of the festivals over the April to June period in the southeastern nook of Africa. The most practical way to go about it would be to stay in Maputo for the Azgo festival, spend Friday in Johannesburg for Bassline Africa Day, Saturday in Durban for Zakifo and Sunday in the Malkerns Valley for Bushfire.

Top the experience off with a weekend on Réunion Island for Sakifo and you would have attended the festivals that make up the Igoda festival circuit.

It wouldn’t be terribly sensible to do that, though.

Although the programming is done independently, some of the festivals share major (read: expensive) artists to make it more worthwhile for the artists, fans and the promoters. Yemi Alade and Salif Keita, for example, will be co-headlining Bassline Africa Day and MTN Bushfire this weekend. The independence bit is the stickler that sets each festival apart.

This year, Bushfire has a West African slant to its line-up, which includes kora maestro Sekou Kouyate, electronic artist Ibaaku, and South African guitar virtuosos Guy Buttery and Derek Gripper, playing separate sets.

Yemi Alade, the Nigerian Afro-pop phenomenon, rounds off the West African group of performers. She started out sceptical about a career in music, focusing instead on 

“I loved to study geography,” she says, “even in secondary school. I chose it as the course I was going to major in [at] university. As for music, I was doing it as a hobby. Even though I was investing time in it, I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to be an artist full-time.”

She experimented with different styles and sounds before finding her groove.

“I wanted to know how big I could be in Nigeria and when that started to come to life, it increased to how big could I be in Africa, and then to how big can I be in the world. When I released the song Bamboo, I was still trying to understand my sound and the audience I hoped to appeal to. There was a lot of self-discovery going on; there still is, because as an artist you’re ever-evolving; music changes over time,” she says.

Her African music remains the core of her appeal, she says. And her busy tour schedule has married her two greatest interests: “It turns out that now I’m living the practical side of geography by travelling around the world.”

Alade finds that touring on the continent is less of a financial investment than it is to tour outside of the continent.

“I go everywhere I go with my live band; if my live band is not there, I will not be there.” She slaps a knuckle into her palm for emphasis and continues: “And that means having to fly a large number of people, and that is a financial investment. But in Africa it’s easier: the flights are way cheaper.”

Even as one of the most prolific and popular artists in her league, Alade’s audiences are the compass she uses to book her shows. Her recipe for success is “to follow wherever the love is. Wherever we see the most response to the music, even if it costs us an arm and a leg, we go and find where it is that people need us the most.”

In its 12th edition, Bushfire will have a food market and a crafts fair to support local businesses. Even though some of the trading is done unofficially, outside of the festival parameters, its recorded cash injection of more than R33-million is a huge boost to the Swaziland economy.

Bushfire and other festivals occupy an important space in the development of the arts and culture sector in the region and on the continent. By partnering with each other, the promoters have opened the prospect of destination festival tourism up to a younger generation susceptible to wanderlust.

Sure, for most punters it’s not possible to see all of the festivals in a year. But the prospect of seeing a different one each year is appealing — and far more sensible.

Bassline Africa Day Concert takes place at Constitution Hill. Bushfire Festival is at House on Fire, Swaziland. Both festivals run from today to Sunday May 27

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