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Bushfire Fest Stealing top Spot From the Reed Dance

Recreation Section

The Zimbabwe Standard-24-Aug-2009

Time was when the Umhlanga or Reed Dance, the traditional rite of passage for young Swazi girls was the only major event people associated with the Kingdom of Swaziland.

The Bushfire International Festival of the Arts, which this year was held from July 31st through August 2nd, looks set to change all that.

Started three years ago by Justin Thorne the three-day festival attracted an audience of more than ten thousand people, many of them from beyond Swaziland’s borders.

On the programme of this year’s predominantly music festival were such names as local artists the Bhunya Bombers, an acappella outfit and singers such as Nana and rapper Jazz P.

South Africans Hip Hop Pansula, Busi Mhlongo, Johnny Clegg and Vusi Mahlasela were also there while Zimbabwe was represented by one of the country’s most promising reggae prospects Mic Inity and rapper Outspoken. From further afield Mali’s Habib Koite, and Dobet Gnahore from Ivory Coast, easily the most exciting female artist I have seen for a very long time.

She, along with Mahlasela and Koite are part of the highly successful Acoustic Africa project put together after record imprint Putumayo released an album of the same name.

Acoustic Africa has toured Europe and the United States successfully and for the Bushfire performance they were joined by Aly Keita on balaphone.

For many, Acoustic Africa, which despite its billing was amplified, was the highlight of this year’s festival.

Despite the language differences the three collaborated on each other’s songs seamlessly. But as Habib Koite told Standardplus they first got together in 2006 and toured Europe and the United States at one point playing 41 gigs in 47 days.

“First we wanted to do it,” he explained, “to work together to sing in each other’s language, it’s like an adventure.”

And what an adventure it’s been!

Koite, Mahlasela and Gnahore, seemed to be having so much fun during their performance but it was the lithe 27 year-old Gnahore’s electrifying presence that lit up the stage.

Though she is an excellent singer with a couple of albums under her belt, most of the audience will remember her for her dancing which was pure poetry in motion.

Another highlight was Maskanda diva Busi Mhlongo who gave a performance that belied her 62 years.

Though she is still receiving treatment for the cancer diagnosed in 2006 she gave her all and left the audience asking for more. She was followed by ‘white Zulu’ Johnny Clegg who was also in fine form.

He took the audience back in time when introducing Woza Friday he reminisced how he and Sipho Mchunu, his erstwhile partner in Juluka, played the song at Swaziland 12th independence celebrations in 1978! Mozambique’s Jose Mucavele who accompanied himself on guitar also gave a performance that was well received.

Besides the music there were a lot of other performances. Festival attendees got a chance to try out their percussion skills when Steve Barnett aka The Silent Conductor handed out 300 djembes and got every one playing at the same time. It was a beautiful rumble! Then there were all the stalls selling curios and delicious Swazi cuisine.

Thorne said though Bushfire is attracting more people every year the intention is to keep it a three-day affair. This year, despite the unseasonable downpour on Saturday night through most of Sunday fun was had by all and some of us can’t wait for mo’ fire in 2010.

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