MTN Bushfire Festival 26 – 28 May 2017
The 11th edition of a 3 day music festival that takes place in Swaziland.
Having survived Rocking the Daisies and Sunflower Fest (twice) I was pretty certain of what needed to be done to ensure I was happy, well lubricated and comfortable for the duration of the event.
Because past festival experiences have taught me that foresight is better than hindsight, I updated the essential “list of things to bring to a music festival” and distributed it to the girls. Ask me nicely and I will share it with you. The only things left to do were to get the things on the list, do my hair in vibrant ombre aqua braids and buy a ticket.
The All Out Africa package
A week before the event I didn’t have a ticket. Not for lack of trying but for lack of a travel package. I knew I was going but what I didn’t know was how. All but one of the travel packages from my city were sold out and the company with availability (which shall not be named) suffers from a deficit of efficient and effective communication.
Seeing as taking my car across the border was not an option, I considered hitch hiking. I then remembered that this isn’t the 60s and I am not actually a hippie/hipster. So I channeled my inner perpetually dissatisfied soccer-mom and demanded to speak to someone who could help me. Lo and behold, the reply to my email included a link to the reopened Nelspruit to Bushfire travel package.
Various companies offered various departure points and travel packages (including a glamping package) on the MTN Bushfire website. One could have used a company that was not listed on the website but I tried that and they didn’t seem to want my money.
The All Out Africa team came to my rescue. For ZAR 2580-00 I received a 3-day festival pass, a shared 2 person tent which was pre-erected in a separately secured area, a designated ablution block, transport to and fro as well as breakfast each morning. They also offered various payment methods to ensure everyone could join in the fun.
Nelspruit to Mahlanya (a town called madness)
Let it be said that anyone who throws a party in a place called madness is someone I could definitely be friends with.
As per the email, our group of 10 (most of us strangers, some of them lovers, each of us from a different corner of Africa) eagerly awaited our shuttle at Riverside mall’s entrance 2. From my mom’s comments, I gathered that we looked like a nomadic United Colours of Benetton crew. What I found even more exciting was that 3 of the souls in my shuttle are AIESEC alumni like myself. I no longer get paid to market the organization but you should definitely Google it.
The driver took us through the Jeppe’s Reef border post, which was a slightly longer route but saved us 5 hours in the long run, unlike some unlucky friends of mine traveling from Johannesburg (with the company that shall not be named). All in all, we spent 20 minutes at the border because we spent a good 10 minutes taking mandatory tourist selfies with some official looking Swaziland signage.
After a 4 hour journey, we arrived into the literal manifestation of hype. Music of all genres blaring out of anything with 4 or more wheels, selfie-sticks flying around like a free-for-all fencing match, friendships being tested by cryptic tent erection instructions, beer bottles and cups of liquor extending from people like prosthetic limbs, faces being painted outside tents, children causing chaos with their temporary freedom and the scents of various flammable substances filling the air.
Post check in, as the good adults we are, we unpacked our bags and mixed our drinks to the sound of Afro-beats. Once that was done, it was time to explore.
It was now sunset and what we found was breathtaking. In the middle of the camping village stood a café that overlooked rolling Swazi hills. Afro-beats still booming out of my speaker, we stopped for a picturesque dinner. A little further on from the cafe, lay the festival entrance. This was a path, decorated with Christmas lights and fantastical cut outs, which led to the many kinds of stalls in an open field. Beyond the stalls were the 3 food markets, 3 stages, and 6 bars (including a Jagermeister truck).
An abundant selection of foods, beverages, and artists from across the continent were on offer. Spoilt for choice, we had to have dinner a second time, in between rotating between stages.
The Bacardi House Party was an indoor stage that introduced me to a few artists who deserved my attention long before Bushfire; my favourite of which was Flame Boy. It was also the place where many ridiculously cute and impromptu mommy and mini dance battles ensued.
The Firefly stage was my source of exercise (and a knee injury exasperation) for the weekend. At any given point they were serving a healthy dose of Hip-Hop, Afro-beats, RnB, Rap, House or Trap music.
Throughout the weekend, the main stage was graced by big names such as Reason, Kwesta, Jeremy Loops, Jah Prayzah, Sands, TKZEE, Zahara and Bra Hugh Masekela. To make the experience more magical, fire pits were placed all arond the venue so you could dance around the fire all night long.
The experience – a summary
Breakfast was a huge egg and bacon (or veggie burger) roll with an expectedly less than mediocre coffee and a freshly squeezed juice. The 30-minute long breakfast line ended up serving as a place for meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends, as well as those you had misplaced the night before.
The golden rule of being a Millennial is that – it didn’t happen unless it is on “the gram,” and one would assume that a festival like this would leave you internetless and powerless. Luckily, the festival’s headline sponsor is MTN and so simcards, data, wifi and power points are readily available all weekend.
During the day, festival-goers enjoyed the music and warm sunlight from the comfort of their picnic blankets. Giggling children chased bubbles (which mostly came from me) and those with ants in their pants explored the markets, wandered around the art gallery, played card games or just danced where they stood.
To add to the ambiance, the festival grounds were roamed by colourful, imagination-sized creatures, Alice-in-Wonderland-like beings on stilts and Mr. Spongebob Squarepants himself. Night two even included a midnight fire show.
Every night the party went on until 3 am so light sleepers with a bed time but without earplugs did not get much rest. Oddly enough, as far as I could see, everyone below the age of 2 was unaffected by the noise.
You should be here
The drive back home involved a lot more bonding than the previous ride. Listening to everyone’s stories and having wisdom imparted from people from all walks of life reminded me just why travel and global citizenry are so important.
Many people still believe that aside from hippies and hipsters, festivals are for professional stay at home sons and daughters. Some festivals, like the MTN Bushfire Festival, are family friendly and contrary to popular belief, a good portion of the festivalgoers are people that suit up to keep financial districts around the continent running.
When it comes to travel and experiences, one thing you don’t want to hear is “you should be here.” Thus, I put it to you that this is an experience that each person needs to have at least once. If anything, it is a great excuse to take a break from the real world and get a few extra stamps in your passport.