Birds of Every Feather
Leah Jasmine Reed fills us in on all the amazing performances as well as getting up close with a New York subway saxophonist, trying to appropriate vodka and having an identity crisis at this year’s Zakifo Music Festival.
I don’t know what time it was when I came to, but when I did, the saxophone that accompanies Too Many Zooz and their dance moves had been replaced with my body. Push Push was rocking raps not two metres from me and the dance floor at the Zakifo after party was in flames.
Music exists because it makes things move. What refuses to move gets left behind.
Back up though, after parties happen after the party, and if that’s how it ended, how did it begin? Friday saw me jet from Johannesburg ice to Durban’s sweet sauna and straight into the smelt that was Zakifo Music Festival, in the heart of the city. Those who complain that there’s nothing going on completely shut the fuck up this weekend. Durban was heaving with Comrades runners and air show watchers, but the wisest residents from in and around the city made their way to Natal Command for an experience no one could have foreseen.
Music festivals, like radio stations, have a specific format and the audience relative to the lineup is sort of predictable. For example, the one day I spent at Lush festival featured zero people of colour on the lineup (except Mr Sakitumi who accompanied Jeremy Loops), and zero people of colour in the audience (except Adelle Nqeto, who had performed the day before). It made me uncomfortable. A festival in Africa should not be void of Africans. That’s why Zakifo is exactly what we need. Zakifo’s lineup consisted of acts from all over the globe, including Blitz the Ambassador, BCUC, Vusi Mahlasela, Inna Modja and Songhoy Blues. Many of the acts on the lineup speak powerful political and social statements in a way that makes people move in many ways.
Many of these acts did more than just talk, and showed me that music is in fact something magical. Music is a language everyone can understand. Music makes things move. Songhoy Blues, between killer dance moves, professed that “Music is something everyone can all share,” and it was true; all around me I saw people of all ages, their outfits reflecting the differences in their culture and ethos, looking up, adoring, nodding, dancing, agreeing. The all-stops-out guitar band from Mali was building bridges with their strings between hearts, as strangers danced together.
Blitz the Ambassador took to the stage with a brass section so tight they looked like they’d rehearsed their synchronicity for years. The bass and electric guitar played together like childhood friends. Time signatures I’d never heard before rattled out from behind the drums and Blitz, the Ghanaian-American frontman, performed like he didn’t care whether or not the band was playing, he was there to hold the crowd in the pocket of his printed jacket. “Your foreign aid is not helping poverty,” he bellowed, “No one is coming to save Africa. Africa will save itself.” The rich land of poor people will not live this way forever. Zakifo festival is proof.
If you’re curious about the extent of diversity on this line-up, consider that at one point I was running back and forth between Black Math and their unforgiving metal uproar and Moonchild’s electro-kwaito beats, a mere hundred metres from each other. Birds of every feather showed up to this event. I could tell, because hip hop kids bopped alongside psych-rockers and white boys with popped collars. It would be unfair to box any of those people, there was something we all shared. The walls of sounds and the silences between them was like sharing a picnic lunch at the misfits ball and it was glorious.
That night’s after party kicked off with almost being killed by Bob Perfect, after an incident involving a Devil on my shoulder and a bottle of vodka. “Hold my drink,” said the Devil, “Bob’s going to hit me.” Friday’s lesson was “Seize the means, but not from your homies.”
Day 2 began with being stood up for an interview with Push Push with a pie and a hangover. I waltzed into the festival grounds some time in the afternoon and caught Kwesta, Tresor and Gigi Lamayne as the sky turned from blue to orange to pink.
Shortly after, Vusi Mahlasela took to a large crowd who had gathered to witness his legacy; a man whose music was one of the original tools in Africa used to build bridges and fight against walls of separation. His spirit of Ubuntu and professions of reconciliation and togetherness felt oddly out of place as he shouted “Thank you very please!” into the microphone. I struggled with what he represented in a time when the cracks in the Rainbow Nation ideology have become so evident. Context, however, is paramount, and if, for just an hour, one man can make a crowd believe in the spirit of togetherness, I take my hat off to the man and his band.
Zakifo was a whirlwind of emotion and learning, and processing it all has been difficult. Vusi Mahlasela is an old school performer reflecting African roots in an industry that is dominated by Western influences, and how it all fits together at a festival like this gave me more questions than answers. Important questions about my own identity and place on the continent.
I moved on to Inna Modja’s performance feeling uncomfortable and confused. Did I even have a right to an opinion? Did I deserve to be included in such an experience? Modja’s powerful protest moved me to tears. Wondering whether I belong on this continent has haunted me. I needed this festival to face these questions, a proactive manner of learning.
The Brother Moves On seemed to echo my sentiments about the power of music and its capacity for protest, for change, and for building bridges with their African Voodoo Pop and “Electronique Maskandi.” It’s the kind of act that makes everyone turn to those around them in wonder, bewildered at how something to potent could exist, with a performance strong enough to move mountains.
I was at the artist’s bar when someone slipped me a colourful card with a big white elephant. The back of the card read toomanyzooz.com. I looked up and The King of Sludge stood next to me in his crown, jabbering about Jean-Michel Basquiat. Shortly after I was in front of the crowd, dancing my face off to the brasshouse band from the NY subway. It’s astonishing that a three-piece could make so much noise, and I imagined how they would fill the underground with their ridiculously bassy brass beats. I have a vague recollection of Sibot and Toyota rocking a set afterwards, but what follows is a little fuzzy until I’m on the dance floor with the baritone saxophonist from the Subway Gawds.
I know I managed to slur some interview questions at Push Push, but I was pretty wasted and her answers have since disappeared from my cluttered head. All I gathered was when she fucks I really don’t think she takes out her gold teeth.
I witnessed some incredible performers from all over the world, and it was wonderful to see that among the best were consistently women. Inna Modja declaring that her home may no longer be trapped in fear. Estere standing alone with her drums and her voice. Maya Kamaty and her French Reunion accent powering through the field. Gigi Lamayne had an entire crowd jumping for ice-cream. Moonchild and her boobeams. Black Math drummer Acacia Van Wyk flooring a crowd while flinging her hair. Apple from Existing Consciousness like a burning stick of dynamite. Push Push who never missed a beat. I wanted to talk to all of them. I wanted to BE all of them. The power of woman was overwhelming and left me elated and proud.
Music exists because it makes things move. What refuses to move gets left behind. Music is proof that magic exists. Let us continue to make and celebrate music, let us move to it, go forward with it. And if it doesn’t move you, feel free to get left behind.
*All images © Marcello Maffeis & Caroline Burne. For more of their work from Zakifo, check out the Zakifo Facebook page.