A Tribe Called Zakifo

Zakifo is something special. An annual gathering of eclectic sounds, cultures, and people that unites open-minded South Africans in good times and great music. Sheshela Maduna shares his experience of the 4th edition of Durban’s Music Festival below.




Every now and then, Durban, the perennial slacker of the East Coast, sheds its bad rep of being South Africa’s little awkward middle-child continually snubbed when it comes to the bigger events happening around the country (because we couldn’t give enough fucks to actually show up), and gets the better of its FOMO to give our distant siblings up North a mighty run for their money. That’s what happened the weekend of Zakifo Music Festival. If you were fortunate enough find yourself in the warmest place to be in the three days that followed, you got to see our misunderstood city creep out from the bedrock it tends to vegetate under, flaunt its flora and fauna of beautiful people enchantingly infused in a mosaic of diverse sub-culture and pull up its middle finger to the world screaming out aloud in the unapologetic words of Jovi of BCUC: “It’s either you’re with us or against us.”



Zakifo Music Festival momentously descended to our humble shores, in its unrelenting fourth consecutive year like a kaleidoscope of glow in the dark butterflies, to remind us once again of what it is we really need. Although that sense of unconditional unity we never knew we so desperately desired became further disarrayed by the confusion of the having two separate legs of one event happening at the same time and the consequential split of artists that resulted in most of my heartstrings being severed, I nevertheless found myself beginning the journey on the other side of the moon somewhere deep in the dark crevices of lower Morningside.



Baraka led the first trickle of people to stroll in, playing a slick sound of electronic lounge music that persuaded us to forget about our day and let loose with the dexterous touch of a masseuse. As I looked out into the panoramic views of our beautiful city, bobbing my head to the pulsating beats of ethnic instruments that began transitioning into the background, I must be forgiven to think for a moment that our beloved Durban was being infamously fickle once again because I was about to be proven wrong. Slowly as the drinks flowed in contemplative sips and more familiar faces recognised each other as they made their way inside with big smiles and warm hugs, the muted conversations began to grow into louder chitter-chatter and the scattering of people that speckled the venue grew into enthusiastic huddles of laughter and joy. Before I knew it I had already made my way onto the dance floor, tapping my feet to the nostalgia that got the better of me as Baraka transformed the mood smoothly into the upbeat kwaito thumps of Boom Shaka. The spirit of Zakifo was gaining momentum.



In a weekend that transported us through the galaxy of gut-busting rhythm and into the realms of other-worldly music, Bylwansta and his band were the rising stars on the horizon. The jazzy transcendental kicks and snares merged seamlessly with the captivating flow of the rapper’s straightforward lyricism and catchy hooks. By the time Nasty C stepped up to the microphone and flexed his ferocious wordplay with the swagger of a hypnotist, swaying his flock from side to side, we were already too far gone into the journey that was Zakifo.  I couldn’t escape the feeling that Friday’s collective of musicians were deftly curated to celebrate the contagious and indomitable creative spirit of Durban, and if Nasty C was our prodigal son returning to where it all began then DJ Lag was the supernova that ended the night with a bang. As I looked around to see the diverse faces in the vibrant crowd, all dressed up in their colourful and fashionable differences in ideology and attitude, I realised that we all began to feel the same euphoria of being around each other in song and dance. The broken beats and ludicrous energy of Gqom-wave DJ Lag ruthlessly played with a smug look on his face and the back-breaking shenanigans of his fierce female lieutenants that passionately pirouetted in front of him, driving everyone into an explosion of ecstatic delirium and we mindlessly danced with friends, acquaintances and total strangers like some entranced tribe from the Amazon dancing for rain until the early hours of the morning. I woke up later that day with vague memories of what time I eventually got home, throbbing feet and a slightly hoarse voice.



Saturday was an absolute enchantment that elevated my experience of the festival to another level I never knew existed. I cautiously approached the bar with echoes of the previous night still ringing in my ears and ordered a bottle of water to reinvigorate my body, little did I know it was my spirit that was about to be refreshed. In the calm before the storm as people slowly strolled in and anticipated the first performance I noticed that the second chapter of the festival attracted a more miscellaneous collection of colourful, intellectual and creative individuals from all over the world who were just as eclectic the line-up in age and ethos.



It was almost as if they appeared out of thin air, almost as if Oki Dub Ainu Band entered the stage through a delicate rift in time and space because they were definitely out of this world. The lead singer looked like a mythical creature; he dressed up like some Bedouin samurai of the Sahara desert that wielded a magical wooden sword around his shoulders. I later found out that his weapon was a Tonkori guitar of the Ainu culture of Japan. Oki Dub Ainu Band mystically manipulated the traditional folk-songs of their people with the vigour of electrical dub rhythms and touches of punk rock with such mastery that we were left confused, not only because we didn’t understand the Japanese dialects of their chants but also because we didn’t understand the journey our souls had just begun. Nathalie Nathiembe, ‘the little punk of the Moloya,’ followed with her fearless aura of rock and reggae vibes, taking us further along the crescendo and deeper into what we needed. We swayed in harmonic unison. Flavio Coelho upped the ante and took us back to her Brazilian roots as we found ourselves gyrating our hips to the blood-rushing sounds of her protest dancehall.



If Friday night was about re-igniting a social consciousness in all of us, then Saturday was a distinctly political experience; a spiritual toyi-toyi against the injustices and inequality of modern society. It was the disruptive dynamism and psychedelic chants of Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness that accelerated our journey of self-discovery.  BCUC brought us back to Earth, back to the soil that nurtures our being, with their ritualist struggle songs that transported us to the climax of our unity. Jovi, the furious orator, and lead singer, forced us to face ourselves as a contemporary society and question the nature of our identities with the pulsating and soul-shifting African beats playing the dramatic backdrop. We were all inevitably moved and probably could still feel the vibration of those enormous drums against our skin the following day.



Sunday soothingly happened with the sound of the crashing waves of the sea playing in the background and it felt like the musical journey we had begun was evolving into a more spiritual realm. Nakhane shook our emotions to the core with his dark pop-synth and soulful percussions. Guy Buttery and Kanada Narahari took us on a magic carpet ride into the deeper recesses our consciousness with their mastery of numinous strings with everyone seated in almost meditative states on the grass in front of them, receptive to the transcendental pulsation they emitted into the air. Alice Phoebe Lou made us cry.



Suddenly Dub Inc appeared out of nowhere onto the main stage like mischievous bandits armed with musical instruments and microphones ready to steal the show from everyone’s grasp. They were like an irresistible rude awakening of dubstep, dancehall and Arabic reggae to our bodies and as we were separated into two tribes by the duo of magnetic wordsmiths, you couldn’t help but truly believe that ‘Zakifos on fire!’ Aloe Blacc completed our musical voyage late into the evening and amplified the love and sense of unity in the air, persuading everyone in the crowd to turn to their neighbours and give them a hug as we all sang in unison ‘you make me smile’.



Zakifo Music Festival was a magical experience that just kept on ascending to higher levels beyond ourselves and into each other, with each passing moment breaking down the barriers of racial, social and economic differences. Each performing artist was a precious facet in the beautiful kaleidoscope that descended onto our humble shores to unify all the people who were wise enough to listen to the calling and they will be, for a very long time be celebrated as the totem poles and spirit animals of a tribe called Zakifo.


Video by Matthew Cuthbert.
Song: Sun Xa Experiment – Waf’Umuntu

All images © Paige Furness

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