THE road to Malkerns Valley in Eswatini is packed with cars, causing a massive traffic jam. Despite this, the atmosphere is jolly and lively, and no one seems bothered by the delay.
That’s because the road leads to Eswatini’s annual MTN Bushfire Festival of the Arts. People are already starting to party and as the cars start moving again, Malkerns comes into view, a tranquil pineapple-growing town known for its picturesque farmland and mountains. In the distance, the pulsating beats of Amapiano music can already be heard.
The entrance is crowded the food stalls offering a variety of quick bites, such as shawarmas, hot dogs, and barbecued meat. The queues are long at each booth, but people happily chat as they wait with drinks in hand.
It’s day one of the three-day festival, and the atmosphere is charged.
“I’m especially pleased with the turnout for the 2023 edition of the festival. This has been a resounding success. If there was ever any doubt that the arts would not survive and revive after the pandemic, this year’s global gathering and celebration has proven once and for all the power of the arts to unite people from all walks of life,” said festival Director Jiggs Thorne.
Eswatini guitarist and soul singer Velemseni Dlamini officially opens the festival, mesmerising the attendees with her mellow voice and strong musicality.
Some of the performance highlights of the night included a powerful show from South Africa’s Sho Madjozi on Friday night, a massive set at the Ballentine’s Firefly stage from Kabza de Small on Saturday night, and a triumphant return to form for Black Motion. On Sunday, the MTN Bushfire Main Stage was ablaze with a captivating show by Ami Faku and the highly anticipated debut of Ibeyi from France.
The event also featured performances from artists from all around the world. Rumbo Tumba, a one-person orchestra, played, recorded, and mixed an exclusive collection of wooden instruments found only in South America. Javier Díez Ena, a musician who plays the double bass and electronic music, also gave a remarkable solo performance. Another standout act was Sette Sujidade, a Cape Verde artist who showcased a punk aesthetic. Additionally, Maleh from Lesotho delivered a stunning set that totally captivated the audience.
The much-anticipated CollaboNation artists did not disappoint either, with performances from Thobile Makhoyane (Eswatini) with The Hood Brodz (Mozambique) and Mokoomba (Zimbabwe) with Morena Leraba (Lesotho) wowing crowds and creating local musical history.
Over 20,000 guests from 50 countries attended the event and enjoyed 87 performances from 34 countries.
“The performances blew my socks off. The food was on point, and the people were truly amazing,” said Siphokazi Mamba (33) from Empangeni in South Africa, who was in the company of her friends.
Bridget Ashanti from Ghana agreed that she had a wholesome festival experience and was ready to do it again next year.
“It was phenomenal. Enjoyed every bit of it. I loved the energy, the vibrancy and the vibe,” she said.
MTN Bushfire is more than just a music festival. Through its #BringYourFire mandate, the event also ensures the sustainability of the creative sector, especially in Eswatini, through the Schools Festival programme that saw 720 students and teachers participate in 2023.
This initiative provides arts education to primary and high school students while using music and performance to address social issues.
Rated one of the top festivals in the world by US festival aggregator Everfest, Eswatini showed its world-famous hospitality to the crowds of visitors to share connectivity, celebrate unity in diversity, enjoy the beauty of harmony in contrast and embrace humanity.
“The festival represents the kind of world we would all like to see – a global community of change-makers, thought leaders, and creative problem solvers who unite in a celebration of the arts and in the spirit of taking action against discrimination, environmental degradation and poverty,” said Thorne.
Recipient of the Best Responsible Event Award at the African Responsible Tourism Awards in 2017, MTN Bushfire has also been hailed by CNN as one of the “7 African Music Festivals You Really Have To See” and listed by BBC as a “Top African Festival.”
This uniquely African yet globally infused festival prides itself on entertaining thousands of people in an atmosphere of tolerance and passionate commitment to music, the arts and the environment.