Advocates of African Festivals – The Fest Gurus
An interview with the Fest Gurus who plan to showcase African Festivals like never before, and a look at the challenges, and the future of African Festivals
@thefestgurus. I noticed that Twitter name from the get go. Location: Africa. Bio: One Continent. Many festivals. And I want to go to every one of them! So I will follow @thefestgurus until my time comes. For now, we got an interview with the four person team.
This blog comes with a warning – it is a very long, but incredibly interesting. It is broken up into four sections:
- About the Fest Gurus
- The future of the Fest Gurus
- Understanding the African Festival scene
- The challenges, and the future of the African Festival scene
1. About the Fest Gurus
What is the Fest Gurus concept?
It’s an in development travel documentary / reality show that spotlights African culture through its festivals. Hosts, Lo and Maz, travel to African festivals across Africa, interviewing performing artists, festival organisers and attendees, and give you everything they need to know to attend African festivals.
How did the Fest Gurus concept come about?
Via twitter. Maz read ‘OKA’s Guide To Music Festivals In Africa’ and tweeted it would be cool to get paid to travel around Africa, attending festivals, and documenting them. A few minutes later, she got a direct message from Lo – she’d had a similar idea and wanted to collaborate. Two weeks later, Maz was in Harare, Zimbabwe meeting Lo. That same day, they started shooting their pilot episode with Zash and Gwi, Lo’s contacts.
The who’s who of the Fest Gurus: LORRAINE (LO, @lochnation)
- Born in Harare, Zimbabwe to Tanzanian parents, and an intellectual property expert by degree
- Co-host and producer of ‘Off The Wall’ radio show on Zi-fm through which she has interviewed artists like Estelle and Sean Paul
- Blogger at Lochnation where she discusses all things African
MAZUBA (Maz, @afrosocialite)
- The Zambian in the Fest Gurus team and one half of C1rca1964
Radio correspondent for Australian based African
inspired radio station Radio Afro
- Has been featured on an episode of MTV Base Meets Alek Wek, and has interviewed her fair share of big names
NGONIDZASHE CHINHARA (ZASH, @zashcrafted)
- A 27 year old Zimbabwean photographer
- Loves photographing people as they go about their normal routines and playing around with minimal light, “It’s like trying to capture secrets”
GWINYAYI MABIKA (GWI, @MrGwi)
- A 26 year old editor, producer and director – a software consultant by day who puts on his media cape when the bats come out to play
- Zash and Gwi make up Crafted Media who aim to be the visual expression of any thought, idea or feeling you may have
Why did you get involved in the Fest Gurus?
- LO: “Because I believe that cultural industries can contribute to the economic development of Africa.”
- MAZ: “As a holder of a bachelors degree in Africana Studies, I am interested in African music, fashion, and art. The Fest Gurus is an avenue for this interest.
- ZASH: “Because the Fest Gurus gives me a chance to show people a world that I love, and invite them in.”
- GWI: “Because I hope African festivals continue to grow and provide a platform for artists to showcase themselves, and their nations.”
The Fest Gurus team is not short of a personal ambition or two…
- LO: “To contribute to the advancement of the arts and culture sector in Zimbabwe, and to see it contribute to the economic and social development of Zimbabwe.”
- MAZ: “To one day open a museum and contribute to the preservation of African culture.”
- ZASH: “My ambitions are wrapped up in a camera. So I guess you could say I’m looking to get an Oscar under my belt.”
- GWI: “I want to solve real problems, and empower individuals to solve their own problems.”
We gotta ask, who are your favorite African musicians?
- LO: “My list will always include icons like Oliver Mtukudzi. Favorites from my generation are Victoria Kimani from Kenya, Khuli Chana from South Africa, Tehn Diamond from Zimbabwe, and Temi Dollface from Nigeria”
- MAZ: “They change with the times, so for now it’s Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy and Mafikizolo.”
- ZASH: “Oliver Mtukudzi. I grew up listening to him and my Dad and I still fight over his CDs. Of the new breed I love Proverb from South Africa. It’s such intelligent music. I also like Nneka and Asa from Nigeria. They both unique sounds and paint a gorgeous picture of Africa.”
- GWI: “Oliver Mtukudzi, Angelique Kidjo, Khuli Chana, Tumi Molekane, Chiwoneso Maraire, Hugh Masekela”
2. The future of the Fest Gurus
So, tell us about your Go Fund Me campaign
The last day of the campaign is August 13th. The campaign is focused on enabling us to shoot at the Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi. We travel, eat and sleep as cheap as possible, but overall you are looking at about $1,000 per person per festival. Consider air tickets, accommodation, festival tickets, food, internal transport and VISA fees (sometimes required) and before you know it, you’ve hit $1,000. We’re hoping people will contribute to our own personal funds so we can make it happen, in terms of travel and accommodation costs. As the Fest Gurus grows we won’t need financial help. But right now we have an idea to raise Africa’s festival profile. Exactly how we are going to do that in funding terms is up to our creativity, and the support of people who catch the vision, and are willing to support us for as little as $5 at a time.
What is you vision for the Fest Gurus? Hold on tight, these are bound to be massive!
- LO: “That we are able to share a story of Africa that everyone can fall in love with. These festivals are more than just entertainment. I want us to contribute to African festivals become bigger and better, and see them mentioned alongside Coachella and Glastonbury.”
- MAZ: “Our ultimate goal is to be on network television so we can reach more people. Our short term goals are to shoot as many episodes as we can, to eventually have our own Fest Guru merchandise, and be able to hire Fest reporters. Through the Fest Gurus, I hope Africans in particular, will travel more within the continent to learn about new cultures.”
- ZASH: “I want it to evolve with each episode and show people who can’t attend festivals all about them. It’s also meant to encourage people to support their local talent.”
- GWI: “I see Fest Gurus educating and inspiring, firstly Africans, on what their continent has to offer in terms of the arts, and secondly, the rest of the world of the same. I hope it becomes the Top Gear of Festivals.”
3. Understanding the African Festival scene
Tell us about your experience of HIFA – the Harare International Festival of the Arts?
HIFA was an amazing festival experience. It definitely exceeded our expectations. We were there two days and were shooting almost non stop, so I (Maz) only got to see Tehn Diamond and Barefeet Theatre. Both were amazing and received so much support from the crowd. I did get to meet the Noisettes when they stopped by Lo’s radio show (Off The Wall) for ZiFm. I also got to meet and chat to local artists like Take Fizzo, The Monki Nuts, Reverb 7, and Ammara Brown. Maz blogged about her HIFA trip here and here.
In your experience so far, what kind of people attend African festivals?
We’d say lots of local people, and a good mix of people who’d traveled from neighboring countries like Zambia and South Africa. Some journalists even flew in which was a good sign.
The question of affordability always comes up in Africa – of course people who can afford it are more likely to travel to a festival. One of the things the Fest Gurus is trying to do is give people tips on how to attend festivals on a budget. For instance, #FestOpps calls for interns and volunteers for festivals – one free way of getting into a festival. Some festivals give away tickets through online competitions. We share those as we come across them.
We also need to change the perception that festivals are expensive. Some are virtually free, for instance, the upcoming Barefeet Festival (August) in Lusaka, Zambia has lots of free events, and the most expensive ticketed event is priced at about $10.
Are African artists, from the high profile, to the undiscovered, keen to take the festival route?
Yes definitely. Artists like Hope Masike performed at HIFA in Zimbabwe, and at other festivals on the Fire Fest Southern African Route. The Firefest Route included HIFA in Zimbabwe, the Azgo Festival in Mozambique, the BlackMajor festival in South Africa, the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland and the Sakifo Musik Festival in Réunion. All five of these festivals took place between April 30 and June 9.
Blitz the Ambassador is an example of an artist who performs at many festivals from the Mazzawine Festival in Morroco, to Skafest, and Vancouver Island Festival in Canada, etc. Other examples include The Noisettes who’ve played at Lake of Stars, HIFA and the popular festivals in the West. Others include Just A Band from Kenya, FOKN Bois from Ghana and many more. It is expensive for artists to travel, but there are funding options like the South African Music Mobility Fund and the Art Moves Africa Fund. I have friends who are artists that would jump at an opportunity to perform at multiple festivals. It comes down to National Arts Councils and Tourism Boards of African countries to provide funding that could facilitate artist movement.
4. The challenges, and the future of the African Festival scene
What is the likelihood of more African artists attending festivals in the West like, say Glastonbury?
Lately we’ve seen the West embrace the new ‘Afrobeats’, specifically Nigerian artists. Last year, D Banj performed to a sold out crowd at Hackney Weekend. This year Wizkid performed at the Wireless Yahoo Festival and had the whole audience singing lyrics to his hits ‘Pakuromo’ and ‘Don’t Dull’ which is amazing. Spoek Matambo just did the WOMAD Festival with Afrikaan Boy. The list goes on and on and It’s only going to continue. There are also festivals dedicated to African music in the West like The ‘Festival International Nuits D’Afrique‘ (The International Festival of African Nights) in Canada, and which actually started in 1987. Other festivals like this prove that there’s obviously an audience for African artists at festivals.
Talk us about the challenge of expensive inter Africa travel
It’s not like in the States where you can travel to a different state for a fraction of the cost you’d pay to fly 45 minutes here. For instance, flying to Harare from Lusaka costs over $200, yet a bus ride costs less than $50 for a round trip. But travelling by bus takes more time. It can be grueling, tiring and unpredictable, with long waits at the border. This kind of travel just makes festival travel a hindrance.
The reasons why it’s so much more expensive to travel to attend festivals in Africa, versus the West, is poor road networks, border procedures and air space. We don’t have enough airlines in Africa yet. More competition would result in lower fees for customers. Some airlines have monopoly over locations. Some countries (Zambia included) don’t even have national airlines, so we have to rely on other airlines, and their fees.
But we’ve heard about Fast Jet a new low budget airline with flights as cheap as $20. It just introduced routes to South Africa and Tanzania. That’s exciting. Proflight Zambia also just launched its first international route to Malawi and announced plans for more international flights. We’re hopeful this will ease the financial strain of travelling in Africa.
thebestofzambia.com is all about putting missing information about Zambia online. So, we feel your pain when you say we can’t look up the information we need about African festivals. What are you doing about it, and what is the solution?
Fest Gurus would like to be a part of that change. #Festnews is us spreading the word about African festivals through our social media platforms. We share festival line-ups, and reviews. We’re compiling an e-book which will have a festival calendar, a list of websites of African festivals, contact information, where to stay – basically everything you need to know. We think HIVOS is doing it’s part by funding AfriFestNet which provides updates on African festivals in terms of location and timing.
What do you think the future of African Festivals looks like?
Some African countries are realising it’s important to fund the arts and tourism. Some countries have dedicated art ministries and councils, though funding isn’t always there. But it’s unfortunate that some African countries still don’t see the benefit of the arts, and leave it to international agencies to fund most of the festivals. Privately owned companies are sponsoring festivals because they see that their target audiences attend these events. However, we hope these festivals don’t turn into commercially sponsored events with tons of logos.
There’s also the realisation that politics affects festivals. The Festival of the Desert in Mali was negatively affected since conflict broke out there. On the flip side, Somalia was able to move past years of political tension and host it’s first Mogadishu Festival this year. It was headlined by K’naan.
In the future, we see more diverse people travelling to festivals. We see things like live-streaming, and more Firefest routes offering attendees major discounts for attending multiple festivals.
Finally, lets focus on Zambia. Maz, as you come from Zambia, we do not have well known festivals here. Do the Fest Gurus plan to influence the countries you are from, in seeing the value of festivals?
Yes, we do plan on influencing our countries in seeing the value of festivals. While I was at HIFA, I was jealous that we don’t have something of the same caliber in Zambia. However, the Barefeet Festival has been happening for a few years now, and continues this year starting from August 24-September 1. I’m excited to be a part of that (the Fest Gurus may attend too). The Amaka Arts Festival had its inaugural debut last year and seems set to continue, as will the Kariba Music Festival, which we hope to attend next year. There’s also the Zambezi River Festival in November and I have heard of the Chikumbi Festival in Southern Province. It’s obviously a matter of proper marketing and funding that would improve the Zambia Festival scene.
And that’s a wrap. Help the Fest Gurus fund their trip to the Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi. Note they are also funding it out of their own pockets and your funds will be used wisely – proof will be in the films that will follow. Watch them develop on the Fest Gurus blog.