Mountain Kingdom Ablaze! Jonny Cohen Reports on a Music Festival That Took the Breath Away in Swaziland, the Mountain Kingdom Down South. Judging by the Grins on People's Faces, No One Went Home Disappointed

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THE THING ABOUT SWAZI'S, OPINES my mate Mabushe as he sips from his steaming cup of broth, "is that clearly, they really dig each other". We are taking a break between sets, standing on one flank of the throbbing 8,000-strong crowd as the stage is frantically rearranged. And what an audience it is! With barely a security guard in sight and chill-out vibes in abundance, we are tangibly in the presence of a nation largely at peace with itself.


Bushfire Festival, billed as a multidimensional arts and culture event, is an occasion to savour. Held once a year in Swaziland, the last bastion of African monarchy, the festival is starting to draw fans from all corners of the planet. And judging by the grins on people's faces, no one is going home disappointed.

The inspired vision of Jiggs Thorne, impresario and proprietor of the legendary House on Fire, Bushfire's unashamed mandate is to stoke the flames of artistic creativity. "But," adds Jiggs poignantly, "we try and do so with a conscience".


A powerful message of healing and awareness permeates the gig. A fair share of profits is channelled to Young Heroes, a grassroots organisation working with child-run households, and every artist who appears on stage, de rigueur drives home a message of responsibility, and hope.

But sober realities aside--this is a celebration after all--at the heart of this festival is African pride. And Bushfire is a gusting, crackling, blazing force of African chutzpah, sweeping across the valleys and peaks of this mountain kingdom, and with a melodic message loud enough to be heard from Dar es Salaam to Dakar.

"We like to acknowledge myriad cultures, and find harmony in contrast and creative expression," remarks Jiggs as he strolls through the crowd. "And when you look around, it's clear the package is unique."

Not least the eclectic repertoire of pan-African artists who spiced the various stages with an infectious energy that had the masses baying for "more fire!" From all corners of the continent came the travelling performers--from the pulsating Jose Chameleon of Uganda to the eerie sounds of Mcinty from Zimbabwe, this was not just a gig, rather an experience. …