Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Riding “Laela Mmago” into Mbabane to light my fire at Bushfire

One of the most exciting things about the African continent is its dynamic arts and culture scene. Year after another, down into southern Africa, a tiny nation of Swaziland hosts tribal rituals and ceremonies such as Incwala, Marula Festival and the world famous Reed Dance. Swaziland is also home to the internationally acclaimed, MTN Bushfire, a three day festival experience that celebrated its 10th Anniversary this past weekend. 

Over the years, Bushfire along other festivals continue to capture the imagination of visitors to Africa’s long lasting monarchy. These visitors according to Swaziland government officials at Ngwenya border Post come from as far as Switzerland and Mali…..and of course from nearby countries such as South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana. Two days before the festival kick started, I decided to pack my backpack and camping equipment to be amongst the more than 20 000 revellers who brought their fire to the Malkerns Valley. The Valley is situated just under 25Km South of Mbabane and North of Manzini. 

Unlike other bushfires who camped at the valley, i decided to reside at the Bombasso Backpackers, right in the foot of the popular Sibebe hill. Getting to Mbabane, Swaziland’s capital city was not a hustle. My travelling mates and I had done the route before, so i knew exactly where I was heading to. I arrived at Johannesburg’s Park Station around 1230hrs, giving me time to connect with one of the mini-Buses that commutes between Jo’burg and Mbabane. Locally the accident prone combis are known as “Laela Mmago”, literally translated “bid farewell to your mother” and meaning once you hop in you are as good as dead. Laela Mmago was the least of my worries though. My main concern while at Park Station was losing my passport. For a travel fanatic like me losing a passport is unthinkable. Since the introduction of the e-passport that has been accompanied by tougher penalties for loss, no Motswana wants to lose their passport. Not only does it cost a whopping P1000 but a long 12 months wait before one can be considered for a replacement. But the drivers and conductors of Mbabane’s Laela Mmago do not know that. Once you signal your intention to travel with them, the first thing they ask for is your passport and R220 fare. Laela Mmago can only go when it is filled to capacity. In the meantime the bus driver and the conductors continue with their chat, recklessly leaving a bunch of passports in a nearby table. Knowing that anything can happen, the least I could do was to keep a close eye on the passports.

Once the mini Bus was full we finally made our way to Mbabane which is a four and half hours’ drive from Jo’burg’s Park Station and 20 minutes from Swaziland’s Ngwenya border post. Since I had arranged to only pick a rental car the following day, R50 was enough to take me to Bombasso backpackers with a local cab. Fast forward to Friday morning, my first stop was at EuropCar Car Hire Services, three minutes from the main Mbabane mall. The next stop, as one would easily guess would be the opening ceremony later in the evening of that chilly Friday. The main event was however held on Saturday. Upon arrival on Saturday, from distance I could see Botswana’s afro Jazz maestro, Kabo Leburu. The first question that comes to head was: “why is this guy not part of the line-up? He is equally talented.” 

As i continue walking towards him I recall his first album, FootSteps. The debut album released a few years ago clearly shows why Leburu should form part of the acts. The first song in Footsteps, called ‘Kalahari Bluegrass’ is a song that continues to evoke the nostalgic feelings and memories of yesteryear. Deep in thought, I quickly approach Leburu for a chit-chat and his first question to me as soon as I greet him was, “Do you know this artist on stage? “No, I have only heard his music last night on one of the Swaziland Radio last night….” I responded. 

Leburu assures me that this particular artist, Swaziland’s Bholoja is one of those that would leave you eating from the palm of their hand. Before I know it, Leburu receives a phone-call. He is being called up to the main stage to give a brief performance with Bholoja. Brief as it was, to hear a Motswana artist being introduced up in stage was quite an experience on its own. The incredibly diverse line-up for the 10th anniversary edition of the festival was truly a global celebration.  Leburu and Bholoja’s performance was to be followed by Kenyan afro-pop band Sauti Sol, Nigerian hip hop artist Ice Prince, Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi, South Africa’s afro pop band, Mafikizolo and Ghanaian-American hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambassador. By end of the third day, being Sunday I was able to tell why CNN has since announced it as one of the “7 African music festivals you really have to see”.The festival is renowned for eclectic and multi-dimensional world music, which includes a compelling line-up of theatre, poetry, dance, art exhibits & installations, story-telling, puppetry, film, and themed workshops. By all accounts, Bushfire Festival remains best musical showcases on the African continent. There’s also the reassuring knowledge that by attending you’re helping to do some good for the local community with the festival raising money for orphans and putting money into the development of local schools and artist outreach. By the way I also got a Swati name, Manqoba ÔÇô which is equivalent of Victor.

Baatweng attended the festival in his own personal capacity. 

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