Zakifo Festival 2017: Durban’s got a new festival!
A couple of days ago, I met someone new. Quite a few new people in fact. Four days in Durban and my life was infinitely changed for the better. And, not exactly because of Durban. But, because Friday to Sunday of the past weekend saw the return of the Zakifo Festival to South Africa.
The Zakifo Festival 2017 was hosted at Blue Lagoon Beach in Durban. An amazing, kind of intimate festival grounds with a split-main stage that hosted bands running like clockwork. Every night of the weekend until the last act closed the show. The most unbelievable thing is that, that act – Sunday night at 20:30, was Damian “Junior Gong” Marley!
It is a festival that is incredibly unique. It’s pretty much the opposite of something like Oppikoppi, for example. This venue is on a grassy park, alongside the beach. Probably about 6-7 footballs fields in size I’d guess. The entrance to the festival is right next to a main street, Snell Parade. It runs between Blue Lagoon and Moses Mabhida Stadium, then continues south. There’s not much parking, which means very short queues and a lot of people get dropped off. We Ubered back and forth between our accommodation in Berea and the festival. For R15 a person each way.
The grounds had the usual amenities, several well-stocked bars and a couple of pretty delicious food trucks. Think fish and chips, curries and rotis, wors, pap, potatoes and the healthy alternative. Add in a VIP area that wasn’t used much (gratefully), a couple marquees and the staging and it was on. The venue was really comfortable, a large expanse of soft lawn. Filled with fold-up chairs, picnics, beer tents, hay bales, incredible music and dance battles – it was perfect for Zakifo.
There were all types of people, mother, fathers, sons and daughters, some young kids running around as well. The venue opened in the early afternoon each day, and closed after the last act – so no camping. It was pretty weird doing it that way, after expecting the usual drunken trip back to your tent. But that was it, tomorrow it started afresh. Going to a festival and then back to civilisation for late night takeaways and a comfortable bed. This literally changes your life at 4am.
Zakifo 2017: The artists themselves
Friday afternoon Jobie Clarke kicked off the show, followed by the effervescent Lu Dlamini. Each artist got an hour long slot, and each one started, pretty much straight after the previous one had ended. The main stage was split in three. While one stage was being used, the other two were being prepared and sound checked. Music never seemed to stop. The changeover was effortless (minus a few technical errors) and the whole thing kept up an incredible energy and tempo.
All the artists were amazing! There was such a huge diversity in the music that each group played. We got a true taste of modern African-inspired sounds from all over this continent, and further afield as well. We were bowled over by the incredible sounds of Thandiswa Mazwai, Ray Phiri, Bombino and Baloji. From Niger to Belgium, Congo and South Africa, we were served the most incredible afro-soul, jazz-fusion, internationally acclaimed world music and the French Pharrell Williams’ type rap from Baloji.
Saturday morning, we spent half the morning sleeping in and relaxing. The early part of the afternoon munching delicious salt ‘n pepper fish tacos on Durban’s main beach, picking up some very necessary UV and having a good swim in the ocean. We got back to the festival in the early evening, in time to catch Bongeziwe Mabandla, urban-african folk artist. The line-up on Saturday including other South African acts, Gangs of Ballet, Missu and the ultimate a cappella act, The Soil. The other standouts from the evening were British grime-punk (or ‘grunk) group, the Nova Twins and the spell-casting MC, Tiggs da Author. French DJ crew closed out the dance with style on the decks.
Saturday ended at around 04:30am on Sunday morning. After some much needed rest and a good old greasy breakfast, we hit the town to catch some sights of the city of Durban itself. We went to the fresh produce and herb market, then went on to buy some imphepho and African potato from the local traditional medicine market. I think we ended up with the right things – something for a liver detox is what we were after. Plus, a good fish spice for some freshly caught (uhh, bought) salmon.
Packed and all ready to go – we hit up Zakifo for the 3rd and final day, arriving on Sunday afternoon as the fiery orb above was heading down towards the horizon. We arrived at the festival just in time to catch the start of Kommanda Obbs, an insanely good Mosotho rapper and reggae artist. This festival continually reminded me of just how much amazing talent there is in this country. At this point, it was three acts left until Damian Marley was due to come out on stage. Cue some shortness of breath, and the beginnings of a loud and rusty “Out in the streets, they call it murder…”.
Sax Machine joined us for the next hour of the festival, a hip hop jazz trio from France. Petite Noir got the crowd lifted skyward, eased along by the fragrant smell of ganja being lit up across the lawn. Noir’s visual accompaniment, art-pop cross indie rock music and film-esque attitude towards his performances make it incredibly hypnotizing to watch.
Durban Posion and Damian Marley
Finally, it was time! It was 20:30 and Junior Gong himself would be on stage. At least a third of the crowd were Rastafarians. Swathed in vibrant red, orange and green, with dreadlocks of all shapes and sizes, they moved in closer to the stage. As did everyone else. This was a momentous occasion after all. Here to perform for the people of Zakifo, was Bob Marley’s youngest son. For those of us who love the music of the great legend, this was an amazing opportunity to catch a rap from his prodigy!
In the midst of the crowd’s hailing Damian, his MC comes out and asks whether we’re ‘ready’ to see Damian Marley? What a question! Nevertheless, this is the nature of hype, including a hype-man and Damian’s opening act. Everybody stood with bated breath as he closed out, followed by Damian Marley and his back-up singers 2 minutes later. Stepping out into the spotlight, dreadlocks swaying to the floor, the Junior Gong himself appeared and shouted “Are you irie, Durban?” The rest of the night got predictably wild from this point on.
Damian’s performance superseded my expectations by hundred to one. He was the iridescent gentleman of Jamaica. The band was absolutely on the money with the backing music and provided the soundtrack for some incredible renditions of the favourites including ‘Master Has Come Back’ and ‘Road to Zion’. It was a ridiculous feeling to look around mid-stomp and see many friends emboldened by the spirit of Marley. Flags waved, drums beat and the voices of South Africa’s most peaceful demographic smoked away into the night. We were carried at the end, to the sounds of ‘Welcome to Jamrock’, and said goodbye (multiple times) to probably one of the most unforgettable concerts I’ve been to.
Thank you to the organisers, event co-ordinators, the artists and in particular, the wonderful people of Zakifo Festival 2017. An incredibly well-organised show, with an immeasurably good line-up and one of the nicest coastlines on the planet.
Make sure to keep ahead of what’s happening next year. If 2017 was anything to go by, it’s getting large!
Tags: baloji, birdy nam nam, blue lagoon beach, bombino, damian marley, gangs of ballet, igoda, jobie clarke, kommanda obbs, lu dlamini, petite noir, ray phiri, sax machine, thandiswa mazwai, the soil, tiggs da author, zakifo