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Field Notes: Conservation Music in Swaziland, Bring Your Fire!

The Crew Travels to the Bushfire Festival

In the final weeks of May, the crew said their goodbyes to Maseru, the beautiful capital of Lesotho. Having lived, worked, and socialized there for the past month and a half, Alex and Chris had begun to feel at home. However, they were thrilled to embark on the next leg of the adventure. On May 21st, 2017, they packed their livelihood from Ntate Tau’s Music Mansion and began the journey to Swaziland for the Bushfire Festival (“Bushfire”), one of the most culturally diverse and exciting music events in Africa, where they would set up their first festival booth in the “Bring Your Fire” activation zone (“BYFZ”).

Leaving Maseru, Lesotho.

On the way out of Maseru, Alex and Chris picked up their good friend Pitso Rah Makhula, a talented poet/singer and the co-creator of the influential song Ngope La Musi. As a previous CM volunteer, Pitso was an obvious addition to the CM crew for the festival. Not only would he be of great contribution to our booth, but the crew was excited to share the Bushfire experience with Pitso.

Prior to heading to Swaziland, the crew decided to stop in Johannesburg in order to pick up necessary musical equipment for the booth. It was a bit out of the way, but well worth the five hour ride. The journey was peaceful and filled with striking vistas of rural villages, flat grasslands, and distant mountains. However, as the team approached the city, the air thickened with smoke from multiple grassland fires. Fire is commonly used as an ecosystem management technique, but in this part of the world it is often excessive and unmitigated. As a group of conservationists, it was deeply unsettling to see huge portions of the land set aflame, just as Alex had experienced in Angola with the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project..

After hours of driving, the city lights of Johannesburg began to dot the night horizon. This glowing metropolis was a stark contrast to Maseru. The smooth circulatory system of highway roads snaked through giant glass high-rise buildings and under passed modern downtown areas. They soon arrived in Greenside, a peaceful suburb of Johannesburg. The crew stayed there with friends for the next three days, and productively prepared for the festival.

In the early afternoon of May 24th, 2017, they left Johannesburg and completed the final leg of the trek to Swaziland, the mountainous home of Bushfire. They arrived in the evening, leaving little time to set up for the following day’s activities. The crew’s excitement for the festival began to grow as they started preparing their booth in the BYFZ.  The Bring Your Fire Zone hosts local and international NGOs whose work promotes social change, environmentalism, and sustainability. Our own unique form of activation was the first ever CM #CrowdStudio!

Alex and Chris recorded a basic chord progression that would later be developed into a five-minute multi-track song, as over 50 festival goers added their contributions to the piece. Under the glow of the sunset, the crew constructed a vocal booth by stuffing an old wooden box frame with “sound proof” foam, to improve recording quality. They tested it out with energsome passersby, and felt confident with the impromptu musical stall. It was dark by the time the setup was complete. The crew wrapped up the long day, and knew they had even more in store for them tomorrow, so they decided to call it a night. This was the beginning of something beautiful!

Bushfire Begins

The next morning, the booth was armed with guitars, djembes, a keyboard, and other instruments for contributors to play and record with. By 10:00 AM, the people arrived and the music began!

As the day warmed, the crowd expanded and the #CrowdStudio track began to breathe life. The crew continued to meet with many eclectic, enthusiastic artists, who brought the fire through their own musical individuality. The work seemed to be never ending but the energy brought through creating unique music, and meeting amazing new friends, powered the crew through the rest of the day. As the sun set over the horizon, the crew packed up the essentials, and made their way to the main stage to enjoy exceptional music with the company of new friends.

CM enjoyed two more days of successful recording, informational outreach, and live music. Endless people were turned on to CM’s work, the crew recorded a powerhouse of material for the #CrowdStudio track, and many more friends were made. On the evening of May 28th, 2017, the last act of the festival was performed by Bholoja, a soulful folk guitarist from Swaziland with an incomparable voice. If only he could make it to our studio!! After finishing work for the night, the crew enjoyed an amazing ending to an unforgettable weekend.

Bholoja headlines at the Bushfire Festival.

An Unexpected Turn

On Monday morning, the crew recorded some final #CrowdStudio contributions from a few more interested festival goers who stopped by while CM was packing up the gear. They also met folks from a performance art collective known as BDI, who graciously lent their talents for the development of the track, and another gentleman named Rob, who ran a pizza truck inside the festival. Curious and interested in what CM was about, Rob graciously invited the CM and BDI crews to head back to his property to crash for the night.

Pitso headed home the next morning, but Alex and Chris ended up staying at Rob’s for the following two weeks. The BDI crew hung around as well and contributed to the #CrowdStudio track by adding sounds from whimsical instruments such as the jaw harp, the water pipe flute, and the musical saw. Over the first few days at Rob’s, Alex and Chris began to realize how useful and enriching their stay there would be. They quickly learned that Rob is a long time veteran in the field of live sound production. He shared his connections with the crew, introducing them to even more artists, providing an even wider range of talent as final additions to the #CrowdStudio track.

During the remainder of the crew’s stay at Rob’s place, the crew edited and perfected the #CrowdStudio project. With each morning, they were welcomed by a glorious view of Execution Rock, a nearby summit surrounded by the grassy plains and diverse fauna of the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. This view was a daily source of inspiration for the crew and certainly brought new life and energy to the track.

The final days at Rob’s place proved to be the most fruitful. Unexpectedly, the crew had the chance to meet Bholoja, their favorite headlining act at the Bushfire Festival! Bholoja and two other incredibly talented Swazi artists, Velemseni and Black Rhino, added a layer of environmentally charged lyrics to our #CrowdStudio song.

Bholoja records alongside Execution Rock in Ezulwini, Swaziland.

Eventually the crew had  to return to Lesotho in order to help the Sotho Sounds band put on a performance. They reluctantly said their goodbyes to Swaziland, and their new friends, and then hit the road. As the crew headed south, they also prepared for their next adventure, a month long stay in Zambia with Greenpop, a Cape Town-based environmental NGO who invited us to contribute to their yearly Zambia Festival of Action. The CM crew couldn’t be more excited for what was to come!

Stay tuned for our next blog post to hear more about our time at GreenPop’s Zambia Festival of Action!

 

This post was written by Lauren Mann and edited by Charlie Ross for Conservation Music.

About Conservation Music

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Conservation Music is on a mission to produce and promote musical media that educates listeners and viewers in conservation and sustainability, with an emphasis on rural developing communities, and to serve as a platform for similar efforts. Currently, the organization primarily collaborates with musicians throughout Southern Africa, catalyzing songs in local genres and local languages regarding local conservation issues in countries like Lesotho, Botswana, Angola, and more.

Comments

  1. Dionna
    Virginia
    July 25, 5:11 pm

    What an interesting story! Can almost hear the music!