Stop turning your nose up at African film & music festivals

Not only are events such as Nigeria's Gidi Fest lit, they're far more rand-friendly than the likes of Glastonbury and Coachella

07 July 2019 - 00:08
SA musician Moonchild Sanelly performing her heart out at the Gidi Fest in Lagos, Nigeria.
SA musician Moonchild Sanelly performing her heart out at the Gidi Fest in Lagos, Nigeria.
Image: Supplied

As South Africans we have an odd relationship with the things we see overseas. Take festivals, for example. Everyone has slobbered over the prospect of going to Coachella in the US, lusted over the idea of seeing Stormzy perform live at Glastonbury in the UK, and been aroused by the mere mention of watching Swedish House Mafia reunite at Tomorrowland in Belgium.

Ask that same group of everyone to even name a festival that happens in Africa - but outside of SA - and prepare yourself for a series of looks ranging from stumped to "why would anyone even want to do that?"

The answer to that last question is pretty simple: they're lit! In a climate where earning money in rands is making it increasingly difficult to travel to and have fun in places like California and England, getting your festivalling done in Africa is a rump-jigglingly fun alternative that has the added benefits of unique cultural experiences and shorter flight times. The music is pretty good too.

Take "Africa's Coachella", Gidi Fest. Staged in Lagos, Nigeria, the festival was started with the aim of showcasing the diversity of modern-day Africa and rewiring negative perceptions about the home continent.

"When we started Gidi Fest in 2014 there was nothing else like it. We've created a space that's allowed other young people to produce festivals that celebrate different things and different parts of our culture. It represents the present-day music culture in Nigeria and on the continent," said festival co-founder Chinedu Okeke.

Inspired in large part by the now-defunct Lekki Sound Splash festival, which boasted the likes of Fela Kuti as a headliner, Gidi Fest has spent just over half a decade curating an affordable space where young African festivalgoers can be free and immerse themselves in the continent's arts and culture.

Patoranking performing at the Gidi Fest in Lagos, Nigeria.
Patoranking performing at the Gidi Fest in Lagos, Nigeria.
Image: Supplied

One of the benefits of the festival's focus on African music and youth culture has been that it has been at the vanguard of the global explosion in the popularity of the Afro beats genre. Acts like D'banj, Davido, Wizkid and Patoranking, who now command huge booking fees internationally, have all headlined at Gidi Fest.

"Our aim was always to go back to the root and the core of presenting the future of African music, not just who was big at the time. We want to curate good quality, high energy performances with artists we believe are driving the culture forward," said Okeke.

Getting major sponsors behind African festivals can be harder than getting the people at robots not to try to clean your windscreen, even when you attract tens of thousands.

"Funnily enough it has often been harder to get local partners onboard than international ones because those brands understand the value of this kind of festival. For instance brands like Redbull have supported us since the beginning. Fortunately we have gotten over the hump where we are no longer trying to convince anyone to partner with us," said Okeke.


What many Nigerians jokingly refer to as "Africa Lite", Gidi Fest can be something of a culture shock. Lagos is a hotter, faster and more spontaneous city than a lot of South Africans are used to, but that is nine-tenths of the fun. Gidi Fest, and by extension Lagos, are where the amount of good times one can have are limited only by one's capacity for them.

If, however, you are looking for something a little more cinematic, then Zanzibar's International Film Festival (Ziff) may be a better fit.

Malawi's Lake of Stars has been hailed by CNN as 'the world's most spectacular music festival'
Festival co-founder Chinedu Okeke

Ziff, East Africa's biggest film festival, showcases the best and brightest filmmaking talent the continent has to offer, in Instagram-worthy settings. This year's festival will feature work from more than 53 countries from across the globe, and a range of workshops for aspiring filmmakers.

If you are not a cinophile and are looking for something that resembles Swaziland's Bushfire but with a more coastal vibe, best start saving your coins for Malawi's Lake of Stars. Hailed by CNN as "one of Africa's most respected festivals" and "the world's most spectacular music festival", this boutique experience takes place on the northern shore of Lake Malawi from a dazzling old colonial castle. Acts, whose specialities range from jazz to EDM, have been known to perform their sets from trees. The festival also incorporates poetry, film and art.

For obvious reasons, festivals like Coachella, Glastonbury and Tomorrowland are eye-catching for those of us who live in "Africa Lite", but they need not be all that we see. Casting one's irises a little closer to home reveals a festival universe drenched in the kinds of cultural experiences that you cannot find anywhere else in the world. To me, that seems like a much better thing to flood one's Instagram page with than shots of muddy fields in England.

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