Once a year the Bush Fire Festival in Swaziland brings together a diverse group of performers and audiences who gather at the eclectic House on Fire venue in the Malkerns Valley. As an adjunct to this event the Bush Fire Schools Festival takes place over two to three days prior to the main event. For the past three years I have either acted as MC for this event or have been a facilitator . . . . . . . .
Mncedisi Shabangu & Hamilton Dlamini blow some warmth into a chilly
May morning with 'Woza Albert'
During the day participants have been involved in making familiar and unfamiliar music using unconventional instruments. They have taken part in strenuous and edgy physical theatre with one of the foremost practitioners in this art. Story telling using poetry, rap and mime and the spoken word have been investigated in depth. In previous years similar groups have also sung in formal choir sets, have watched a mulungu fluent in Zulu with the hairstyle of a chicken sitting on top of a pole, and have been part of the largest drum circle ever seen in Swaziland.
Steve Barnett - the "Silent Conductor" in the crop circle
Mncedisi Shabangu, Hamilton Dlamini & Prince Lamla talk Physical Theatre
under the trees
Talking to both participants and the facilitators during and afterwards I hear views about the schools festival providing a platform for expression. For some participants it has been a safe haven and for some a well needed but edgy space. I hear descriptions of new tools being provided for new ways to express emotions and ideas. From the facilitators I hear expressions of amazement of the latent talents and willingness and yearning for expression that the young people of our small country harbours.
Harmonica lessons with Adam Glasser
It would be tempting and trite (and a little paternalistic) to say that the schools festival offers a glimpse of a mirror image of Swazi society. It does not aspire to this but what it does do for me is provide an intriguing keyhole view of a new community. A community that wants to use and share the tools to which it has been exposed to express feelings and emotions and tell stories to you and me on a variety of stages and platforms, and most important to be able to do so without fear. A community that incidentally when asked for feed-back on the days experience shouted in almost one voice "we want dance and poetry as well"! What do you make of that? Such a community can only be a force for good, for the givers and the recipients.
And what of the reluctant small school group?
Well lets face it they represent that minority in every society that will want to dampen the ebullience, verve and courage of others. Perhaps they are there to remind us of the contrast between having positive expression and that deadly, sapping negative energy of lethargy. I hope they attend this year. I would be delighted to see them participating with the same spirit as the others, but if they don’t they will surely see again how painful alienation can be, and perhaps from that even they will understand.
© Steve Mitchell 2012
This article in its original form, and without photo's, was first published in 'Bhomisa' (a dedicated festival newspaper published by the MTN Bushfire Festival and the Swazi Observer) and in the Swazi Observer.