If you’re tired of going to music festivals with 37 different versions of Shortstraw, or if you’re tired of 40 straight hours of trance being called a music festival, you should check out Zakifo, an actual music festival. Now in it’s third year, Zakifo has found it’s feet and it’s voice as a uniquely curated international buffet of music, held in Durban of all places. If you’re not a Durbanite, you probably haven’t been before, but with Damian “Jr Gong” Marley as this year’s headliner, chances are that might change. While the first 2 editions of the festival provided a broad sonic pallet from around the world, they lacked the support they deserved because they lacked that universally known draw card that helps build critical mass. There aren’t many artists as universally known, and loved, as Bob Marley’s youngest son. It’s a monster booking that has generated hype for the young and ambitious festival, but is not all they have on offer. For those of you making your way to Durban from the 26th to the 28th of May, you’re in for a real treat.
Let me be clear, Zakifo has been a vibe from the start. The first year was a weekend long street party outside the Rivertown Beerhall. It was ambitious in its scope, with 2 stages and a lineup that probably would have drawn better in other cities, but still managed to get most of Durban’s creative community dancing in the streets. We’re talking Mi Casa, Make-Overs, The Soil, Felix Laband, Madala Kunene, Christian Tiger School, Durban acts like The Wolfpack, Veranda Panda and Raheem Kemet (All as they were making names for themselves on radio), and an international lineup that featured artists from France, Reunion Island, Mozambique and my favourite act of the weekend, the enchanting Flaviah Coelho from Brazil. Sounds like a good time, right? It was, you should have been there.
Last year, they scaled up yet again, with 3 stages at the old Natal Command. A music festival on land that used to be a military base feels like a small symbolic victory for the arts. They bumped up the international acts and audiences got more than they bargained for from the likes of Ghanaian-American Blitz The Ambassador, Too Many Zooz from New York, Mali’s Songhoy Blues, Estere from New Zealand, and the SA contingent of Moonchild, Maramza, aKing, Tidal Waves BCUC,Gigi Lamayne… it goes on for a while. The booking for Zakifo has been on point and unlike any other festival in South Africa. You may not recognise all of them, but you don’t see too many of the names on Zakifo’s lineup on other SA festival bills, and therein lies its value. You’re not going to see anything else like it.
Zakifo is an ambitious festival and this looks to be be the year that ambition pays off. While Damien Marley is a superstar booking that has given the festival more visibility, the rest of the lineup is on the level with some of the coolest festivals in the world. Birdy Nam Nam are the 2002 DMC World Team Champs and all around French electro legends, but you probably recognise their name from working with A$AP Rocky and Skrillex on Wild For The Night. Tiggs Da Author’s ‘Run’ will be familiar to FIFA fans, but most notably, the video, which is now on over 2 million views, was shot in South Africa using the talents of local drifters. London’s Nova Twins are bad bitches who play “urban-punk”- bass-laden post-punk that sounds like Guano Apes after listening to Death Grips. The South African contingent this year is also phenomenal, there are the legends in the form of Ray Phiri and Thandiswa Mazwai, the inspiring Bongeziwe Mabandla (who we’ve interviewed before), the phenomenal Petite Noir, and a cappella group The Soil, who hold the honour of being the first act to perform at Zakifo twice.
While the South African music festival has mostly become known for giving international indie and alt-rock acts a pay day once they’ve lost relevancy, festivals like Zakifo (and AfroPunk) are booking acts that are current as fuck and that appeal to more than just the privileged white kid demographic. Things have felt a bit stale on the SA festival circuit for a while now- repetitive lineups of 70% white boys backed by an international headliner just doesn’t really cut it anymore. I don’t doubt that Oppikoppi and Rocking The Daisies teaming up this year is because of “The Rand”, but you have to look at their lineups over the last few years and ask: How does this appeal to most South Africans? I can’t imagine things getting any easier for festivals like Oppi and RTD with more and more viable competition popping up. Competition that offers something unique, whilst they’re sharing headliners. With AfroPunk coming out of the gates swinging, and Zakifo building on its solid foundation, South Africans have more choices where to spend their annual festival budget and more opportunities to experience something different, something that actually feels South African.