In Jo’burg, a Colourful Festival of Food & Music

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In one exciting weekend that featured international artistes like Common, Omar and Femi Kuti; and local acts Black Coffee, Thandiswa Mazwai and TKZee, Johannesburg came alive with a themed festival that holds a lot of promise. Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports

Unknown to the Air Hostess on the South African Airways flight from Lagos to Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, her cheerful announcement held out promises for an incentive filled trip to more passengers than she would ever know. By any means, the reality of having 56 Lifetime Platinum customers (a club of privileged frequent fliers with exclusive benefits) on a single flight was unprecedented and worthy of repeated proclamation. What she did not know, however, was that members of Afrobeat King, Femi Kuti’s Positive Force Band, were on board, as well. More than that, there was a party of 10 travellers in the aircraft at the behest of DStv. For them, the journey was the beginning of a reward package for loyalty to the pay TV company as Premium clients.

In many ways, it was a special trip with different travellers who carried special status.

Travelling all night from a tropical country like Nigeria to South Africa in winter had the prospects of a shocking welcome. The temperature was 11 degrees that morning. Only a few were prepared for the biting cold. The weather was so unkind. Not a few preferred to go back into the arrival hall while the personnel from the tour company who had welcomed us earlier excused himself to bring his bus closer. We were soon on our way to the Southern Sun Hotel in Hyde Park.

The lavish buffet breakfast in the hotel was a good hint of what we were in for. Whoever invented the idea of placing so much food in intimidating portion, perhaps, set out to encourage gluttony. Anyway, it was a good reminder that our primary purpose for the visit was to participate in the DStv Delicious International Food and Music Festival. But the sponsors of the trip was generous to throw in a wholesome experience that would leave lasting memories. So we spent the hours after breakfast visiting Soweto, in the South-west of Johannesburg, most famous for its townships and the 1976 uprising against the use of Afrikaans in schools which led to the killing of school children, resulting in a global outrage against the apartheid system of government. We saw the Freedom Monument, where the values and charter that bind the country are summarised on a concrete to serve as reminders to generations. The next port of call was the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum opened in Soweto in 2002, not far from the spot where 12 year-old Hector was shot on June 16, 1976.

The museum houses a combination of photographs, handwritten letters and memes. Audio-visuals relating to the Soweto Massacre was running on different screens. Outside in a courtyard were stones with names of different victims and the day they died inscribed on them. As many of the dead could not be traced, there was a stone dedicated to the Unknown. To reach this commemorative building, we drove past the imposing Regina Mundi Catholic Church which had the distinction of shielding the clandestine activities of the freedom fighters who opposed apartheid.

Peter, the tour guide from South Africa Tourism proudly pointed out the shanty towns. Although many of them have been transformed into modern apartments, it seems more downtrodden people keep popping up to raise new shanties. Eradicating the shanties in Soweto completely is a war that the South African government is eager to prosecute, for the very important reason of dislodging suspected criminals.

Everyone was eager to get to the next stop – Dr. Nelson Mandela’s house! No. 8115 Vilikazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa is fast becoming one of the most popular addresses in the world. The street has a global reputation for being home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners; Mandela and his compatriot, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was celebrating his 86th birthday at the time of our visit. Our group members were excited to run into Femi Kuti at the Mandela house. They eagerly posed for photographs with him and other visitors who could not understand the flurry around him looked askance.

Lunch was at Sakhumzi Restaurant down the road. The eatery prides itself as promoting the authentic Soweto Lifestyle. That definitely includes the entertainment fare from itinerant cultural troupes. On the way back to the hotel, Peter pointed at the home of the Orlando Pirates Football Club. Incidentally, it was the weekend of the World Cup qualifying matches involving Nigeria and South Africa in their different countries. Banters on which country was likely to win and move ahead were exchanged between the Tour Guide and us. But largely, discourse on the journey back to the hotel was dominated by memories from the Hector Pieterson Museum and how things could have been if Nigerians had the courage to confront their ‘oppressors’ like the Soweto school children.

We set out early on the first day of the DStv Delicious Food and Music Festival. The Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit, venue of the event looked so magnificent. Normally, a motor racing circuit, it received a wonderful make over to accommodate a different kind of occasion. As we drove closer to the point of disembarking, the splendid arrangement became more inviting. One of the exhibiting food companies was waiting with a welcome pack of meat immediately we went through ticketing formalities. The Public Relations Manager, Multichoice Nigeria, Jennifer UyaiAbasi Ukoh had a VIP ticket for everyone. We were first received at a DStv activation Pavilion, for a short while to enable her locate the tent for dignitaries close to the stage.

Predictably, the general public areas provided the ground for the food market and exhibitions. The festival which started in 2013 entered its fifth edition this year. It has witnessed major progression since inception, becoming a major annual calendar event. In 2014, it held twice with an event held in Cape Town. Last year, it held over two days for the first time, attracting over 40,000 visitors to Kyalami. This success influenced a return to the same venue for the same number of days, this year. The DStv Delicious International Food and Music Festival has spurn a unique payoff, becoming known as ‘the music festival for food lovers and the food festival for music lovers.’

It is common knowledge that food, drinks and music are the major ingredients that ensure the success of a good party; multiply those in huge proportions and you have a festival. With so many partners like Liberty, Ciroc and Cocacola; DStv, the headline sponsor ensured that its brand identity was visible everywhere. Looking down from the VIP pavillion on the general access area of the music arena with so many DStv branded umbrellas, you may not be wrong to think DStv owns this country (or at least, this space)

The line-up for the weekend featured international artistes Common, Omar, Femi Kuti, Imagination feat. Leee John and Alexander O’Neal; and local acts Black Coffee Live, Thandiswa Mazwai and TKZee.

The main ingredients of the festival include international and local artistes on the main stage, international and local chefs featured in various pop up restaurants and cooking theaters, channel activations, brand activations and SA’s biggest gourmet street food market. It is known as SA’s biggest food and music festival.

Mr. Gavin Bahn, a chef with Horn and Phillips, a company that cooks on site told this reporter that his company was contracted to cater for 800 guests, serving varieties of foods for two days in the DStv lounge. Serving drinks in the same pavilion, Chantel Baewaed, a manager with drinks providers, Thirst, said her company hired the services of 12 barmen, two supervisors, three cleaners and four support staff for the two days. According to her, 88 bottles of Champagne were consumed on the second day alone.

Businessman, Mr. Khulu Nsibanyone who attended the festival with his friends was up and dancing as soon as TKZee, the opening act on the first day came on stage. Apparently, the member pioneering Kwaito group has been off the scene for a while. Bringing TKZee at the beginning of the show worked well for the likes of Nsibanyoni who confessed that watching the group live was one of his considerations for attending the show. “This is the sound we listened to when I was growing up. It takes me back to 20 years ago.”

World famous DJ Black Coffee is another artiste who has been able to endear himself to both the young and older generation, particularly in South Africa. For the Delicious Festival, he elevated his appearance above a regular DJ by having a percussionist and keyboardist accompany him. However, the amazing working of his fingers, turning this knob and that knob on the mixer ensured a steady beat that kept people dancing on their feet. Since he did not say a word, much of what kept people glued to his act was his ability to simulate the motions of a skilled chef who was dropping different spices into the pot to come up with a tasty dish. As he was shuffling to his own mix, it was infectious and you could not but move to the beat as well. Indeed, Black Coffee had most people eating from his palm as they moved to his beat. Even as I write this piece that stable sound is playing in my head.

Bongo Maffin generated much love from the audience with their performance, especially when a former member of the group who has gone solo, Thandiswa Mazwai, joined them. She had earlier performed a fabulous show all by herself.

But the performer most people were waiting for on the opening day was American musician and actor, Common. And he did quite a few things to increase the enjoyment of the crowd. He was the only one who went into the crowd and slap their hands as they reached out to touch him. One lucky lady had the opportunity to be serenaded on stage as the musician poured a glass of wine, kissed and danced with her as the crowd cheered. He was not done. He had more surprises up his sleeve as he dropped on the floor and spurn, round and round in a dance motion that attracted more jubilation. He continued to make appealing acts and statements like saying, ‘Sawubona’ which is Hello in Zulu. Perhaps, what attracted him more to the people was his ability to communicate his concerns for some of the things that connect to their existence like spirituality, justice and rights. They were bouncing and dancing as he passed these salient messages.

Many in the audience like Mr. Lawal Ashafa, a trader from Nigeria who was on his first trip to South Africa courtesy of DStv, did not have to remember the name or title of any song. Having been a Premium customer of the pay tv company for 20 years, he was happy to be rewarded with the trip to experience South Africa. For Mrs. Gloria Adaobi Millar who has been a Premium customer since 2006, every bit of the trip was enjoyable and she could not have exchanged it for anything (not even money). Mr. Sikiru Kaka’s relationship with DStv is so important that he remembers the exact date on July 12, 17 years ago when he became a Premium customer.

Although he has only been a Premium for seven years, Yohana Bako, an architect, said he values the South African experience made possible by DStv. Others on the DStv sponsorship train from Nigeria were Mustapha Kaka, a civil servant, Amaka Cynthia Abia and Alex Oyije.

They were all happy to make new friends and have their eyes open to new possibilities, particularly the synergy of cultures. There was this South African man named Ike. Upon enquiry he said that his father named him after a Nigerian friend but he does not know the meaning of the name. He was very excited to learn the name means ‘God’s power’. We met another Xhosa lady named Chuma. She said her name means prosperity. The DStv Delicious Festival grabbed people with a dimension of cultural ties that resonated with the essence of their values.

It was, for instance, easy for Femi Kuti to appeal to their senses when he sang, ‘Africa for Africa’. There was a lot of drama to feed the eyes on. Anywhere you looked on his set, the horns men moved in a certain formation. The dancers and chorus girls were feisty and set the stage on fire with sexy dance steps. Femi, as usual, exuded so much energy. One of the ways to find out if there are Nigerians in the audience, or at least, his regular fans is to issue his signature call, ‘ararararara’! Yes, they were there, but not in teeming numbers. Their response of ‘orororororo’ was not as resounding as if he was in his home turf at the New Afrikan Shrine. He went on to sing, ‘Politics Na Big Business’ which ignited something in the crowd at a time there is ongoing probe of a scandal involving some big business and politicians in that country. An adept at handling crowds, he threw a challenge that got them to react more. “I thought you could move,” he roared. They move in Paris. They move in New York. We get to Africa and you can’t move.”

The crowd got the hint and was ready when he threw down the gauntlet. They simply obeyed when he ordered them to move. He took the lead in demonstrating what he demanded of them. The song in the background was the boisterous and irreverent, ‘Beng Beng Beng’ in which he urges them to follow his instructions to achieve a more fulfilling love making. Femi ended his session with the thought provoking song, ‘Sorry Sorry’.

But for the resilience of the crowd and the organisers, the festival was nearly marred by bad weather. At this time of the year, the weather in Johannesburg was standing on its head; very unpredictable. A burst of unexpected rainfall often followed a period of sunshine. It got so bad on the second that the show was halted for long spell of time and a notice went on the screen alerting people to seek safe shelter away from the lightning and storm. Many of the corporate sponsors anticipated the rain and handed out branded umbrellas to daring fans who were eager to connect with their favourite stars like Soul11Soul, Alexander O\Neal and Omar.

Standing at over 30 feet, the stage and the lighting were imposing and impressive. The organisation was near perfect. The conveniences were sparkling clean till the end despite the number of people who had to use it. In the DStv VIP lounge, food and drinks were never in short supply.

The DStv Delicious International Food and Music Festival is a pioneer event that recommends the great thinking behind the project. It is an edgy festival that attempts to redefine culture, particularly in culinary and fashion sense. In the years to come, it is possible to place a bet on its potential to revolutionise the continent, as it appears that the creation of a new formula that brings food and music together on a large scale in one venue is working well.

What is required is continuing diversity in moderation of the entertainment mix to broaden the scope of participation by a larger audience. If the veneer of a festival is stripped and it is laid bare, it is a concert that offers loads of food. In future, the people in charge of programming may consider bringing an artiste like Femi who has so much energy to close the show so that more people can stay and the concert ground will remain packed to the end. The same consideration may be made for the foods on display as South Africa has a wide mix of nationalities.