For the past decade, festivals have seen a steady increase in popularity throughout South Africa. Looking outside of SA, the mainstream gaze tends to focus on festivals in the United States, Europe and the UK, skipping over the rest of the Africa and thus missing out on an astonishingly diverse array of musical and cultural gatherings.
With a continent so rich in culture and heritage, you have to wonder why these events are so frequently overlooked. It’s certainly not due to a lack of festivals. Perhaps it’s because many of them refuse to cater to the pop culture of the West through their insistence on showcasing African musicians and artists, a crucial and needed decentralising of Western cultural hegemony. Events such as Azgo Festival, taking place at the end of May in Mozambique, are founded on an infrastructure that empowers them to tell the stories of their local communities and cultures while creating opportunities for sustainable artistic careers.
The 7th Azgo Festival will take place in Maputo on the 20th of May 2017, at University of Eduardo Mondlane, and aims to bring together a diverse program of quality music, film and dance to the South-East coast capital. It’s is a contemporary celebration of arts and culture, with a strong focus on artists from Mozambique and also those from the rest of the African continent – no small feat considering the vastness of the continent and the variance of subcultural output. The festival serves as a platform for emerging and acclaimed artists to collaborate and meet new audiences. The name “Azgo” is taken from Maputo slang, meaning “let’s go,” and in the context of the festival, the word fits perfectly, as in: “let’s revisit our cultures and our heritage, let’s promote cultural diversity, let’s promote arts and culture. Let’s Go!”
This year’s line-up features more than 15 esteemed artists, across all genres, from Brazil, Cape Verde, Ghana, Swaziland, Reunion Island, South Africa and Portugal.
With more acts yet to be announced, leading the line-up is Brazilian songwriter and guitarist Maria Gadú, who is currently touring and keeping us in the loop with videos of her performances. Bridging the gap between Brazilian and Mozambican music, Gadú is set to bring her passionate and vulnerable brand of samba, funk and soul to Mozambique for the first time. With two Latin Grammy Awards and the chart topping ‘Shimbalaiê’ to her name, this is a performance which promises to be as moving as it is stunning.
Representing South Africa is the legendary Ray Phiri – the founder and voice of Stimela – whose career as composer, singer and guitarist is showing no signs of slowing down as he enters his seventies. Mozambican/South African trio Batuk will also be performing, bringing with them an infectious cosmopolitan spirit. Batuk, which is composed of South African producers Spoek Mathambo and Aero Manyelo, as well as Mozambican vocalist Manteiga, draw their inspiration from uniquely African genres like afrohouse, soul, zouk, kuduro, deep house, techno and traditional African music.
Batuk | Source: Azgo Press Release
The second Phiri performing at Azgo, on the same line up as her father Ray, is the beloved electronic-soul songbird Nonku Phiri. I first came across Nonku when I experienced her breathtaking performance with Crazy White Boy at Cape Town Electronic Music Festival in 2014. Since then, she’s gone from one success to the next – moving effortlessly between afrohouse, electronica, hip-hop and kwaito, all accompanied by her soulful and meticulous vocals. She is one of the most distinctive, influential voices on South Africa’s future electronic music landscape, and is sure to take Maputo by storm.
Nonku Phiri | Source: Azgo Press Release
The Mozambican line-up, similar to the South African one, boasts a balance of younger and older, more prominent musicians. Ghorwane, a band that became hugely popular in the 80s will be celebrating 40 years on stage. They became hugely popular due to their Mozambican take on multi-instrumental, roots-driven afropop. Representing a more youthful audience, Lay Lizzy ,one of the most influential Mozambican hip-hop artists takes to the stage this year, backed by live band Os Primos. Lizzy released his latest video, ‘Forever’ at the beginning of April, coming off of a collaboration with South African rapper AKA in 2016, with the track ‘Hello’.
Moving up the contient to Ghana, the music of Jojo Abot is poised to capture the ears of festival audiences with her experimental blend of electronica, afrobeat, jazz, neo-soul, house and reggae. Her mysterious yet eloquent musical qualities connect her to South African artists like Manthe Ribane, who also blends genres seemingly effortlessly. Abot will also be performing at the much anticipated Zakifo Festival taking place at the end of May in Durban.
Jojo Abot | Source: Jojo Abot Artist Page
As the first leg of the Igoda Southern African Music Festivals Circuit (which encompasses festivals from Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa and Reunion Island), Azgo promises to be an exciting start to something truly special – a festival run by intensely passionate people who have built the infrastructure which is working to make it possible for young artists to sustain their careers through collaboration, networking and exposure to new audiences.
Have a look at what Azgo Fest was like last year, to get a taste for what 2017 has in store: