Events, Stories

Zakifo Fest: An Ambitiously Diverse Showcase of What You Need

Zakifo Durban 2016

‘Zakifo’ – the name of the upcoming music festival in Durban – is a South Africanised play on the name of the Reunion festival, ‘Sakifo’, meaning ‘it’s what you need’ in Reunion Creole. This year’s second edition of Zakifo carries with it a very diverse lineup of musical acts from South Africa, from further afield in Africa, Europe, the US and Australasia.

Zakifo is unlike any other festival that Durban and KZN has to offer. In fact, it doesn’t sit comfortably within the greater festival culture at all. Firstly, it’s an urban musical festival, sans camping, shower blocks, dust, and car boot music. But besides these superficial differences, Zakifo appears to offer a much broader scope, not one simply aimed at catering for your weekend punter on a shroom mission. Organiser Gabriella Peppas tells me that “It’s really beyond just focusing on one aspect. It’s about the exchange, the collaboration, the feeling of creating something special and people wanting to have a long term relationship with the festival.”

Its mandate appears to go beyond just entertainment, which Peppas insists is important, but certainly not the sole aim of the festival. There is a real push here to create an environment of exchange between, artists, audiences, industry people, and even the organising team themselves. True to its name, this festival appears to be more about fulfilling needs than wants. So how will it do that?

All of this ‘fulfilling of needs’ makes sense when we view the festival in its context – as part of the Southern African Music Festival Circuit. This circuit has “been around for a while” according to Peppas, and is comprised of 5 festivals throughout the region, also including Sakifo (Reunion), Bushfire (Swaziland), Azgo (Mozambique), and Africa Day in Joburg. The purpose of the formalised circuit is to connect both the tourism and music industries of the member countries, primarily by sharing artists on the various lineups and providing regular connected showcases for talent from within Africa and from afar.
In this way, Zakifo is contributing to what the local industry needs; a regional touring circuit for regional musical exchange.

Zakifo also offers a series of satellite after-parties organised by Durban Is Yours’ Bob Perfect and the Red Bull Info Session workshop which is free to the public and features Rude Boyz and Blitz The Ambassador. Through these add-ons, the festival is contributing to a deeper connection to Durban’s existing music nightlife, as well as sharing knowledge and upskilling emerging industry players in the city.

Whilst the festival is unique, the biggest looming question is, “Does it have an identity?” If your aim is to provide something for everyone, then does the festival as a whole end up providing a holistic experience to no one? Peppas tells me that a great deal of thought is put into selecting acts, both local and foreign. The general aim seems to be to pair local acts with foreign ones, thereby exposing fans to a broader range of local talent. When chatting about the festival, Peppas also mentions the terms ‘social cohesion’. For her, the festival is about bringing people together and trying to expose people to music they probably have never seen or heard before, as well as join in a shared experience with people from different walks of life. This goal is clearly evidenced in the lineup, which bears acts ranging from the doom-rock of Black Math, to the “ghetto space funk” of Moonchild, Sibot and Toyota‘s thrashing live electronic performance to the jazz-infused art-rock of The Brother Moves On, the reggae-dub of Tidal Waves to the politically-charged rock of the documentary-famous Songhoy Blues of Mali, the digital maskandi pioneer Mashayabhuqe KaMamba to (a Platform favourite) gqom-wave master DJ Lag.

Peppas downplays the difficulty of marketing such a varied musical menu: “Yeah it’s definitely a challenge, but I think it’s a challenge that needs to be taken on. It’s like, when you get stuck in a certain way of doing things, sometimes you need to turn everything upside down.” She believes that the marketing (and overall festival) strategy has to be long term. They’re not just looking to draw people to this year’s festival, but at creating a long term culture of diversity that people can engage with.

Perhaps as somewhat of a catch-all, Peppas brings up the ever nebulous concept of ‘World Music.’ which usually has a habit of hegemonising Western canon, and blanketing the rest with an opaque other-ness. To be fair to Ms Peppas, ‘World Music’ doesn’t even really properly describe the festival. It’s more of a showcase of what’s on offer from a massive variety of not-just-Western musical styles and contexts, and a good one at that. This is probably not something we as a heavily Western-dominated cultural landscape are used to (having only just recently started celebrating and showcasing mostly our own music on national radio).

The cause is no doubt a noble one, but the lack of a clear musical identity, whilst a strength in many ways, could be its greatest weakness in the short term, perhaps even a fatal one if audiences can’t be convinced to come to the party. Cultural and musical exchange is undoubtedly a good thing, and something to be aimed at, but it is perhaps something that needs to be pursued on a more compact scale or through multiple, increasingly varied iterations.

Thankfully, there is hope, as Peppas stresses the fact that this project stretches beyond this weekend’s festival. As mentioned earlier, the goal here is long term, and the organisers are not so naive as to expect to change the musical landscape – or how such varied musical showcases are perceived – over a couple days.

So is Zakifo something that we need? That audiences, industry people and musicians themselves need? That will have to be seen this weekend at The Naval Command.

Tickets (available here) vary from a ridiculously cheap full weekend pass for R250, or Friday only for R150 or Saturday only for R200 (plus a few VIP options for a little extra).

Full line-up:
Zakifo Durban 2016 Line-up

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