Words by: Gene Sibeko
Eswatini, MTN Bushfire Festival, an event that left a trail of euphoria in its wake, has once again proven its unrivalled prowess in igniting the senses. With hearts still echoing with the rhythms of joy, we extend our deepest gratitude to the visionary organisers who crafted an otherworldly experience. Nestled within the breathtaking House on Fire venue, in the very heart of the majestic Malkerns Valley, Swaziland, this annual explosion of entertainment transformed reality into a kaleidoscope of magic and wonder.
This captivating event presented a tantalising feast for the senses, where music, art, and fashion intertwined to create an unforgettable experience. For three dazzling days, the town was enlivened by the harmonious melodies, spirited libations, and a wave of visitors from Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and even the Caribbean seeking to revel in the magic of the festival.
Drawing in over 20,000 residents and passionate visitors alike, Bushfire Festival has become a must-attend event, renowned worldwide for its celebration of music, arts, and culture. Steeped in rich history since its inception in 2006, this visionary extravaganza not only nurtures artistic talent but also champions social responsibility. It serves as a catalyst for the flourishing arts scene, encouraging the joy of creative expression while inspiring all attendees to contribute meaningfully to society. With a diverse range of activities, Bushfire Festival captivates fashion enthusiasts through a captivating Bushfire merchandise collection by local talents, awe-inspiring art exhibitions, thought-provoking discussions, and inspiring guest speakers in the workshops leading up to the main event.
Although the festival takes place at the start of winter, the Bushfire crowd certainly brought the heat over the three-day event. When my colleague Mmamello Motake informed us that we would be covering one of the biggest festivals in the world, I immediately got excited because I know how Africans love to dress up for events in general, so I could not wait to witness different people coming from all corners of Africa.
Our team got to step into a realm where culture intertwines with style, where vibrant rhythms moved our souls and feet, and where fashion became a canvas for individuality to flourish. Most come for the incredible music lineup filled with local African talent; others attend for the food and market, and all come with the intention to look good, and to capture themselves living in their favourite moments. People were intentional with their style and looks as this is the one place where people can be free to ignite their exaltation.
As a fashion lover myself, it is only natural I recount the fashion spectacle we witnessed over the three electrifying days. Prepare to be immersed in a tapestry of defining fashion themes by the evoking characters I have encountered.
First, I delve into the spellbinding world of Afro-futurism that I picked up. Afrofuturism fashion is a pulsating fusion of traditional African aesthetics and futuristic elements. A few fashion-forward pilgrims dressed to the occasion in a way that removed time and immersed us into a fantasy that truly set the tone for the festival. Bushfire is their world, and we get to experience it.
Eswatini Festival Core
Next, we explore the Swati’s in bohemian reverie, which is the core essence of festival fashion. I was amused by the sea of flowing fabrics, vibrant embroideries, and whimsical prints that not only captivated our eyes but also transported us to a dreamlike state. Flirty ensembles adorned with ethereal layers, statement pieces paired with funky eyewear, and intricately woven fabrics adorning the hair as headpieces, all harmonized in a symphony of carefree elegance.
The enchanting Bushfire Festival in Eswatini saw a captivating sartorial symphony unfold as stylish souls merged the vibrant tapestry of African tradition with their Western threads. Quite a few festival-goers, irrespective of race, fused beadwork and radiant prints with cosmopolitan fabrics. Though I have witnessed this collaboration between African and Western clothing countless times before, I found myself wondering if I would come across anything truly remarkable worth documenting. At Bushfire, however, I was not disappointed. It was in the way people artfully styled their hair or how individuals from different races showed their appreciation for traditional prints in their attire. The festival became a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of heritage and an exquisite storytelling of harmonious unity.
Hair is The Heroin
Afros and vibrant colors were the memos I wished I had received. . We saw hair metamorphosised into magnificent puffy clouds, paying homage to the nostalgic spirit of the 1969 Woodstock festival. But it didn’t stop there; audacious interplays of electrifying pink, green, and purple braids, as well as free-flowing hair, showcasing an unapologetic rebellion against the mundane, daring us to embrace the fire. Lastly, and personally my favourite, were the visionaries who skillfully weaved ethereal fabric through their hair. These individuals defy convention, and I hope to see more daring hair expressions in settings beyond festivals.
Effortlessly Cool Boys
In the midst of all the passion and extravagance, the effortlessly cool boys in urban streetwear swag still managed to stand out. Their outfits were a dynamic blend of an “I didn’t really try to look this cool” attitude and boundless creativity. Amidst their ensembles, high-end brands stealthily made an appearance, neatly coordinated knits, and utilitarian denim boilers served as the perfect canvas for street art-inspired motifs. Through their fashion choices, these festival-goers expressed their rebellious spirit and their desire to make a statement effortlessly, without breaking a sweat.
The last theme was an unexpected surprise, and I absolutely enjoyed witnessing the carefree spirit of the festival-goers when the sun emerged. As the final day of the three-day festival unfolded, a warm kiss bid farewell, causing everyone in attendance to momentarily forget that the winter season loomed ahead. It became a shirtless Sunday, with scorching hot energy filling the air and exposed skin radiating under the sun’s embrace. Men and women strutted, embracing their shirtless attire, either donning casual jackets or opting to cut off the bottoms of their tops, allowing their abdomens to bask in the refreshing air.
The fashion at Bushfire Festival went beyond mere aesthetics. It served as a visual representation of the festival’s ethos, where artistic expression seamlessly intertwined with social consciousness. Attendees consciously chose to wear local clothing, reflecting their commitment to preserving their culture and utilising their creativity to inspire dreams. The diverse looks became tangible manifestations of the African fantasy, embodying harmony, inclusivity, and innovative community, leaving a positive impact on all fortunate enough to witness them.
Bushfire Festival is an integral part of the vibrant tapestry. As the sun set on each day of this extraordinary event and rose anew, the fashion at Bushfire Festival continued to inspire, provoke, and captivate enthusiasts from around the world, leaving an indelible mark on the realm of creative expression.