The Tale of the Mighty Siavonga Music Festival

Sara Drawwater
27 May 2014
The rains had passed, and the day of the festival had finally come. I was at the

“What do you call a girl on a drummer’s arm? — A tattoo!” Theo and Derrick of the band Evicted humored, as I scribbled into my scroll. Their performance on the lake at the Siavonga Music Festival had just concluded, but with my coveted press permit in hand, I knew the merriment had only just begun.

BIGINNENThe rains had passed, and the day of the festival had finally come. I was at the Kariba Music Festival for but a night last year, and I had resolved to gorge on the festivities in their entirety this time around. My tribe had assembled and our brother Yosa ferried us to the land of sun and sand in his metal chariot.

I needed to meet with Dan Hartwright to acquire a press permit, a seal that allowed me to transcribe the tale of this festival for others to read for decades to come. The letters I sent Sir Dan, he whose heart was right, must have not reached him on time. As a member of the Guild of Scribes and Pressmen, I required his consent to carry out my duties.

We arrived at the mighty Eagle’s Rest just as the blistering sun was setting, and Karen, overseer of the fabled lodge, saw to it that we had a place to rest our heads. Brother Dabz and I would be resting in a tent by the lakeside. But sleep was for the weak. We were weekend warriors; we were there to feast and be merry, to dance to the sounds of the bandsmen and women! We were there to be mighty!

As we marveled at the beauty of the beach, Mutale, an acquaintance of brother Dabz told us the tale of his time there last year. He was looking forward to hearing the enchanting music of Mumba Yachi.

“I was sleeping at around 4 AM, in a Ford right over there, and I heard Mumba Yachi playing. I was like, ‘What IS that sound?’”.

Mumba Yachi’s sound is deeply rooted in traditional Zambian music. His ballads had even I, often more inclined towards the music of the West, anticipating his set.

The people had already begun to sip on their ales when Pompi, the “Giant Killer,” was executing his sound check. “The keyboard artist needs more vocals… We can hear more of the instruments than our own voices,” he said sending commands to the stagemen. The brew-thirsty crowd demanded more music and called for an encore. The Giant Killer obliged.

The stars studded the sky and J-bus officially struck up the acquaintance with, ‘Nice to know ya’. The crowd had multiplied in number and danced merrily to the reggae sounds of J-Bus as the stage strobe lights stroked their sunburnt skin.

“WE LOVE YOU, MUMBA YACHI!” was the call from some nubile female in the audience. Clearly his song and act was the stuff of legend. The stage men employed their sorcery and a cloud of smoke floated up from behind Mumba while he strummed his guitar and told the tale behind his song, ‘Tute’. It was a metaphor for how like cassava, some relationships can be bitter to taste.

Brother Dabz spewed something about music I cannot quite recall. It was mostly inaudible and my mind would drift to the bodies on the sandy beach. Unbeknownst to us, the Poet PilAto was also among us. “I just want to be here as one of the people,” he told me. He would not be performing at the festival this year. He was not dressed in his usual performance attire, and if not for his black bear-size beard, I would not have recognised him.

Sometime before the witching hour, a three man band took the chaflet. They played a trance inducing form of rock, whose techno-colour sounds you could almost see. The lead came from a bearded man playing some mystic instrument. Shamus of Shamrock, whom I had met many moons ago at the Siavonga Canoe Challenge informed me that this instrument was an electric violin and that the men hailed from South Africa. They answered to the name Albino Beach.

Albino Beach cared not who was awake at that hour. They played on until I stumbled into our tent and yielded to the sandman. Karen the overseer had handed me my scribe’s permit by then. She had managed to acquire it from Dan, he whose heart is right. The next day had more in store.

THE DAY EFTIRI felt and looked like a beggar who had drank far too much in the morning, but the festivities had only just begun. I overheard many a phone call telling family and friends of what an enchanting land this Siavonga was. They spoke of the beautiful lake and the warm sun, and how the merry melodies of the bands people sang to their hearts.

When the sun had touched the highest point in the sky, Brother Yosa and his Lady gathered us and we made our way to Lake Safari, the second venue of the festival. Last year, the festival only had one venue. This time, the landing dock of Lake Safari’s metal wasps was used as a stage for acoustic sets. Overlooking the water, the live guitars and drums complimented the feel of the location.

True African, a reggae band clad in leather trench coats cooked up a fiery broth. It looked like it was fairly hot under their garments and inside their metal studded boots. The festival was not only about music. A contest to see who could swill their pint the fastest was announced and Brother Dabz beat his chest and took up the challenge. Weekend warriors, big and small, lady and lord, all rushed to the front and guzzled their beer. Dabz was the rightful winner of this contest, but he was unjustly robbed of his victory! We clanked our cups and drank more draught to soothe his pain.

The legendary Kapiri Mposhi Top Rank Suite also graced the stage with a performance. I had first heard their brilliant covers at the last festival and it was rightly so that they were there once again. Their command of live instruments and sound is something all people should witness.

I soon learned that my precious press pass was not so coveted after all. A drunken reveller approached me and asked if I could ‘snapwand give’ him a photo. He had me mistaken for one of the many photographers lurking the grounds. I commanded him to be gone and savoured the little dignity I had remaining. We the press play such an undervalued role.

To regain my self esteem, I walked with my chest out and flaunted my pass to prove that I had access to parts of the festival no one else did; that I could talk to anyone I so pleased. Back at the Eagles Rest I spoke to a Victor from Manchester and his friends Ahmed and Ayman from Egypt. They were acquiring some nourishment when I stumbled upon them. Ayman had been to festivals in the lands of Maputo and Cairo, and he mentioned to me that none had been as mighty as this one.

By then my belly was growling with the fury of a thousand dragons and I too required some nourishment. Lady Nicky of La Casa Deli, who had a sling around her arm, offered me a ‘press discount’ on my Boerewors roll. She at least had some respect for the press and I returned it. I stood in great admiration of her injury and assumed she must have wrestled with many a beast to acquire the meat used for her rolls. She called it Fringilla meat.

The music played on and we all embraced the night. I wandered the beach looking for something I felt was elusive. I sought to capture the feel of this mighty festival; to write a tale about something that great grandfathers would pass on for generations to come. This ‘holy grail’ I sought, happened to manifest itself in King Mofya and the Turn Down for What Clan. King Mofya (who by the way was a lady) and her clanswomen were beauts intent on spreading cheer and dancing to the unseen rhythm of the festival. They danced with no rhythm and their singing had no tune, but they cared not. Their ways enchanted me and I lived amongst their people for the remainder of the night. If a passerby happened to stumble upon them and wonder why they were loud as banshees, the clan simply asked, “Turn down for what?”

Toward the end of the night, we had brought out our winter box and placed our drinks inside it. Brother Yosa and I sat in the sand and talked about our trials as young men. A few pints in and much debate later, the Sand Sentries swooped upon us and requested that we return our winter box to our lodgings, for drinks purchased from elsewhere were not permitted. I tried to brandish my pass and demanded that I see Karen the overseer or someone in charge, for the press needed not yield to Sand Sentries! After much protest, we were escorted to see Dan Hartwright himself. He was orchestrating the festival from his room, for a leg injury had rendered him immobile. I argued my case to him, and told him I needed my elixirs and brews to effectively carry out my duties. He disagreed with me and politely requested that we return our box to our tent. Clearly Sir Dan’s heart was not right! What sort of man denies a scribe his drink?!

THE FESTIVAL ENDENOn the morning of the last day, Dabz and I were approached by a little man that had been lurking near our tent. He would appear out of nowhere and materialise right behind us like a wee wizard. When he startled us that morning, I quickly reached for something I could use as a weapon and almost struck him with my soap.

His name was Kennedy. He and his people were in charge of ferrying the performing artists on a bus and he told us of how mighty that last night would be. “Lelo izankala live!” he said in the local tongue, cocking up a thumb and expressing his creepy excitement. Late that afternoon, our tribe hopped off the bank of the Eagles Rest and onto Captain Thompson’s ship for some merry making on the water. As we boarded the ship, I could hear the chatter of the excited people. The water below the vessel swayed and caressed it while the cool air touched our faces and blew through the hair of the women.

The band, Evicted plugged in their musical instruments and checked their sound. Below deck I found Peter, Captain Thompson’s First Mate catching a few winks hidden beneath a mountain of sleeping bags and blankets. My guess was that he was trying to drown out the sound of the music. He looked like he had battled a sea monster the entire night and wore a pirate’s beard that cemented the look. He told me about his erratic sleeping patterns and how even though the festival was filled with merriment, it took considerable work from him and his people to make it so. I expressed my gratitude and proceeded topside.

“I used to have to steal my kisses from you,” sang Derrick, the frontman of the band, Evicted. They performed both original songs and covers that had all of us landlubbers dancing and cheering. Their cover of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Could you be loved’ had all on their feet and swaying to the rhythm of the water and the music. I saw one girl that looked like the rhythm was making her seasick (on a lake). I steered clear of her and moved my dance moves elsewhere.

“First time on a boat [singing]. Done a lot of crazy things, but this is the first time on a boat,” said Derrick. He and his bandsmen came from Zimbabwe and had played in a number of countries including Australia and South Africa.

“We also had a good time in Livingstone, remember?” Theo said to Derrick. They spoke of how they had received more adoration from foreign fans than they did back in their own land. They were having a grand time at the festival.

“Sorry to do this, but look at Justin,” Theo pointed, “He doesn’t talk to girls!” Justin was leaning against some railing and chatting up a young female. His mates were greatly amused by this and I guessed that he would be the butt of many a joke to come.

After a reggae set by DJ Daniel Lion, I decided to go and speak to Dan, he whose Heart was not so right. Though I was reluctant, I knew our meeting was fated. He sat outside his room, his leg in a bandage and propped up on a stool.

“I was the first person treated by the medical team at this festival,” he said. Dan had been summoned to be a part of this festival after the man originally contacted had also broken his leg before coming. It smelt like the work of sorcery to me. Some bitter old hag had crafted spells and used dark magic to stop this festival! But good always triumphs over evil! Dan had been speaking on his mobile and plummeted through a sink hole somewhere. He literally could not run around so Superman, known by some as Lukundo Siwale, was called to save the day. Windhoek Lager and Zamtel had also come on board to fight the forces of evil and make the mighty festival possible.

As I talked to Dan and asked more questions, the picture I had painted of him began to change its colours. He was actually an honorable man.

“I really wanted this to be accessible to the average Zambian, that’s why we chopped it [the price] to K50.” They would even organise a smaller community festival to give food and have performances for the townspeople, “to apologise for the noise,” he laughed. Sir Dan Hartwright’s heart was truly right after all.

Cactus Agony and his gruff voice took the stage and wowed all in the audience. He danced and sang like a Shaman and sweat poured from his head like rain. He asked for more lighting, and a fireworks display set the sky ablaze in the distance. The people cheered and danced to their heart’s content, leaving footprints in the sand and drawing closer to the stage.

The night closed off with performances from the Zedway Crew and even a surprise late night set by Abel Chungu. Lady Lulu Haangala, who had been the host of the entire event came on stage to give some closing remarks about an hour later. She had lost her voice and sounded like a sage old man whispering into the microphone.

The morning after, I felt like I had been gargling sand. We had screamed our lungs out and we had babbled legendarily. We had shared in the glory of the mighty festival and we had tales that would last us for months. And without a word spoken to each other, all the weekend warriors in attendance swore to return to the mighty Siavonga Music Festival for generations to come.

Benny Blow is a weekend warrior that has never lost a fight to a bear or beer. Read his literature on his blog HERE; follow his rants on twitter HERE, and befriend him on Facebook HERE .