Burn Baby Burnby Travis Lyle & Scott Smith / 06.10.2009
Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t go to AfrikaBurn: Puff adders. Sunburn. Chapped lips. Hangnails. Infected fingernails. Thorns. Cracked heels. Dehydration. Choking dust. Sharp stones. Stubbed toes. Scratches. Bruises. Cuts. Exhaustion. Blisters. Burnt fingers. Disintegrated bearings. Bald tyres. Punctures. Road blocks. Stop ‘n Go’s. Baking hot days. Freezing cold nights. Winds that shred tents. 100km on a gravel road, along which there is no cell signal, no petrol station and very few signs of humanity. Sound good? You should get your ass to AfrikaBurn. We did, and it was fucking fantastic for the second time round. Who the hell are ‘we’? We are the AmaDeadlies and we regularly provide CPR to the Durban and KZN electronic music scene, in the form of AmaFullThrottle, NONONO!!! and a variety of other events.
Why did we go on a 3300km round trip go to the Karoo and set up a dancefloor tent at AfrikaBurn? Because Tankwa Town is where it’s at, and because we smaak it like a bergie smaaks his papsak. For the second time in a year, we created a Camp called AmaDeadly Disco, this year with a circus theme. In order to do so, we stuffed a van to the roof and loaded a trailer to the hilt with speakers, amplifier, CDJ’s, laptops, lighting, costumes, fabric, décor, tents, electrical gear, rope, tools, cable ties and duct tape. Lots of cable ties and duct tape. Did you know that cable ties and duct tape hold the universe together. Little-known true fact, that. But before you get to thinking this is a ‘oh, sweet, a road trip, yay!’ mission, think again.
Driving to the Tankwa Karoo from Durban makes most weekend festival missions look like a doddle to the corner shop for bread and milk. But then AfrikaBurn isn’t your run of the mill festival. Hell, for a start, it isn’t a music festival – although there’s music, and plenty of it, mostly electronic. AfrikaBurn, like the big bad voodoo daddy that spawned it – Burning Man, which takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada each year at the end of August – is an ‘invent’, not an event, and if you attend, you can’t just rock up and proceed to get liquored and behave like a muppet, which is pretty much the standard procedure at most festivals. No, it’s an anti-muppet gig, AfrikaBurn is.
And unlike other festivals, at a Burn, you get off your hynie and make shit happen – your participation, and the participation of others attending, is what makes the substance of the experience. In Tankwa Town, there are no Fast-Moving Consumer Goods, there’s no branding, and you cannot buy anything, because it’s a cashless community. OK, that’s a white lie – you can buy something, one very important thing: ice. And goddamn, do people jump to it when they see the iceman cometh, because it is hot. How hot? So hot you could fry an egg on your ten buck bag of ice, that’s how hot. But for everything else, if you need it, you bring it. Or someone gives it to you, no strings, in keeping with Burner gifting culture. If you think this is a novel way of spending a week in the desert, fantastic.
Novel is the new black and it lives in Tankwa Town, where the citizens create art pieces, stage performance and come together to make shit happen. The beautiful thing about this is that when people are free to express themselves in whatever way they choose, amazing shit happens because within the bounds of decency, you’ve got free rein to get out there and get on with it. As for us members of Camp AmaDeadly Disco, we chose to express ourselves through music. Thus the mission of taking of a dancefloor to the desert, something we were not alone in doing – quite a few Camps this year featured a wide selection of great tunes, all of which are supplemented by two mobile music wagons; one hitched to a trailer, the other (named ‘Clever Sausage’ and manned by the VuvuCreative, which makes up a substantial part of the organisers who put heart and soul into each year’s AfrikaBurn) led by a flouro old school Land Rover.
But then many Camps didn’t feature music – and these were generally manned by participants who created art pieces. And damn, was there art. Everywhere you look, you see amazing creations and interactions. Artworks are dotted all over the desert landscape, some of which are burned, some of which are not. For example? A masterfully replicated and massively upscaled creation of huge Lego pieces.
‘The Wish’ – a massive white dome consisting of interlocking circles of plywood, which was erected at AfrikaBurn 2008, which was burned on the Friday night this year. A beautiful and complex arc, also made of plywood, by the same crew (Brendan Smithers and The Upsetters), called ‘Memory’, was created for this year – it didn’t burn, but may do next year.
The rigging of a three-masted galleon, sunk into the desert floor. A huge wobbling flouro octopus, manned by a posse of intrepid Jozi psychonauts. Mutated art cars bearing flags, sails and armour. A huge three-wheeled trike, straight outta Mad Max and manned by a six-foot muscle mary in gold lame and heels. Labyrinths. Puzzles. A 20-foot post box, where you can send a card to other Camps, or to the default world. And then of course the San Clan, a huge multi-headed effigy that represents the temporary community of Tankwa Town. It took a while, but it went up in flames on Saturday night, the ‘main’ night of AfrikaBurn.
These are just a very few examples of the kind of creations you see at AfrikaBurn. There’s much, much more to see and do. Lots of which is kid-friendly and visually arresting. If this all sounds a bit too out there for you, great. Stay home, keep the malls in business. You’re an individual, sunshine, there’ll always be a place for you at the banquet of unthinking consumerism, so tuck right in. However, if this sounds like your kind of headspace, get your ass to AfrikaBurn next year. You will not regret it. For more info on AfrikaBurn, go to www.afrikaburns.com or do a facebook search for ‘Afrika Burns – Burning Man in South Africa’.
All the images for this article were shot by Scott Smith. Below is his preamble…
Let’s see what we have here:
Radical self expression – tick
Radical inclusion – tick
Gifting – tick
Civic responsibility – tick
Hedonistic indulgence – tick. Oh, wait, that’s not on the organiser’s official list. Ah, to hell with it, let’s get jagged.
Welcome to Afrika Burn, check in your ego at the door. If you can. But with an ethos of radical self-expression you have to reserve just a little bit to get past the gawkers and convince yourself that what you are doing doesn’t really matter. And it doesn’t, not really. And so it goes. With an attendance of some 1600, more than double from two years ago, there was certainly lots of expression that wasn’t going to matter. There was so much to do with no real schedule. But in the immortal words of original burning man founder, Larry Harvey, “Nature happens”. Deal with it. Forget the plan, just roll with the dust. And in a cashless society the fun is free. You know…mahala.
Scott Smith is a writer and a photojournalist who is currently based in Johannesburg. Kicking it in the smoke. You can reach him here.
All images courtesy and © Scott Smith