Maturing festivals and younger crowds

Both Arts Alive and OppiKoppi have grown up, matured and made some tough choices.

“Bvuma bvuma iwe, Bvuma bvuma chete (admit, hey admit) Bvuma wasakara bvuma waunyana(admit you have gotten old)” is what Zimbabwean veteran Oliver Mtukudzi sings in his famous song Wasakara.

With one hand on the steering wheel, I have the other free to adjust the volume of the music in my little Suzuki Alto as it zips along the R510 to the 24th OppiKoppi, Mtukudzi blaring for the world to hear.

It’s a special moment listening to Wasakara while heading to the festival where Mtukudzi was the 2018 tribute artist.

The OppiKoppi tribute artists are an exclusive club whose only members are Valiant Swart, David Kramer, Vusi Mahlasela, Koos Kombuis, Ollie Viljoen, Hugh Masekela, Johnny Clegg, Ready D and Mafikizolo.

“Kuchembera Chiiko kuuchembera, Chii Kuchembera Chiiko kuuchembera (What is getting old?)”.

After 24 years, OppiKoppi has also grown up, matured and made some tough choices. This year the festival cut the Main Stage. There was a gang of pickpockets that ran amok, with plain-clothes security men sent in to snag the criminals. The crowds also seemed to thin. After attending the festival for six years, for me, it finally showed its age.

“Kuchembera Chiiko kuuchembera, Chii Kuchembera Chiiko kuuchembera (What is getting old?)”.

Is OppiKoppi getting old, or simply maturing?

It’s Friday night and the crowds are jumping in-front of James Phillips stage.

“Sh*t die beats amazing, kom ons raak crazy, ek kan nie chill nie, way te veel energie,” Peach van Pletzen spits into the microphone, with crowds jumping along to the EDM beats and the strobe lights.

Van Pletzen is a fresh, satirical Afrikaans electro-rap outfit that pokes fun at Afrikaans culture, while fully relishing in it.

The older couple in front of me, maybe in their late 50s, are singing along. You can see they’re festival veterans, the kind that would have gone to Die Voëlvry-beweging and are excited that Afrikaans has moved out of its Sokkie Sokkie comfort blanket and into 2018.

In 2018, artists can be expressive, not limited to “pure” Afrikaans – and its a party.

“Maak geraas for Early B,” Van Pletzen screams and the crowd goes wild.

“Awe ma se kinders, eks terug in dit met die ryme, Vinnig vir ‘n vlugtige feature so lug duim, pomp vyste, Spring brother voel dit in die bass hoor, Early B en Peach is op n track met al daai guite,” Early B raps, marrying two Afrikaans sub-cultures for the world to hear.

Afrikaans is no longer the major voice at OppiKoppi, there’s an inclusivity like no other. Over at the Bruilof Stage, you get a full glimpse of how the festival embraces new talent.

“Mina ni fika nir hava na mali (I arrive with no money), asking where my table is, buying things I can’t even afford,” rap sensation Sho Madjozi proclaims to the roaring crowd during a performance of her hit Dumi Hi Phone, shaking her tinguvu-skirt in her signature Xibelani style.

“Man’i ta ni byela yini, coming in this way, loko m’ la’ lukhanya mina, vela you should miss me, party since Tuesday, vona it’s a new wave, you wouldn’t wanna bother stopping me ‘cause it’s too late” the musical force says, thanking the crowd.

Just last year, you could expect only a few hundred people soaking up music in-front of Bruilof. During her set, there’s no space to move. Sho Madjozi hits the nail on the head. There’s a new wave at OppiKoppi, with new artists attracting younger crowds – and exposing crowds to music that isn’t necessarily part of their reference network.

But then you remember Mtukudzi’s words. Chii Kuchembera Chiiko kuuchembera (What is getting old?)

Celebrating 26 years this year, Arts Alive is back with vengeance in 2018, kick-starting with Mtukudzi headlining Jazz on the Lake on September 2. The festival, like OppiKoppi, has also matured.

Over the years there have been many rumours that it’s on its last legs. But every year Jazz on the Lake at Zoo Lake proves that excellent artists ensure the crowds will come, even if it’s at the behest of residents of Parkview who have to grit their teeth through extensive road closures.

Arts Alive, just like OppiKoppi remains a critical social cohesion platform that serves to highlight a spectrum of artistic and cultural identities in South Africa.

This year, the festival places major focus on community-based events for youth with activities in central Johannesburg, Newtown and Hillbrow, as well as in other parts of Johannesburg like Kliptown Square, Orlando, Alexandra, Rabie Ridge and Fine Town.

With young voices forming part of older festivals, heed the words of Mtukudzi; “Chii Kuchembera Chiiko kuuchembera”.

  • For the full line-up of Arts Alive and more information on Jazz on the Lake and the other artists joining Oliver Mtukudzi, visit the Arts Alive website.

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