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Wild Spirit Festival of Friends: AfrikaGrow 2017

A clandestine five-day New Years celebration in the heart of the Garden Route.

9 Jan 2018 / Opinion / written by Skye Mallac

Wild Spirit Backpackers, tucked a stones’ throw from Natures Valley, is a quiet little paradise perched atop a plateau. Throughout the year its gum forest tree-houses and little cabins are home to a constant trickle of wanderers, while once a year it becomes a festival ground for an array of top quality grassroots musicians and several hundred happy attendees, on the fringe of the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Conceived only three years ago, after an over-attended New Years celebration on the deck of the backpackers, the little festival has grown swiftly. With the aim to keep it attended by like-minded people, there is no advertising of the festival beforehand and a short questionnaire is to be filled out when applying for a ticket. This word of mouth method of gathering attendees saw them sold out this year.

I arrive in slightly belated flurry on Friday afternoon, with four days of quality line-up ahead. A swift camp set-up in the crispy gum forest before a venture into the main festival grounds. An old yellow truck had been fashioned into a stage which is being warmed up by Daena Weeks’ rolling acoustic tunes. To the left through a driftwood arch is a large fire pit and the Barefoot Buddha Bar, while on the far side of the little field a geo-dome is hung with circus silks and surrounded by a scattering of silts, hula-hoops and poi which are tested and dropped in turn as the daylight fades.

Friday night is laced in jaw-dropping violin intricacies spilling from Hezron Chetty’s fingertips as he modernizes the classical instrument with unwavering ease. Southern Wild’s growling, soul-infused rock anthems are paired with Dave Van Vuuern’s unwavering stage power, while Brynn follow on with an equally vibrant set. Bam Bam Brown deliver a fiery, funky final live set for the night before Vanessa Holiday takes to the DJ decks to spin up a series of pysch-infused, deeply grooving techno tracks before bed.

Saturday dawns sunny and lazy. With no daytime activities save for some morning yoga and ongoing circus play, the festival-goers scatter. A thirty minute hike through the forest leads to a trickling waterfall, while an old winding pass skirts the Tsisikamma forest to spit you out on the wild, expansive Nature’s Valley beach. I opt for the waterfall – and attempting to master the circus silks – to no avail.

By late afternoon most have wandered back and settle in for a rather more down-tempo night two. Oliver Simon weaves singular acoustic magic on guitar strings, while Ann Jangle, beneath a mop of wild blond hair and roughened feminine power and grace, delivers a fiery, growling set, backed by Marco Wielander on electric guitar. Her voice is powerful, sultry and grinding all at once – invoking a raw feminine power in her music and its phenomenal. Pretoria-hailing Foxtrot are an interesting, almost off-kilter blend of electro jazz, while Psalm 81 lull us with cruising reggae beats before bed.

New Years Eve dawns bright and early for a Secret Sunrise session with the No Danger Diaries crew. The silent, guided dance events have become a raging success around Cape Town in the last few years for their co-facilitated morning dance sessions. Hosted by four people who take to the fore in turn, we’re guided through an hour of genre-spanning, body-shaking fun. By midday we’ve each been handed a small tree and find ourselves in the far corner of the campsite for a quiet planting session which yields a hundred little indigenous trees tucked into the soil among the invasive gums, as part of an ongoing reforestation effort.

The evenings festivities kick off with Dave Knowles. “I lost my voice somewhere along the N2,” he apologizes, before launching into rabid, roughened, set full of soul – and a lot of voice. Khoisanboy_man’s heartfelt acoustic stylings are backed by Chris Fisher on percussion and Mothgirl on occasional vocals, while Quinton Song, one-man tribal acoustic musician is bristling with an array of digeridoos, percussive instruments and a loop pedal. He plays an extended set of both grooving originals and equally lively covers as the hours to midnight tick by.

The Steezies ring in the New Year with a Zulu rap which they drop halfway through their set. This eccentric band, which emerged on the scene only last year and have already built a vibrant name for themselves within the Mother City, deliver a gold-trimmed set of Afro-funk, flecked with indie-jazz intrusions and a whole lot of soul. The front man is pig-tailed, mustachioed and dressed in floral with a whole lot of Deep South soul. Crimson House follow on to deliver a rollicking post-midnight set, before headphones are handed out for a graveyard shift Silent Disco.

New Years day is soggy with rain. Most spend the day huddled beneath the stage stretch tent with a collection of instruments in a sort of ongoing jam session. The final official night down-toned and lazy. The Hollow Body straddles the line between country and gypsy is a cruising set, while Miles Sievwright provides a familiar acoustic warm-up for the stage as the sun goes down. The Ha!man takes the cake for the evening with an extended experimental cello and vocal performance in which he bends the classical instrument to his will with expert dexterity.

Tuesday and only a scattering of people have stuck around for the decompression party. Something of an after-party for the many stragglers, an on-stage live jam starts mid afternoon and seeps into the night as the five day festival finally winds to a close with lazy finality. It’s 2am and the dance floor is a loose mass of people armed with flashing headphones. The other half of the remaining attendees are huddled around a fire, instruments still in hand. A dense scattering of silver stars are strewn in the sky above and in the distance a baboon barks.

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