Festival Director: MTN Bushfire (Swaziland)
Swazi-born Justin (Jiggs) Raynes Thorne, is a poet, philosopher, artist, visionary and entrepreneur. His chief talent is holistic creativity involving the shared experience between an artist and audience. In 1993, after graduating with a degree in Drama and Politics, he opened up a retail store in Johannesburg called “Gone Rural” in 1995. This store helped form strong bonds between artisans and performers due to its handicraft retail outlet featuring monthly performance and culinary explorations.
With the success of “Gone Rural” and seeing the need for both live entertainment and artisan development in Swaziland, Jiggs brought his inspirations home in 1999 to build a performance and gallery space called “House on Fire”. With help from architect Sarah Calburn and his brother Sholto, they focused on the building, managing and organizational aspects which included creating a professional kitchen; training a catering team and compiling tantalizing menus to turn Jiggs’ vision into reality. Situated on the Malandelas Farm in the Malkerns Valley, the complex encompasses a sculpture gallery and performance amphitheatre along with Malandelas bed and breakfast, restaurant and public house. There’s also an internet café, fair trade shops, Gone Rural workshops and botanical gardens situated on the farm- Jiggs and his team threw their energies into the structure’s spellbinding artistic design. Dubbed an Afro-Shakespearian Globe Theatre experience, “House on Fire” was and still is lauded as one of the most eclectic venues in the world that provides a platform for across-the-board artistic expression. Excellent food and the ability to provide for large numbers have earned House on Fire an enviable reputation.
Wanting to create a platform not only for the growth and development of the arts but also highlight and raise funds for some of the more critical social needs that face the country “The Annual BushFire Music and Arts Festival” was formed in 2007. The unique philosophy, Bushfire’s “Call to Action” establishes the Bushfire Festival as one of the “only” event of its kind on the African Continent. Now in its fourth year, the festival features three days of entertainment, billing top international and regional artists in theatre, music and interactive performance. The innovative multi–dimensional “arts and culture” event celebrates and encourages positive societal change, with further positive ripple effects on tourism, the economy and fund-raising for the underprivileged. The Bushfire Festival attracts over 15,000 people and averages about 3000 cross border visitors, with attendance growing at 30% annually. “The audience is extremely cosmopolitan and we take pride in bringing different people together. This is an audience that celebrates who we are and where we are,” saysJiggs.
With the financial support of multinational brands such as MTN, Standard Bank and Swaziland Beverages, Bushfire has not only generated in excess funds for HIV/ AIDS, but together with the country’s Tourism Authority and Arts & Culture ministry, it’s established a platform for emerging artistic talent to develop and showcase itself regionally and internationally. Amongst Bushfire’s nurtured local talent is Swaziland’s Bholoja, a singer-songwriter who through performance at House on Fire shot to fame with a unique musical genre dubbed ‘Swazi Soul’. It is this caliber of artistry such as Bholoja, and Swazi divas “Temaswati Project”, that positions new emerging talent alongside world class acts (and former Bushfire headliners) such as Hugh Masekela (SA), Johnny Clegg (SA), Habib Koite (Mali), Dobet Ghanoré (Ivory Coast), Tarika Bé (Madagascar), Rootsrider (Holland), Ali Keita (Mali), Jose Chameleone (UG), Soweto String Quartet (SA), Nana Magagula (Swaziland), Blissful Virtuous (UK), Sotho Sounds (Lesotho), Elemotho (Namibia), José Mucavele (Moz), Croc E Moses (Canada), Comrade Fatso (Zimbabwe), Aldo Brincat (Botswana), Busi Mhlongo (SA), Ladysmith Black Mambazo(SA) and Freshly Ground (SA). As Swazi-born British actor and festival patron, Richard E. Grant puts it, “Music and drama feed the soul and imagination like nothing else. Bushfire aims to spread that message like wildfire”.
Bushfire staged at House on Fire, is an astonishing melting pot for creativity in the Swazi Kingdom. Its architecture and atmosphere offer a distinctly new African flavor formed by Pop-Art statues, colorful revelations, soapstone relief and a quirky sense of humor. Highlighting Swaziland as a top African destination, this fabulous combination of a socially conscious event hosted in a mind-blowing setting, ensures that both artists and audience come back time and time again.