Quite apart from being her first time on the continent, being named after her Cameroonian grandmother meant the opportunity to travel to Africa and perform at festivals in Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa was something of a dream come true for Wellington electronic producer/performer Estère Dalton. Following the late May / early June tour she moved on to Europe for three months of touring and festival performances there. Estere very generously provide NZM with this diary of her adventures in Africa.
Photos by Paascalino Schaller
After a long stint of flying over land and sea, it was with relief and anticipation that we (myself and boyfriend/videographer Paascalino Schaller) descended over the colourful ramshackle corrugated roofs of Maputo, Mozambique’s very southern capital. Disembarking the plane was the first time we breathed in the raw fresh air of Africa – my heart took a jolt, we were finally here.
The first show I was set to play was the Azgo Festival in Maputo. Driving there, we passed residential areas, where poverty mixed with wealth, bright pinks and turquoises mixed with the arid yellow of street dirt.
The festival was set on the city university campus and had two large main stages facing across from each other. This is the biggest music festival in Mozambique and a massive feat when considering the lack of support that arts and culture receives within the political infrastructure.
As I have come to learn, Mozambican time is a flexible, somewhat elusive thing by our standards, and both my soundcheck and performance time were delayed by about three hours. This worked in my favour, because it meant I performed at prime time to an audience of around 5000. It was an incredible feeling to be standing on stage in Maputo in front of an ocean of clapping, dancing people and to viscerally realise at that very point, that I was performing in Africa.
People’s smiles in Maputo are large and true. One woman with a young child walked us down the street for 30 minutes to escort us to a Zambian restaurant that we had asked her the location of. There seemed to be a lot of respect and trust that people had for one another, that is why I was shocked when I arrived in South Africa.
Before going to South Africa we received an abundance of warnings from people who had lived or visited there. Cautions such as, “Cape Town is so unbelievably beautiful… but make sure to lock your car doors at traffic lights,” or “Watch out for highjack booby traps on the motorway,” had my stomach in knots.
I think that’s why when we arrived in Johannesburg I initially just wanted to go to the supermarket and buy enough spaghetti so we only needed to leave our apartment for shows. So I had to ask myself, what it was exactly that I feared? Was it the stories people had told us before going to South Africa? Knowledge of the history that had taken place? The ‘high level of crime’ constantly recounted to us as visiting tourists?
Perhaps it was a mixture of all things considered, but I think what had really spurred it was something I saw on a street corner when we first arrived – a curled barbed wire fence, covered by what looked like razor blades. It was on the outside of a building site – and a piece of ripped clothing material clung to one of the jutting blades.
It was to keep people well away and that simple concept freaked me out. However after spending five or so hours in our neighbourhood – the district of Maboneng, I observed that although fringed with electric fences and intense city poverty, the area was also full of eclectic fashion, restaurants, powerful street art and amazing haloumi wraps! I began stepping out from behind the triple-layered gates and finger lock alarm system that guarded our apartment complex with ascending confidence.
While in Jo-burg I played a show at the Good Luck Bar, with a medley of great artists including Nonku and Cold Spec’s. This offered a lovely introduction to the live music scene there. I also did a show organised by the NZ High Commission in Pretoria, which was a fun and very diplomatic occasion (bad pun intended).
When we arrived in Durban for Zakifo Festival I was immediately struck by the difference in atmosphere. Where Jo-burg had that intense big city energy about it, Durban was much more relaxed and centred around beach life. This was like a balm to my heightened senses, because even though I consider myself a ‘city girl’, the reality that I actually live on a small island in the Pacific Ocean is always close by.
Our accommodation for the festival had a sweeping view of the Durban coastline, so one highlight was that we bore witness to a majestic African sunset and sunrise. Zakifo Festival had an extraordinary line-up of acts from all over Africa and elsewhere. Moonchild and Songhoy Blues were among some of my favourites.
The next morning we awoke early to catch a 6am shuttle from Zakifo to Bushfire Festival in Swaziland. After seven hours of driving past rural tussock and field, I was stunned when we arrived at the gates of Bushfire. It was as if Gaudi had made a trip to Manzini and decided he wanted to set up camp.
Underground amphitheatres, with dripping candle wax structures, colourful arenas of trans-continental food and clothing stalls, an even more diverse audience of old and young that capped at around 22,000 people, burning bonfires with chilled punters gathered around for warmth, all greeted us at Bushfire.
Swaziland itself is much more relaxed and ‘safe’ in comparison to its neighbouring big brother South Africa. A kingdom with a ruling monarch, photos of the Swazi king and queen can be found in every hotel lobby/ restaurant around.
I was exhausted from long travel and issues with accommodation (someone had forgotten to include any artist names for hotel bookings which meant waiting around for ages), so I had to muster up all my reserve energy for the last performance of the tour.
It ended up being a magical show because of the energy of the venue (an underground amphitheatre) and audience. I played to a packed crowd, people wore polka dot bow headbands that glowed like the stars, and in the heat and mist of moving bodies the space transformed into another worldly realm.
When I awoke the next day there was an email from NZ On Air, informing me that I had received funding for my song Grandmother. Elated and on our way to Cape Town I suggested to Paascalino, “Why not shoot this music video here, in South Africa?” The song is about my grandmother from Cameroon, whom I am named after, but never had the chance to meet before she died.
The personal sentiment that filming the video close to where she had lived her life held, was too powerful to not attempt something drastic – like organising a professional music video shoot, with a cast, crew, concept and location in a foreign country in the space of three days.
Against even our own expectations we managed to make it happen. After days of phoning, emailing, discussing and collaborating, Paascalino and I assembled a crew and obtained a permit for an amazing location called Betty’s Bay, just off the coast of Cape Town. It was a location that we couldn’t have ever found in NZ, which made it all the more special. We were also truly honoured to have acclaimed author, actress and UN representative Sindiwe Magona play the role of my grandmother.
Cape Town is unlike any city I’ve ever been to. The juxtaposition of city meets natural wonder is extreme. The three weeks I spent travelling through-out Southern Africa was also extreme in its contrasts.
People, landscapes, music and culture created stark and impressions I will forever hold in my memory. It seemed a fitting place to end the tour of Southern Africa, where the tops of Table Mountain dapple the African sky. I will definitely be coming back again. As for now, we are off to tour UK/ Europe.