Imagine a temporary town of thousands of people, with dance floors, themed camps and mutant vehicles.
Only this town is in the middle of the desert, with no money and a community of people devoted entirely to radical self expression. Friends of mine have returned from Afrika Burn utterly speechless – ‘mind-blowing’, ‘life-changing’, ‘self-altering’ – the type of esoteric babble you know you will never understand until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Well, this year I will, but in the meantime here’s a glimmer of what you can expect.
1. Afrika Burn is a five-day gathering that happens every year in the middle of the fabulously remote Karoo – facing the Cedarberg mountains half way up the longest stretch of road in South Africa without a town on either side.
2. The festival is an offshoot of the legendary Burning Man in the United States. Held annually since 1986, Burning Man has attracted tens of thousands of people to the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.
3. Afrika Burn is primarily an experiment in temporary community building, radical self-expression, and non-commercialism. Burners are advised to think of it as a blank canvas and embrace a positive art-making environment and celebratory community.
4. The core principle of the festival is that of the gift economy. There is nothing for sale – no money changes hands and there is nothing to barter for. ‘The value of a gift is unconditional, gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value’.
5. Everyone who comes to Afrika Burn is expected to gift something to the community. Offerings range from large-scale art installations to smaller personal gifts such as dishing out sweets and making friends in Tankwa Town – the name given to the temporary Karoo settlement.
6. In keeping with the Mad Max undertone, art cars are encouraged and considered a form of mobile artistic expression. Also known as mutant vehicles, you need to apply for a license to approve your proposed creation first.
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7. Afrika Burn encourages the contribution of themed camps – usually a shaded structure custom designed by groups of people with the intention of welcoming and entertaining other participants.
8. Survival and ultimate self-reliance are essential at Afrika Burn. The Karoo is one of the driest areas in South Africa, water is scarce and temperatures hot. You will be camping and are recommended to bring 5 litres of water per person per day, and enough food to last the entire stay.
9. If you want to get involved in the festival you can offer yourself as a volunteer. A volunteer might help with labour on art installations, work on gate duty as a greeter, or mediate as a ranger – an Afrika Burn representative, there to promote awareness of potential hazards like sunburn.
10. Music at Afrika Burn is entirely contributed by the community. From live funk to Jonny Cash and a capella – no one genre is favoured. For many years at Burning Man, a full-scale midnight opera was staged in the desert abyss.
11. The festival rests on a mutual understanding that no physical trace of its happenings will be left. No bins are provided and everything you bring must be taken away with you. Afrika Burn affects a MOOP –matter-out-of-place – crew to trawl the landscape for debris.
12. At the end of the festival some of the marvelous wooden effigies and artworks are ritually burned as offerings and sacrifices. The act of burning is like a grand statement of emancipation in a community that believes in decommodification.
Find out more on the Afrika Burn website
View the original slideshow article with music from the Nomadic Light Orchestra online at Safari interactive magazine
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