The Chiwoniso Maraire main stage is a poignant setting for two reasons. First up, named in honour of one of Zimbabwe’s musical icons so recently lost to us, the stage honours Chi with “every chord struck and word spoken” (Shoko Programme). Her name was called out and her music performed, and the crowds were reminded of her talent, warmth, beauty and mortality. Twisting in colourful loops, red and yellow above the stage are the water slides. A second poignant symbol of days gone, of youth, and in the context of the festival, a rebirth of sorts; a second coming under the full moonlight.
The audience was thin early on at Friday’s gig, but each artist that played seemed to add a layer to the crowd until the space was filled nicely for reggae star and headliner Toby Rebel, who jetted in from Jamaica on Wednesday. I sat through Canadian hip-hopper Ian Kamau, listening to his lyrics. He didn’t get me to my feet, but I appreciated some of his rhymes, which had on occasion universally relevant messages about real peace that rang true with the Harare crowd.
My first compulsion to dance came about when Bulawayo’s Djembe Monks joined Sista Flame on stage. The music was unassuming but enjoyable, and got people doing some gentle warm-up dancing. Steady, happy, at times lively.
Tanzanian chart topper, Mzungu Kichaa (‘crazy white man’) came on next. He is a great guitarist and singer, who performs in Swahili and English, afro-bongo-rock type stuff which was colourful and exciting and different.Now the crowd’s attention was piqued, people had hands in the air, the moon blazed a little more brightly, and I found my way to the front for Tony Rebel’s arrival.
Dressed fully in red, cap-covered skinny dreadlocks running down his front and back, Rebel arrived. He is a big guy and commands the stage with his energy and exuberance. His voice is excellent, clean, clear, melodic and uplifting. At Friday’s gig he was backed up by Bulawayo’s own Hotta Faya, who gave Rebel a solid and lively bedrock of music and rhythm from which to perform. They performed alongside Rebel with ease and grace.
Rebel’s songs built on each other one by one, and he sangthe crowd pleasing Jah is by my side twice, which had the audience singing and dancing arm in arm, passing around a big jug of beer, clamouring at the front to shake Rebel’s hand.
A real highlight was the solo session by Lady Thanda. I’d never seen her before, but she blew me away, and the crowd crowed for second dose of her fast, crisp ragga, which she duly performed, bent double over her mic, teetering over the front row at the edge of the stage. How we danced.
Friday night was a celebration. Festival director Comrade Fatso was stood in the middle of it, beer in hand, enjoying the show. Seeing the crowd, the international collaborations, the venue, the full moon winking at him from cool summer skies must have checked a lot of boxes in his mind. ‘We The People’ – the 2013 Shoko theme, was achieved on Friday. The spirit of togetherness, and camaraderie was palpable, there were people from all backgrounds, sharing smokes and beers and trading dance moves and hugs, as Waterwhirld was reclaimed by yesterday’s children.