AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April

Fun and Loving: AfrikaBurn Archetypes

Photo by Jani-Marie Breedt

– words: Simon Pickering, photos: Jani-Marie Breedt

Something like all the best pieces of our lives, our time in the desert this year fills a space, fit to bursting, where words explain only a light smudge of what we felt, saw and tasted.  From the persistent dusty tang to the Ultramel and holy grateful giggles, all wrapped up in the clean air of Tankwa and lasers and flames.
To begin with, every time I leave, driving out over the humps the nostalgia of being blessed with such a vista is overpowering. Then, as the afterglow rolls around the passing days, finally the last powdery earth is out of my nose and the inspiration is distilled from overpowering to a daily change in belief system and way of lifestyle. AfrikaBurn makes me a better person in myriad ways, a multiple pulsing flash-filled dazzling number of ways. How does it make a better person of you…did you alter some of your genetic makeup, fall in love lots or maybe swallow some super inspiration?
As with seemingly thousands, my birthday slipped by at AfrikaBurn 2013, well almost – it charged wide-eyed soaring out in hysterical gravity that floated just so, deliciously, closer to a truth. Maybe it’s because as a festival it is ours and as we gradually realise that we can never own anything forever (or be with someone forever?) we can loosen up to love so utterly. And if love is in part only temporary shared space and time, then I can start to understand some of what makes up the magic of the event. Running into the desert is one of the most meaningful affairs I’ve ever had.
Photo by Jani-Marie Breedt
To try and understand not only what makes this life festival so vital, but also how it can hand out trinkets of wonder for your mind to take home to treasure with such synchronized dignity, is something that excites and delights me and seems very worthy of exploring. Since the solar eclipse party of Giyani I’ve felt that festivals hold together the fibres of our society and, never having been to Black Rock City, I may yet change my mind but it seems AfrikaBurn systematically takes the cake every year. Wild people getting loose with gentle mania does something for my soul that fills it with smiles.
Certainly it has its own dose of terror and strangeness and hopefully we live and learn every time too. Can it be possible that there is such a thing as too much minimal progressive tech-house?! And nautical flares should only be used when you sight your rescuers while lost at sea? The Kitchen Burn was a hop, skip and small jump from my tent and huge thank you to everyone who fought that one and thank you Great Spirit. But given the defaulty world we all live in, having my friends BMX peddled away was peanuts (unacceptable peanuts granted), as was the morons who left their litter lying around. Peanuts and fiddlesticks and feathers blowing in the wind. Hats off to the DPW, Rangers, Admin, volunteers, land owners and everyone running such a tight ship, lots of hugs all round. As of Rome, brick by brick my citizens, we are creating a dream here. Best suggestion I’ve heard so far for moop is that everyone gets a moop bag at the gate, a shoulder-slung pikitup, bigger than your pocket. Then if we see anyone throwing stuff on the ground they have to do lines of Tabasco…
Probably one of the most exciting things is how much it’s growing, so rapidly that this year I was so excited I only put up my tent on my third day in the desert. Having missed the first one but made it to the second it seems like each year more people are shaken out the woodwork of South Africa and the World to play their part in our art festival.  The job of nursing her through each growing pain is something I’ll happily buy a ticket for, this process must be seriously intended and thought about. How can we improve next year is something each one of us surely must consider – there can be no half measures about our intention. Each person’s involvement must be given with the whole in mind, adding to the bubble of consciousness we form out there in the middle of nowhere, spreading flaming streaks of light out into the universe with a significance that we can only faintly grasp at believing, as it slips through our fingers like sand.
Photo by Jani-Marie Breedt
This year the music was great, it hit the spot on a few occasions, lacked enough punk and cheeky tongue in cheek and was generally loud. With so many sound systems it’s cool to go clubbing in Tankwa Town although quite easy to end up running around like a headless chicken too, when the sun goes to one’s head, surfing naked. Swinging hips offer hypnotic appreciation of good groove and this year there was, I think it’s fair to say, lots of hip swinging, no? Who knows really, there’s so much music these days its difficult to comment, maybe part of the predetermined glory of dancing is finding what you looking for at the right time.
If in smalls towns you usually have more, more interesting spontaneous conversations, then Tankwa is a great place to talk to the people next to you in a queue or to your neighbours. Undoubtedly these giggly exchanges and straight-faced grins belong to residents with due reason as finding out who people are and what they do on the outside is bound to make you curious.  It’s easy to be mistaken and think someone came out to the desert to lose themselves, whereas in fact they came there to truly find themselves. Reinstall the most basic premise: do anything as long as you don’t hurt anyone. In today’s radical world of extremes a festival so beautifully expansive allows us be the song unto ourselves that we sincerely believe in, no matter how tenuous our grip of that hope is.
Flames must be the mothership that root this festival into our lives, the big burns providing the most unified times in town. Writing captions for each fire can never come close to the smoke devils, swirling cinders and white-hot intensity that witnessing them allows. The Polar Bear has the biggest piece of my heart, I want to build one too so I can play with it in the garden on stay-home Tuesday nights.  Is there a place for a Temple at our burn where people can burn possessions, parts of their lives to leave behind? A bring and burn fire… The basic elemental gift of healing people must be one of the pillars we build this creation on, reinforcing the way in which it reaches out beyond the small time together in the desert and into our everyday life. Take all your rubbish home but leave your worries to burn away in the breeze, just drifting ash.
Maybe some of the smaller instillation groups can also interact with each other in the playa, creating a more radical scene than the lonely piece? What would you like to do next year, who would you like to see on the playa, what wonders can you imagine?
And, across whatever dimensions we now find ourselves, wherever you are winding your time through our globe, a gigantic thank you beautiful being! If it wasn’t for you it wouldn’t have been what it was and it won’t be what it can be. What AfrikaBurn is and means is so much more than any flimsy description. Like the best things in life it happens and we like it.  Mwah.

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