AfrikaBurn 2024: 29 April to 5 May

When is a Spirit Train not a Spirit Train?

A few years back at AfrikaBurn (pre-Pandy), there was an amazingly wild and raucous mobile mutant sound rig called ‘The Spirit Train’. It rocked the shit out of the Binnekring and pretty much stopped anyone from getting any sleep for the whole week. The Spirit Train was the brainchild of Mike Kennedy and But Corpaci, and was designed, built & funded within three months, along with creative project funding from AfrikaBurn itself.

Over a few event cycles, The Spirit Train founders couldn’t sustain another return to the Binnekring, and eventually, The Spirit Train crew made the difficult decision to split from AfrikaBurn and try to make it in the default world as their own music festival in the Tankwa Karoo – called ‘Return to the Source’.

Photo: Jonx Pillemer

While we were all very sad about this decision to leave, we were also excited that AfrikaBurn had birthed another fresh creative project into the South African music landscape. While AfrikaBurn remains vehemently opposed to commodification in Tankwa Town, we’re also the proud parents of many creative festivals, artworks and happenings in the default world, that once started as a small idea or theme camp in Tankwa Town. We continually ask you to invent your world anew at AfrikaBurn … and who wouldn’t want to party with The Spirit Train all year round?

Going commercial is a one-way train ticket to Capitalism-ville, and The Spirit Train grabbed their tickets and headed off into the dust. As The Spirit Train left Tankwa Town, the space left behind was quickly filled up, as they helped inspire others to bring brand new mobile mutant sound rigs to party in the dust. After a few hits and misses in the default world, The Spirit Train ended up being abandoned and left on the old AfrikaBurn site at Stonehenge, slowly falling into decay. Towards the end of last year (2023), Mike, But, and their crew got in touch with us about re-invigorating The Spirit Train, bringing it back to life and returning it to its original source … AfrikaBurn.

This was a big surprise and caused quite a ripple within our team, nobody has ever tried to come back after crossing over to the other side … there’s absolutely nothing in the Decommodification Principle about changing your mind. 

Initially, we were hugely worried that our community was going to be exploited and that the Spirit Train was going to come to Tankwa Town to rebuild its support ahead of a glorious commercial relaunch sponsored by HELLco™ soon after AfrikaBurn. We discussed them maybe coming back as a different project or changing their name to ‘The Wolf Pack’ to avoid the use of a commercial brand in our space, but we all soon realised that although it might have been called the Wolf Pack, it would look like the Spirit Train, smell like the Spirit Train and still be the Spirit Train.

We met with The Spirit Train project leads recently at our HQ and had a difficult, open and honest discussion. At AfrikaBurn, we hold decommodification as a core value, while The Spirit Train say they just want to make the citizens of Tankwa Town happy. It takes a lot of time and effort to put any creative project together, yet it also sucks up a lot of time to manage projects that don’t follow our 11 Principles. At the end of the meeting, we asked them to tell us exactly how they would like to come back to AfrikaBurn.

The Spirit Train crew came back with:

“As discussed, our project leads’ personal futures are uncertain. But after carefully considering all that was poured out over the table we would like to whole heartedly respond with the following:

-we would love to return to Afrikaburn 2024 (for more reasons than one, and to save the mammoth amount of work already put into the planning process)

-we will make this our last visit with the train

-we will not undertake any commercial ventures with the Spirit Train – pre & post Afrikaburn”

Photo: Jonx Pillemer

So, there you have it. A peace pipe was offered, along with at least three Hail-Mary’s, a gargle of Holy Quaggafontein Water and a very clear statement that The Spirit Train will never go commercial again. 

We still believe almost everyone who participates in AfrikaBurn deserves a second chance, a third and fourth chance, maybe even a fifth, because we all make poes-poor decisions from time to time and are all learning and growing. If we tell The Spirit Train to never come back to Tankwa Town, what happens … a beautiful mutant vehicle just sits and decays in the Karoo, and The Spirit Train crew disperses to raise children and talk about the glory days.

Or … what happens if we allow them back?

Maybe, The Spirit Train becomes a shining example of how the 11 Principles help you to be a better Burner and have more fun, fuelling connections and creativity for our community, creating brand new glory days … or, maybe we all get fucked over, and they hand out flyers for their next LOBO party on the Binnekring while we’re not looking. 

We don’t know. Only time will tell. 

Either way, please show the Spirit Train some love this year, and help them to remember what makes AfrikaBurn NOT a music festival, but a decommodified place to create something new, something good, something better than in the default world. 

13 Responses

  1. Thanks for this write-up! It’s great to get insight in the process behind the Spirit Train coming back, as a lot of people (as you noted) had questions about it. I must say, after reading this I am getting excited about them coming back!

  2. Oooh, oh, oh! I do want to get to the Burn this year! Spirit Train has been pure magic! Welcome back!!!

  3. Having never experienced the Spirit Train, we are super stoked to have the opportunity to experience it at Quaggafontein.
    Thank you to all those involved who is giving this another opportunity – for better or for worse; those of us who have never seen or heard the Spirit Train are right behind you

  4. I appreciate the thought and honest/challenging conversations that have gone into this mutual decision. It is worth trying and renewing trust and relationships. If Spirit Train is going to once again be decommodified and exist only as a gift within AfrikaBurn, it seems a reasonable solution. Otherwise, I agree a change of name and change of form in some way, would have been the way to go. Thank you for the obvious care that all involved have put into this situation. It sounds like there is a renewed sense of “spirit” here–in all the best ways.

  5. A very well-written piece of corporate communications copy about a contested process with the Spirit Train. There is more to this story, but Org has a way of spinning everything. One day, when Org learns to adhere to its own 11 principles consistently, the Burn will be healthier again. Right now, its a bit of wokeville. But : welcome back Spirit Train – one more festival, and a Stay of Execution.

  6. We were better off without those hedonistic cocaine cowboys boring us to death with their ego-fuelled DJ worship and soulless music. Letting go is such a big part of immediacy. Lobo should have been burnt years ago.

  7. Wonderful, and I quote the article:
    “ We still believe almost everyone who participates in AfrikaBurn deserves a second chance, a third and fourth chance, maybe even a fifth, because we all make poes-poor decisions from time to time and are all learning and growing”
    Welcome back – cannot wait to dance with you all again! 💃🏻🔥❤️

  8. So is this going to keep us without sleep for 5 days ? Is there a place to camp away from the noise?

  9. Aaaah man I love your writing! Straight up honest, with a sprinkle radical word choices. Had a fat laugh at “poes-poor decisions…” hahaha. Don’t we all. It almost calls for a recovery/stabilise yourself camp named Poes-Poor Decisions. Rock on!

  10. Sorry – I don’t understand what’s so bad about The Spirit Train being used for commercial purposes outside of Afrikaburn? Why do they need to apologize for starting their own festival, and promise never to do so again?

    It certainly cost them a lot of money to build and to gift to the playa. That’s time and money that they’re not getting back from the playa.

    At Burning Man, playa art gets sold every year after the Burn to recoup costs, which are exorbitant beyond what the Org provides (or even to make a little money). Mayan Warrior drove around all of North America hosting sold-out parties all year round (and for good reason, it was one of the best mobile sound systems ever created). How else would they recoup the $2 million they’ve spent to bring it out for free for Burners?

    “we will not undertake any commercial ventures with the Spirit Train – pre & post Afrikaburn” – it seems like the Afrikaburn org wants the Spirit Train to spend a lot of their own time and money to bring the Train back, but then never be able to use the Train again for any other purpose?

    No wonder the Afrikaburn org has so much constant drama – these types of unnecessary demands never happen with the Burning Man org. Decommidification on the playa does not mean you must lose money in the real world to participate.

    1. It’s simple: If you’d like to be part of a burn, you have to respect the Burning Man Guiding Principles, and you can’t cherry-pick them.

  11. Love the comment about poes-poor decisions, which we all make. Hallelujah for multiple second chances.

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