First day of Luju Festival in Eswatini

The global entity at Luju 2023

Crossing to Eswatini from Mozambique

I had decided to take the local bus to Luju festival in Eswatini. I arrived at Legends Backpackers, in Ezulwini Valley, after a journey of sixteen hours. The first eight hours were simply waiting. I had been told to be at the bus station in Baixa, downtown Maputo, at eight in the morning. At two o’clock the Xiapa was only half full and we still didn’t know when we would be departing. Considering my less than pleasant history crossing the Mozambican border, I definitely started feeling stressed about the situation. I did not want to get stuck there at night. The driver looked at me with tired eyes and explained that nobody can honestly say what time the Xiapa will depart since they can’t know when the bus will be full enough to leave. And since the bus is dependent on its passengers to leave, they will tell you the time they think will make you happy so that you will choose them. I sigh with irritation. I get the dilemma, I do. But it is so inefficient and dishonest it makes my Swedishness crawl with irritation. My phone battery is already running low but there is no point in leaving to charge it now, the bus could leave at any point now. At any point meaning anywhere between the next five minutes to the next two hours. I sigh again. I think about my friend Inga who always used to smile at my impatience and say “In Mozambique we wait! It’s a daily activity here.” With a much grumpier demeanor than her I cross my arms as I sit down in the bus for another two hours of nothing. When we get to the border, it is dark. As we park the bus I look to the driver, it is the same driver who left me here the last time we were here, when they confiscated my passport. I try to catch his eye now but he stubbornly avoids all contact. Maybe he remembers all the trouble from last time and wants to avoid any involvement. Or maybe he feels guilty about leaving me here with the all male police officers in the middle of the night. I know I would. 

Getting to Luju festival in Eswatini

Imposter Syndrome

The global entity at Luju 2023

When I wake up Friday morning the excitement is quickly replaced by frustration. The guy who was supposed to help me film this festival has canceled. I am properly pissed off. This was supposed to be my first festival with a team, a huge investment and step forward for the blog. He was also bringing all of my outfits for the festival as well as my jacket. What a shit show. But there is nothing I can do about the situation. I sulk a little bit longer before getting it together. Arriving at the Luju festival brings back memories of Bushfire Festival which is held on the same grounds. But this time, I went to the Media Accreditation disk to get my festival band. As the lady behind the counter puts the bands around my wrist I promise myself to remember this moment forever. It is so huge because this is the first time I have asked somebody else to believe in what I am creating, to include and support my writing project that is this blog. One of my ambitions with it is to map out Africa’s best music and dance festivals. A huge endeavor, I know, but one that brings me so much joy! I believe that event tourism in Africa is one of the best ways to enjoy and connect to different cultures in a socially sustainable way. I also believe that a lot more international tourists would go to these incredible events and festivals if they knew how (and about their existence). That is where I come in with this blog! 

 

As soon as I go through the main entrance I am met by Simon, Luju’s Communications Officer. The festival is already in full swing as we pass through the different areas. Simon explains that Luju used to be a one day festival but has now merged into a two day festival due to popular demand. He makes a point of saying that even though the festival is growing bigger and bigger each year, it is not about getting the biggest names on stage. Rather it is about creating a stage for the artists and creatives that both align with and expand the values of the Luju-festival. I quietly pray that this applies to the media they bring in too… Simon  takes me to a top-up station so that I can fill my festival band with cash, as Luju is a cashless festival. When I am done I can’t help but feel a bit lost. My performance anxiety kicks in full force as Simon introduces me to the media people at the media tent. I feel like an imposter next to these professional radio and newspaper people. “…don’t forget to have fun!” Simon squeezed my shoulder lightly, perhaps seeing how my face was turning paler and paler by the minute, before he rushed off into the Luju night. Alrighty then, show time! 

First night of Luju Festival 2023

I have a few hours before my first interview and I start by scoping out a place to eat. I have heard endlessly about how one of the three main pillars of Luju Festival is the food (the other two being fashion and music). I am more than excited when I walk around and smell the different aromas from the diverse cuisines. The Lounge has seated areas around fires and I end up enjoying some fresh spring rolls. The taste of coriander, chili, ginger and soy hits me full force and I smile. I can feel the heat from the fire warming my back and in front of me the Luju festival is coming to life as more and more people start dancing to Iamsiwas beats. As I start walking towards the main stage, the next act goes on. Before I know it, the cold night air is filled with the powerful voices of Emahlokohloko choir. The choir from Eswatini makes for a powerful start of the live music acts as its songs of worship and devotion, joy and gratitude invite people to dance and sing along. I feel it in my bones even though I can’t understand the words. Somewhere, half way through the performance, I sway away through the happy crowds towards the Fashion Café. Since my own planned wardrobe got stuck in South Africa, I was eager to use this excuse to shop at Luju’s infamous fashion market. Every vendor and creator I spoke to either talked about their heritage, co-living with nature, or their spirituality in some sense. My first artist to interview seemed to personify these attributes in every sense – from her lyrics to her humble, esoteric presence. When Dato Seiko sits down in front of me she has just performed live at the Mastercard stage.

Luju Festival cuisine

Dato Seiko

Dato Seiko interview Luju Festival

At eight o’clock on the first evening of Luju Festival, the Botswana singer Dato Seiko, takes the stage. Her small stature in spite, her presence feels larger than the open-air stage she stands on. She has the audience spellbound from the first note sung. When asked if she has always felt comfortable on stage, she giggles a little and shrugs “I think the stage has always loved me. It chose me, I don’t know how I even got here but music has always found a way to me. Even when I tried to ignore it, it kept calling me. I mean, you have to rehearse quite a lot for you to be comfortable on stage but the nerves never go away… I am still nervous every time!”

What is it that inspires you to go through that uncomfortable stage of nerves and do what you do? “I alway say that we provide a healing service, we are service providers. People always need some type of healing, our music is affordable therapy! I think, seeing people resonate with the music that we write and the music that we make, or having somebody say that you told our story through your song and you don’t even know them! It shows how powerful music is as a tool to actually heal people.” It is not hard to feel she is right. Dato Seikos songs vibrate right into where it feels the most. Where you need it the most. The cool Eswatini air only makes itself known after she has let the last notes die out. 

 

How is it being a woman navigating a male dominated business?

“I like to believe that when Grace is upon you, nothing can stop you. So even if it’s a male dominated industry, if you step in – your authority will be felt”.

Dato Seiko is not only known for her incredible performances and music. She has over three hundred thousand followers on social media, to whom she generously shares her best singing coach tips. I ask her, do you have any words of wisdom to somebody who is just starting out? “Do what you have to do and believe in what you are doing. You are the best salesman for yourself so believe in what you do, thoroughly, and do it! I think there is always someone out there that resonates with you so don’t think too much about it, just do it and see it come to fruition.”

I look into her kind eyes as I thank her for her time, unable to express the peace her words had blessed me with. As I walk out into the chilly Eswatini night, I can feel how the interview has grounded me. Is this what my life is like now? *mindblown*

 

The rest of the evening is packed! Luju’s line-up is on fire! Straight after the interview I head towards the Taste of Mozambique area where the Hood Brodz have the whole amphitheater boiling over. It is almost impossible to get down to the dance floor but I say almost! I get down to the dance floor and within five minutes I am sweating, something I did not think was possible in the cold Eswatini night. After a good thirty minutes of dancing I start heading back to the media tent to prepare for the next interview. Halfway there I stop midstep, I can’t believe my ears. But it’s clear as day, it’s country music! I don’t know about you, but Eswatini is the last place I’d expect to hear country music at. I walk towards the Mastercard stage and see, what I now know is the Eswatini Country duo Dusty & Stones, making the whole crowd dance. I stay as long as I can as I watch young as old having fun together to the happy music.

 

Seeing the genius Zoë Modiga perform was a highlight out of this world! Having the honor to interview her is something I am still processing and will write extensively about soon. When I get back to the main stage, DJ Teedo Love has everyone dancing their feet off. It feels like the whole field is swaying in unison as she mixes modern hits with timeless classics. After this I was honestly ready to get going home, my night felt complete. But I had promised a friend to not miss Big Zulu’s performance as she couldn’t be here herself. I wasn’t disappointed. His performance set the audience on fire to the extent it was sometimes hard to hear him over the chanting crowd. When I got back to the hostel it was almost three am and I could still hear the crowds in my ears. There hadn’t been any shuttles nor taxis available when the festival ended, only endless cues of cars. Eventually, two girls waiting for their mother took pity on me and offered me a ride. Without a proper jacket, I gratefully accepted their offer while messaging a picture of the car’s registration number to a friend. Just in case.

 

Luju Festival 2023

6 thoughts on “First day of Luju Festival in Eswatini”

  1. Monica Andersson

    👏 Heja!! Bra jobbat. Både att ha tålamod tillräckligt för bussresan och förstås för ditt jobb på festivalen 👏👏
    Vilken fin intervju. Intressanta – fina svar på bra frågor. Blir till reflektioner i mig om självklarheten i att va connected till ngt mer – i det Eswatiniska sammanhanget 💗

  2. Monica Andersson

    👏 Heja!! Bra jobbat. Både att ha tålamod tillräckligt för bussresan och förstås för ditt jobb på festivalen 👏👏
    Vilken fin intervju. Intressanta – fina svar på bra frågor. Blir till reflektioner i mig om självklarheten i att va connected till ngt mer – i det Eswatiniska sammanhanget 💗

  3. Pingback: Fashion, food and resilience at Luju Festival - The global entity

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