Miombo Magic is Zimbabwe’s premier outdoor music festival, which takes place in Christon Bank, a nature reserve 25km North of Harare, the capital city. The stage is set up on the edge of a steep wooded hillside against the backdrop of a vast valley of sun-kissed African bush. In 2016, almost a thousand campers and day-trippers made their way out from the city, braving the chilly May winter nights to enjoy some much needed music therapy. Over the course of three days, Miombo showcases some of Zimbabwe’s best live acts from across the country and across several genres of music, from traditional Mbira to Afro Jazz, Reggae to Rock, Celtic folk to heavy metal: a celebration in world class style of Zimbabwe’s home-grown artists. Headlining in 2016 were Jah Prayzah and Mokoomba, both bands that have seen incredible success in Zimbabwe and around the world in recent years. Sharing the same stage that year were also Ammara Brown, Vee Mukarati, Hope Masike, Gemma Griffiths, The Djembe Monks and Mackay, to name only a few. Each year, Miombo Magic boasts an epic line up that kicks off from around 10am each day and continues late into the wee hours of the morning.
After catching my performance at a gig in Harare just weeks before the festival, organizers Gus Lebreton and Angus Wakeling offered me a spot in the Miombo Magic 2016 line up. Excited and intrigued with this previously unheard of festival in the bush, the Bulawayo crew made the four-hour journey to Harare, packed to absolute capacity with all the gear needed to camp in style, courtesy of Africa Sun’s Zuga Kruger – friend and festival guru. Also on board was artist, photographer and best-dressed-man at any occasion, Neville Starling, and Alistair Burton aka Black Mamba Man, who in the year since has recorded his own 15-track album and gone viral once or twice!
The atmosphere at Miombo Magic is a musician’s dream, with a warm, attentive and encouraging crowd, an excellent stage crew and sound engineers that ensure a smooth set up and impeccable sound without a hint of stress. My set was timed around sunset and I couldn’t have asked for a better slot. I began nervously to a chatting crowd, the sky darkened and the lights of the Miombo Stage came alive to usher in the evening’s line up. The memory of what and how I played is a bit of a blur, but the thrill of witnessing a big festive crowd dancing and cheering to my tunes for the first time was utterly addictive. I ended my set and walked off the stage, to be greeted first by a wild and electric Vee Mukarati, fully clad in giant Zimbabwean flag cape, shouting, “YOU QUEEN!!!” which still stands as some of the most loud and wonderful feedback I have ever received. Nerves gone and elated, I joined my friends, old and new in the crowd where we proceeded to dance the night out to the ancestral tribal house teachings of The Djembe Monks, the incredibly talented Bulawayo DJ and percussion trio.
I was gutted to miss Miombo Magic this year, having just moved to London. The Bulawayo crew returned in greater numbers; The Black Mamba Man made his debut performance in what I hear was an epic and hilarious display and Flying Bantu, good friends and wonderfully eclectic afro-fusion band from Victoria Falls, hit the Miombo stage for the first time.
Miombo Magic is not to be missed, and if you’re ever planning to visit Zimbabwe and want more than the usual sightseeing and safari, then plan your trip around the end of May, bring a tent and your good self, and head out to Christon Bank – you’re in for a treat!