The band and I have played at many festivals and events all around the world, but there is nothing quite life Hifa (Hara International Arts Festival), Zimbabwe. Steve, Alan and I were in for one of the best trips of our gigging lives.
Leaving Manchester on a drizzly Tuesday evening, we didn't know what to expect from the festival, which awaited us half the world away. 18 hours later we arrived in Harare, where our British Council liaison, Extra-Blessing, met us and took us to our hotel. The next day our non-stop adventure at Hifa 2014 would begin. We had three shows ahead of us and the first one was on the Global stage on the Thursday night.
The Lay's Global Stage was a covered indoor space with comfy tiered benches for around 400 people. But the gaps in the canopy, revealing the trees outside, made it feel like a sunny, open-air festival experience. Both shows we were to play on the Global stage were sold out. This one, at three 'o' clock in the afternoon, was packed with a cheery and responsive crowd and the set felt well placed in this super quiet space. We'd be back to headline this same stage on the Saturday night, for what would prove to be, not just the best gig of our trip, but one of the most rewarding of my entire time performing live.
Once this first show was done, we moved on to Coca-Cola Green, a free space within the festival where anyone can come on to the site for free and watch some incredible music on the Coca-Cola Green stage. At the green we attended a little cocktail party, where we could meet some of the other artists who came with the British Council's help. Under the effects of our first Zimbabwe sunset we watched a band called The Booty Jive performing something that is best described as intergalactic funk, à la Sun Ra.
I can't remember what time I went to bed but the next morning Extra-Blessing came to pick us up at 8:30 and I didn't feel all too rested. My first task was to lead a songwriting workshop with some local artists. Watching the scenery on route to the Alliance Francaise, made me want to see more of Zimbabwe, and more of the people.
There were seven people for the workshop, all great musicians. I had such a special time with them. We managed to formulate ideas together; find out what we loved about song; talk about our inspiration and perform our songs for one another. Zim, as the locals call their nation, has a rich tradition of improvised music and a multitude of epically talented musicians. By the end of the workshop I felt so privileged to have spent some time with such wonderful, and musically charged residents.
Such a start to our trip made me wonder about some of the negative press that comes out of Zim. Some of these amazing, talented and super welcoming people don't deserve it. Politics is one thing, the people, the real people on the ground, are another. And from what I could see our trip to Zim was going to be nothing but memorable.