In the last 60 years, music festivals have become the cornerstone of British culture, and among those that have grown year by year, particularly in the southern African community, is Zimfest Live.
Now in its 21st year, the all-encompassing family festival has become a symbol of unadulterated escapism, with its own unique memories, associations and themes.
This year was more significant than most and saw the first in-person African event of its size since the pandemic hosting several artists including Jah Prayzah, Trevor Dongo and Gemma Griffiths. There were also debut performances from Poptain, Tamy Moyo and Garry Mapanzure.
It was an opportunity for friends, families, and acquaintances to get together after 18 months, and while people were unmasked, the crowds still erred on the side of caution whilst embracing a growing sense of normality and a show of community spirit.
Despite the weather, the crowd’s spirit didn’t dampen, but embraced the all-day event that embodied the very best of Zimbabwe through music, African cuisine and a diverse selection of contemporary and traditional arts, crafts, clothing, and jewellery.
Ordinarily, a festival’s success comes down to the line-up and this year’s roster, which was split in two to incorporate the dance arena, gave people - young and old - the best of both worlds. The arena, hosted by the MADE IN ZWE team was created to attract the younger crowd and judging by Saturday’s electric atmosphere, it was a roaring success. The tent was at full-capacity and offered up a diverse enough group that didn’t rely on one genre or type of artist.
A spokesperson for Zimfest Live said: “Unlike previous years, this particular edition was an opportunity to bring everyone together to celebrate more than music and after a year-long hiatus, welcoming people back to Colesdale farm was a major highlight.
“While we all got used to live streaming performances in 2020, they didn't provide the same feeling or allow the same connection between artist and festival-goer, as in-person events do and we’re happy we were able to deliver an event that gave our guests something to look forward to and a place where they could come and socialise and enjoy good music.
“A huge thank you to all those who turned out in their numbers, to our sponsors who helped us make this event happen and to all those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the event ran smoothly and was safe for everyone.”
Debut makes and breaks
Festivals have always been about high energy and personality, be it a band or an individual, but beyond the generic elements that make up a performance, music selection has always been key.
Tamy Moyo and Garry Mapanzure delivered proportionally good performances. The Kwandinobva singer took benefactors on a mini musical journey, while Garry had a performance packed with energy. Flanked by the talented band, BaRuva Solutions, his act set the tone for the performances that followed.
Trevor Dongo’s debut - love it or hate it - was measured and vocals were far from mediocre. The most memorable part of his set was singing topless and perhaps the only time we heard the audience scream. Nonetheless, as far as debuts go, he gave the ladies something to talk about.
Poptain’s debut performance was particularly engaging. While festival-goers were relatively aware of his talent, they were not quite prepared for the youthful explosion of energy and personality he displayed - and rain be damned - he gave them a set worth remembering.
The return of two ‘gems’
Often when returning artists perform, you’re forced to ask yourself what else they can bring to the table and whether it will be better than their last performance. When it comes to Gemma and Valee Music, each year brings something a little eclectic and contemporary, and in Valee’s case, a bit of edginess. The carefully choreographed routines and chemistry between the dancers allowed everyone in the crowd to let their hair down and get immersed in both music and dance.
Gemma on the other hand gave a more soulful performance - belting out her hit single Titungamire. She also gave the crowd a more stripped-down version of hit song, Mugarden, which she featured in with Winky D.
Then there was Jah…
Jah Prayzah was probably the most anticipated act of the evening and as his performance drew closer, there was a crescendo of excitement as guests eagerly waited for him to grace the stage. It was his second time headlining Zimfest Live following his debut slot in 2017 and as with any megastar, the bar was set very high, with expectations equally higher. While he performed some of his most popular and much-loved singles, including Mdhara Vachauya and My Lily, some of his newer songs left the crowd feeling slightly underwhelmed. As far as standout performances go, perhaps this wasn’t it, but he gave the audience over an hour and something to sing along to.
Afropop musician, Kazz Kalif rounded the event off in style, serenading the crowd with his rendition of Andy Brown’s Mapurisa. He then closed with his 2017 single Bata Msana before teasing the crowd with an acapella/beatbox version of a timeless classic, See you smile.
The event was hosted by King Alfred, comedian Munashe and presenter Empress Trish. The event was once again sponsored by Express Links International. Other sponsors included Nyaradzo, Tann Law, Diaspora Funeral Cash Plan, MyHippostore, Grayson Roofing and West Property Zimbabwe.
Commenting on the event, headline sponsor and CEO of Express Links International, Peter Pembere, said: “Zimfest Live is the pinnacle of live entertainment in our community and this year’s event is a testament to the hardwork and commitment the team has put in to deliver, what in my view was a successful event showcasing the level of Zimbabwean talent there is to a broader audience in the UK.
“Music festivals are about bringing people together but more importantly, about the live music experience. In many ways, the festival delivered the very essence of it and after an unprecedented year of lockdowns and restrictions, the positivity, togetherness, and celebration of the arts is something that will be remembered long after the mood has left.
“As a money transfer company serving the diaspora communities, it is part of our social responsibility to give back to these communities by supporting events such as Zimfest Live.”