With panoramic views of the Drakensberg mountains as our backdrop, tents of all colour, shapes, and sizes started to spring up in the early morning air. The 29th December 2016 brought with it the 6th year of Smoking Dragon Festival to Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge. The people started to slowly filter onto the grounds with eager helpers wheeling in their equipment using wheelbarrows. As excitement and laughter built, so did the anticipation of a great 3 days filled with some of the best musical acts! With the 5 music areas including the Ripple Zone, The Pink Tent, the Fringe Stage, the Church Electric Jungle, and the Main Stage, one was spoilt for choice this year!
The first day kicked off with the Fringe Stage artists easing us into some great music. Food stalls set up and Howler cards loaded, people set to getting their drinks and eating in the food market area. The evening brought us the Smoking Divas lineup which included Nonku Phiri, Push Push, Ann Jangles and so many more! The Electric Jungle in collaboration with CHERCH pulled the crowd in with unparalleled beats by talented DJs.
Our day started with Yoga guided by a seasoned yogi, and our music was lead by Raggae band, Rusman Spice at the Fringe. The clues parted and the Ripple Zone filled up with everyone enjoying the cool waters at the dam, and the shade at the Pink Tent. The grounds filled with people as they hiked different trails around Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge, absorbing the natural beauty. The Muffin hit the Ripple stage with their Afropop sound and thick soulful harmonies. The audiences meandered between the Fringe and Ripple stages through they day as they watched their favourite artists performing. Seasoned DJ and Kaya FM radio host, Nicky B, was an instant hit with the crowd as they prepared for the evening’s lineup.
The heart of Smoking Dragon Festival is to build a community of loving, embracing humans, and the acts who’d performed at this year’s festival embodied just that. BCUC hit the Main Stage and transported us to a new word of sound! Their authentic African inspired music combined with their energy, was absorbed by the crowd from the very first note played. Headlining act, The Kiffness, unified with music and dance with their lighted hearted yet impactful music. The Electric Jungle also had a world class set of DJs including Kid Fonque, Yanoss, and Cards on Spokes.
As we ushered in the New Year, the artists we chose brought the right amount of excitement to the table. The festival was moving full-speed ahead into 2017 with Crimson House Blues and their gypsy-rock tunes, Sun Xa Experiment and their afro-fusion vibe, and Mr Cat and the Jackal fun-funky tracks. Stelth Ulvang of the Lumineers set the evening’s pace at the Ripple Zone as we all watched the sun slowly set behind the mountains. Kitted with a piano, standing double bass, violin, drums, and a special feature of his much-loved accordion, the audience was wooed by his songs with relatable stories.
We were later treated by bands that represented the unity we aspire to have. The Rudimentals with Jamaican, American, Zimbabwean and South African artists set the Main Stage on fire! Their Ska blend music got every bouncing bouncing along. Todo Mundo followed accompanied by their combination of Colombian, Korean, American, Spain, and Namibia! Together they brought us pure magic and light – reminding us that music can transcend any language barrier!
The New Year had to be brought in with magic. An immaculate wooden sculpture of a dragon was built on the empty field beside the Main Stage. The countdown had begun with Sublime Tribute band on the Main Stage, and electricity filled the air as a new dawn was eminent. The clock struck 12am and the dragon was set alight. Beautiful flames of pink, blue, and green engulfed the structure, and the worries of 2016 burnt along with it!
With the fire still smouldering in the morning light, people left elated and filled with hope that this new year will bring!