The 2023 Jacaranda Music Festival: A Review

When October arrives Harare's palette suddenly becomes dominated by the hue of purple. Once heralds of the coming of spring, Jacarandas have also become heralds of the music festival that earns its name from them. This past weekend, Old Hararians Sports Club was an island of music that seemed to defy time and maybe the laws of physics. 

Ngoma Nehosho treated us to a curated music experience that threatened to overwhelm the mind with endorphins. I don't think I can even quite encapsulate it within an article, no matter how many times I search for more descriptive words from a thesaurus. The pendulum of emotion at this year's Jacaranda Music Festival was a constant swing from nostalgia to euphoria. A clearly intended effect from the artist lineup, right down to the set lists.

The 2023 Jacaranda Music Festival: A Review
Some of the attendants at the Jacaranda Music Festival 
Image: Twitter/jimshinky

I know the festival wasn't totally without fault. For instance much like a local politician Daliwonga was named on the festival ballot but not actually part of the proceedings. A fact that festival organizers only notified the crowd 10 minutes before he was scheduled to perform, and yet he hadn't travelled to Harare at all. A bit of a disservice to fans who had come specifically for him.

Yet these are only thoughts that occur in reflection because at the moment my disappointment only lasted for about 8 minutes and a few odd seconds because Murumba Pitch then took to the stage with the promise of extended time. I can't help but describe the duo as a class act. It was a well-rounded performance incorporating vocals, instrumentation and ability on the decks. The duo were outstanding.

The 2023 Jacaranda Music Festival: A Review
Murumba Pitch performing at the Jacaranda Music Festival
Image: Twitter/jimshinky 

Those Guys Vacho started us off just right on Friday night, with equally brilliant performances coming from Jason Le Roux and Mannex Motsi. An unexpected surprise because little was known of the latter to me, yet with his staff in hand he delivered a serenading reggae performance. Taking us down memory lane with local and global hits like "Ndobaikana Mumoyo", "Kanyama Karipi", "Lion In Zion" and "The Way You Do The Things You Do".

The 2023 Jacaranda Music Festival: A Review
Mannex Motsi performing at the Jacaranda Music Festival
Image: Twitter/jimshinky 

As a House lover, Friday night was the story of Murumba Pitch and Jason Le Roux. In fact, the festival as a whole was in fair regard, a House lover's paradise. It was a buffet of the genre elements, with a serving of the rave, the soulful, the tribal, the ancestral, the techno and the log drum. Jason Le Roux, Murumba Pitch, Ami Faku, Black Motion, DJ Nacheit, and Sun El Musician. 

Lady Smith Black Mambazo performing at the Jacaranda Music Festival
Image: Twitter/jimshinky

The 2023 Jacaranda Music Festival was a stage for performers. You couldn't sail through your set on the popularity of your hits alone or else the person coming next would put your efforts to shame. The meaning behind the music was mostly lost in translation but Lady Smith's Black Mambazo was certainly one of Saturday's outstanding acts. It was easy to see why they have the most Grammy Awards on the continent.

The 2023 Jacaranda Music Festival: A Review
ExQ performing at the Jacaranda Music Festival
Image: Twitter/jimshinky

As the night went on "Ndozvandomudira mwana iyeye..." blared out from the speakers and Mr Putiti was greeted with a raucous welcome. ExQ gave us an exceptional performance and you could almost argue that he should've been lined up as a closer. From "Maidei", to "Msikanzwa" and "Sweeter". We journeyed across the very best of ExQ's two decades of artistry. He made the album of the year sound even better live.

Ami Faku performing at the Jacaranda Music Festival
Image: Twitter/jimshinky

Ami Faku had me deep within my emotions with a soul-clutching rendition of "Abalele", coming right after "Asibe Happy", with songs flowing into each other effortlessly. It was rich and soulful, almost like worship music. It was a performance that moved you. 

Black Motion came on right after her and they were so enthralling. They didn't kick off their set with as much fanfare as I expected (Following that Abalele's performance would've been tough for anyone). Still, you wouldn't believe the eruption of noise that greeted them when they transitioned into Enzo Ishall's "Siki" during their performance. What a transition that was too.

The 2023 Jacaranda Music Festival: A Review

Black Motion performing at the Jacaranda Music Festival
Image: Twitter/jimshinky

The Ndlovu Youth Choir quite simply stole the show on Sunday. They put on a display of beautiful harmony, a conjoining of sensational voices far greater than the sum of its parts. You more than understand why they are "World Famous". They performed stirring renditions of Oliver Mtukudzi's "Neria", Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata" and Toto's "Africa".

Although I wouldn't say I witnessed a bad performance, a few acts didn't quite live up to the billing but overall it's quite easy to gloss over them. In reflection, it feels like maybe they were more outshined by the talent on display, rather than having some fault of their own. 

Judith Sephuma was another act little known to me but what a voice she has. She was undoubtedly one of my highlights on Sunday, alongside Alexio Kawara who took us on a trip down memory lane with Urban Grooves. Ammara Brown was a pulsating force of energy on stage as she took us through her rather impressive catalogue of hits. The songstress also surprised us mid-set by bringing out Anita Jaxson for a performance of their collaboration "Mama". 

When Sun El Musician finally shut down the festival on Sunday night it was almost a transcendent experience. The beat matching in how he overlayed his tracks was music in harmony, with near-perfect transition timing. We were an orchestra of hundreds of dancers, with Sun El as the conductor, using the decks as his wand.

In addition to the outstanding headliners, the festival had many sub narratives which remained in memory. During their performance together, Selmor Mtukudzi and Tendai Manatsa invited their son to perform one of his grandfather Oliver Mtukudzi's hit songs. It was one of those moments that pull on your heartstrings. 

Another such memorable moment was when Mokoomba's Trust Samende had us singing "Munomupireiko doro, munomupireiko hwahwa" at the top of our voices with his phenomenal guitar work.

All three days Chiweddar ensured there wasn't a pause to our musical experience as he handled the decks during intermissions. He had a bit of a stutter in the beginning on Friday but kept getting better and better as the festival went on. Although he did play All Is I Do Win he can certainly be forgiven because his track selection was brilliant. I can only fault him for his transitions, but when each track selected is greeted by an approving chorus of more than a thousand voices, critiquing transitions feels rather pedantic. 

It's been hard for me to decide which act was my favourite performance. If you forced my hand, it would have to be the roll of a four-sided dice featuring ExQ, Ndlovu Youth Choir, Murumba Pitch and Sun El Musician. I couldn't fault you for whichever one of the four you picked. The music was moving, the food stalls divine and while people still argue over what sounds better between Spotify and Apple Music, the Jacaranda Music Festival sound engineers might be ahead of both.

As I reflected (while slumbering from the exhaustion of an overworked liver among other organs) on the drive home Sunday night, I circled over two thoughts. One was that I couldn't believe I had to wait another year to catch such a high and the second one was wondering why I don't bank with Stanbic.

Until 3 October 2024, when once again the mantra of Harare becomes "The city, the people, the music".

Greedysouth rating: 8.5/10

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