Illustrations by the talented Jonathan Smith
Mieliepop 2017 was 3 days of paradise. Quirky utopian village of the Mielie Republic which pops up in Mpumalanga forestland once a year harnesses all the positive vibes of the long weekend, swirls them around with the best of our local music and pours out a cocktail of that good ol’ peace, love and light stuff on the rocks.
Have a look at why Mieliepop is one of South Africa’s very best music festivals.
Tolderia Resort in Lothair was gleaming below perfect South African skies on Day 1. Getting in and setting up was super chilled and easy because it’s such a small festival (part of it’s awesomeness). The camping area, a mixture of fairy-light adorned tents and decked out hippy vans of festival veterans, was just a tiny glimpse of the whimsy that was to come of Mieliepop.
Once you enter the festival grounds where all the magic happens, good vibes immediately take hold. The Warm sun beats down, people are floating by on unicorn lilo’s in the glistening river while others lounge around lush grass on chairs resembling popcorn and slurping down craft beer. Others are indulging in a little yoga or hula-hooping. Bubbles float by the huge green Mieliepop sign indicating the territory of the Mielie Republic, below which a wooden deck dancefloor/chill area reaches over a stream, connecting itself to the mountain. Just behind this summer scene lies the rave cave, which stands empty in the afternoon; a strong and peaceful element of nature, draped in green creepers, waterfalls trickling down either side, but becomes the home of EDM and debauchery after sunset. In the forest just beyond the festival grounds you can find Yo.Go.Flow territory, which bares massive TPs visible from everywhere in the festival. Yo.Go.Flow is the yoga aspect to Mielipop- for an extra R100 you have access to tons of yoga classes and meditation sessions. Throughout the weekend you’ll see early rising yoginis on their way to a class or returning from a meditation session in the forest with a cup of strange tea. The Yo.Go.Flow aspect of Mieliepop is really indicative of the overall peaceful vibe of this fest.
The first day and night of a festival is always the drunken one. Everybody’s too keen and by 7pm umbrella straws are falling out of the umpteenth GnT and cigarettes are being lit backwards and you’re preaching with the utmost conviction about how everyday life should be like music festivals. And then even though you’ve had enough to drink to stay drunk for the rest of your life there’s always a goddamn Jägermeister truck where one minute, good looking people enticing you with orange leis is not worth the taste of 56 herbs and spices in your mouth and the next minute you’re four unnecessary shots down, and you’re like wtf just happened.
Anyway despite the level of intoxication at least we were able to catch some music the first night, starting with new kids on the block, Luma. This dream pop project nailed their first performance ever- Jenny’s siren voice lured in an impressive crowd while Saul and Alex’s beats got them moving and vibing.
In fact, Luma got such a loose vibe going that we felt some party accessories would complement the night rather well. This started a very solid commitment to the hunt for a purple-haired woman we were tipped off about by a man who looked like Jimi Hendrix. Apparently everyone else at the festival was on the same mission, because if you stopped and listened really closely that night you could hear faint cries of “purple, purple…” or you’d ask a random person if they’d seen her they’d say “NO WAAAAY MAAAAN, I’m looking for her too! That’s crazy man! Where is she dude?!” She became this enigma and we were not giving up on Operation Find the Majestic Treat-Baring Purple Unicorn Woman.
At some point during the operation some of us got distracted by the upbeat Afro-Jive sounds of Hot Water Duo represented by frontman Donovan Copley and the beautiful Xoliswa Tom on vocals and percussion. People jammed out hard and there was definitely a feeling of being proud AF to be South African to hits like Wamkelekile and Tribal man and then the audience was drawn in even deeper by Xoliswa’s beautiful rendition of Qongqothwane (Miriam Makeba’s click song). Yoh, then the patriotism reached a whole new height. This band always has high energy thanks to Copley’s classic showmanship and enthusiasm and is always such a treat to see live.
Eventually we completed our mission in finding the Majestic Purple Unicorn Woman and due to a lot of drunken miscommunication, distraction and over-enthusiasm we ended up with way too many party accessories.
[Unfortunately the succeeding events cannot be accounted for and the story must skip ahead to day 2 of the festival]
After day one’s mistakes, day two has to start off with some fuel and this is when the A-maizy-ing food village is the most appreciated. And it is a-maizy-ing indeed. You’ve got the intimidatingly gorgeous chefs of Exotically Divine who serve equally intimidating-looking, but outstandingly delicious and beautiful coconut fried rice with veggies served in a huge lettuce leaf as a bowl. You can often find them brewing an interesting tea and they will offer you blessings when they hand you your food. Then you’ve got the essential and much sought-after Mother Cuppas serving coffee from their rad fold out tuk-tuk van thing; and the one and only go-to food truck of my crew’s choice- the humble Panini Bistro- a couple who makes the most delicious Panini’s and choc/caramel dipped waffles on sticks which are absolutely to die for. Other residents of the A-maizey-ing food village include: The Filthy Mustache, specialising in all things chip (so good for soaking up hangovers), Sumting Fresh, where the staff will break out into song while they assemble your food, The Brohemian- for pizza, Balkan Burger for crafty burgers and Pure pops who serve alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) popsicals- perfect for slurping on by the pool. Oh and there’s also a huge dude in dungarees selling all kinds of pork dishes, who was evidently born with a bottle of beer as a hand.
After some recovery time at Mielie Palace (which may sound majestic but is in fact a tent that’s so fucked it’s literally being held together by safety pins and tape), it was time to dive into the music- and what better way to begin than with Reggae masters Tidal Waves, aan wie jy can lekker lekker dans! As darkness embraced Mielie Republic again it was time for the much anticipated Capetonian band Medicine Boy. Lucy Kruger’s enchanting voice resonated throughout the valley like a gothic nymph enticing you over to the dark side. The duo feels like if the XX were touched by some dark magic, with 100 times the sexual tension. Bathed in evil lighting, they delivered a seamless set that was basically sex in the form of music.
Next up over at the main stage was Femi Koya to lighten things up a bit. Man, nothing sets the soul on fire quite like a nine-piece West African afro-beat jazz band infused with gospel and contemporary dance influences. Brass instruments screamed from the stage as the South African audience jived to West-African-founded music about African unity in remembrance of the continent’s great musicians and freedom fighters; evoking a social and musical dialogue between west and south. Femi Koya’s ensemble captures cultural integration and bursts forth a whole lot of love in their tunes.
SA favs (and some of my personal favs) Grassy Spark, Fuzigish and Bye Beneco were still to come but at that point the previous night’s leftovers had been dug into and our crew really needed a warm and fuzzy chat sesh at Mielie Palace. We discussed in wanky detail every philosophical aspect of life and the endless love that the universe has to offer. It was nice. We realised we had been talking about Nietzsche and the intricacies of the Greek Tragedy for three hours (lol so wanky) when the ethereal sound of Bye Beneco came drifting from the festival grounds. Thanks to the acoustics of a valley we could hear them playing a set that makes you think “wow, we have some fucking rad musicians in this country.” Also, the trio’s vibe complements a chill MD high very well, I must say.
2am in the Mielie Republic is pretty magical; the atmosphere is whimsical, everybody’s dancing and there’s glitter everywhere. So much glitter. The bar’s dance floor was kind of like a flashback to the days of Bob’s. Bobbejaan djs were blasting classic feel-good throwbacks reminiscent of a Bob’s playlist. It was a vibe.
One of the best parts about Mieliepop is that there’s a goddamn forest to have an adventure in. So under Molly’s spell, five young party people ventured through fences and over ditches… and past a llama enclosure (Guys. Wtf. Why was that there actually?). Anyway, into the wilderness we ventured. And as the party gods would have it, we found some hammocks to lie in and indulge in some green magic. Which meant that we had to walk back high as fuck; and whilst getting lost and falling over guide ropes of giant TP’s, we discussed how gaps between the clouds were like little windows into the universe. We all agreed that if there had been no clouds and we could have seen the whole universe, we would have freaked the fuck out.
Ah, the final day. The perfect time to indulge in all the chill options Mieliepop has to offer, such as,
- Chilling on the soft AF grass and watching the crazy shit that floats by on the river
- Hanging out in the pool and being one with the warm sun
- Yoga and meditation in the forest
- Making some white wine spritzers and catching the comedy barge
The comedy barge was perfect for Mieliepop’s chilled vibes and a great way to enjoy the river and lake at Tolderia. It would have been better if the comedy wasn’t literally all just dick jokes.
When night time rolls around The Tazers break out their rock n roll vibes and some tracks from their bangin’ EP Love Machine. And then we head to BCUC. Watching this band is a spiritual experience. An impassioned and charismatic Jovi Nkosi, in a fever of inspiration, delivers politically and spiritually inspired lyrics and monologues to an entranced audience. The Soweto-hailing band is inspired by indigenous music fused with the contemporary and confronts the history and future of African people, placing major emphasis on human connection. Their deeply percussive sound nuanced by rad guitar tunes, rapping and chants alongside their emotive message represents the modern Africa and, so close to the end of this festival, ties up the Mieliepop vibe so well: a peaceful coming together for the love of music and expression in a Modern African country.
So, with the fest coming to its close, who better to be the cherry on top than the much adored, All-South-African Shortstraw? As usual, they channel all the good vibes and dancing with their upbeat sound, quirky lyrics and charisma. They survive Tom breaking his guitar and taping it together (very audibly) onstage and deliver a set perfect for the slightly older long-time fans, complete with throwback hit Keanu Reeves.
Mieliepop was a perfect weekend of peace and positivity. Everybody I spoke to the entire time talked about how good the vibes were. It made Oppikoppi look like your scary uncle in jail with a missing limb and unmentionable charges, or something like that. South Africa has such an incredible music scene that is evidently loved, appreciated and indulged in. This is certainly one of SA’s absolute top-notch festivals and should be a must for live music lovers and fun-time enthusiasts alike.
Thanks Jonny for your fucking rad illustrations! check out this guy’s band: