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An Afropunk Rebirth – A Cultural Awakening in Joburg

The global fest AFROPUNK came to Africa for the first time.

In light of this event, Once in Joburg offered an Afro-centric event called the Rebirth Festival. A variety of experiences were on offer prior to the AFROPUNK Festival; expanding guests Afro experience beyond the festival gates.

An Afropunk Rebirth – A Cultural Awakening in Joburg


A city is a city, they say. Concrete is concrete and suits are suits. It’s always been refreshing for me to hear a non-native speak highly of Johannesburg as a place to visit because like my own bustling hometown Nairobi, it gets overlooked as a place for business and just where your plane has to land before you get to the real goodies of the country. SO not the case.

To wrap up 2017 two celebrations of Africanness and blackness lit up Egoli and served as a reminder of (or a new introduction to) the soul of the city. The first AFROPUNK Fest in Africa and the Rebirth Festival’s celebration of all things Pan-African could hardly have chosen a better home.

From various traditional dinners to city tours and home visits with locals, 3 days of Rebirth Fest warmed us all up to a more calm Johannesburg than exists the rest of the year. It was almost as if the usual distractions and bustle of the city had been taken out so we could each discover – or re-discover – how much of Africa has been brought over, remixed and reborn right in it. It was strategic and it worked. 

Day 1 - Wednesday: Lulled into a food coma with a traditional Zulu dinner by Chef D and gin cocktails. Enticed with teasers of what’s coming like some light drumming, singing and story-telling over more gin. That cosy-looking cinema we’ve all been eyeing is now open for our enjoyment to watch a documentary on Mama Africa - Miriam Makeba. After the efforts of her and her peers in uniting Africa through music and other means, why are we in the same place of disconnection, still? Interesting. Perfect start to some necessary conversations. To be continued.

Traditional Zulu meal

Day 2 - Thursday: Braam rock my life! Nice and refreshed after a hearty dinner it’s time to get active and get to know Braamfontein – I’ve called dibs on the gold bicycle. We whiz through the past (Kitchener’s, a 100-year-old pub), the future (RHTC, a collective of fresh young local clothing brands) and the transient (ever-changing graffiti and murals celebrated by the annual street art festival).

Kitcheners Bar

After taking in the 360˚ views from Randlords, a 22nd-storey rooftop bar and peeking into the Joburg Theatre, it’s time to grab a beer and some lunch at a nearby shebeen (local pub). Our guides Zodwa and Lakhi explain to us that shebeens were illegal during the apartheid regime, but that of course did not stop people who simply boarded up the windows (if there were any) and many still retain the dark (and cool!) interior today. Lunch is a delicious serving of pap with fried chicken, butternut and chakalaka. Always a treat to see people’s reactions to eating with their hands for the first time. Back to once we cycle and all anyone can talk about is a nap.

Randlords Rooftop bar Johannesburg

Before we know it it’s time to be fed again – food, entertainment and inspiration. Our hostess for the night, Muzi Zuma, ups the stakes with her outfit game, inspired by her Zulu heritage. It’s time to reflect on what ‘Rebirth’ means to each of us over some bunny chow and poetry by Tshepo Molefe.

Soweto - Township dancing

Day 3 - Friday: The Soweto Stank Face. Today is a first for most of us in the group, visiting Soweto. Also having a beer-making workshop by Miriam who passes her knowledge of umqmbothi brewing to us as her mother did to her. A traditional beer tasting and lunch await us, but first, dancing.

Rebirth Fest - Soweto

Shaking your ass and hips is a part of our culture; it’s good for your soul. I don’t care what anyone says about that. If you don’t ache after a day or night of dancing were you even dancing?

Traditional African beer brewing

Traditional beer brewing experience - Rebirth Fest

For as long as I’ve been in this country (and that’s a good quarter of my life!) I’ve been told I looked like I was one of the Venda people who originate in Limpopo in the North of the country. It’s only right then this afternoon in Soweto homegirl joined the Venda dance – the only girl in the group and the baddest – that I felt like she looked like a combination of some of my cousins I couldn’t even pinpoint. I went up and said hello to Mimi who told me she was Tsonga but really at that stage did it even matter? She looked like our parents could have played together and retreated into her shell as soon as she wasn’t dancing like little me at Braeside Primary.

Back at Once the market is pumping and I bump into some more Kenyans selling their crafts. What fun people! Beautiful clothes and jewellery all around, one lady makes wine slushies out of her own wine brand (Diva), amazing. That ‘these people are going to be big, remember them’ vibe.

Rebirth Fest - Fashion exhibition


Day4: AFROPUNK is a state of being. It’s a festival that has managed to stay about the characters that attend and live the festival more than the performers, hence the slogan ‘We The People’. We’re the concert. We’re the power. We’re the attraction. We’re the party.


This day was the ultimate show of that for me. Lerato and I wondering if our cameras and bag sizes were acceptable according to the AFROPUNK festival do’s and don’ts, taking the short walk up to Constitutional Hill in a light drizzle and the magnificent hailstorm once we were through the festival gates. Huddling with strangers in the merch tents chuckling at the scene of people running and pool floats bouncing around in the rain. There was no sound from the official stage but the singing and dancing to old ‘struggle’ songs, served in that powerful harmony that nobody can quite lay down like South Africans. Before we knew it the storms had passed, we had tons of new friends, a rainbow appeared above the stage and everyone did the mud-dance towards it for the performances we had been looking forward to.

Only experiencing Day 1 of the festival was certainly a unique experience and although Lerato and I were sad to miss the 2nd and final day, I appreciated the atmosphere of good vibes and Pan-Africanism SO much. Singing along (incorrectly) to tunes in Ghanaian Twi, South African Venda and so much in between, keeping to our belief of dancing until we ached, encouraging dance-offs and ultimately celebrating individuality.


Ultimately this kid from Kenya went to bed having washed the mud off her feet from the day, climbed into bed ready to head home the next day and exhale the culture right into the new year. Here’s to being ungovernable. Viva Afrika.

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