Johannesburg is not an easy place in which to exist. We’ve got electricity problems and water problems and crime problems. Obtaining a visa to live in South Africa is a near-impossible task that keeps getting harder. I don’t like to admit this, but sometimes I wonder why I still live here.
But inevitably, right at the moment when I begin to lose hope, something like the Brixton Light Festival happens and I realize I’d be a fool to live anywhere else.
I moved to Brixton four months ago and I already knew what a vibrant neighborhood it is, filled with talented, diverse, deeply creative people. I’d seen beautiful pictures of last year’s Brixton Light Festival so I knew this year’s event would probably be just as fabulous. Also I was tangentially involved in preparations for this year’s festival and thought I had a good idea of what was to come.
But nothing could have prepared me for the real thing, which happened on Sunday night, or how it would make me feel. The Brixton Light Festival was, literally, electrifying. I’m still electrified now, 48 hours later.
What Is the Brixton Light Festival?
The first Brixton Light Festival happened in December 2020 and it will henceforth be an annual event. The festival is planned and run by volunteers in the community and is purely a celebration of Brixton’s creative spirit.
The theme of this year’s festival was “Creatures of the Light” and it was postponed and rescheduled twice, due to Omicron and bad weather. Lots of people worked their butts off to make it happen, for little or no financial compensation. But I need to especially recognize the two Badass Queens of the Brixton Light Fest, Tamzyn Botha (Limb) and Sophia Welz. These women are visionaries and they created something utterly unique and joyful under the most trying of circumstances. I’m in awe of (perhaps slightly obsessed with) Tamzyn and Sophia and their badass festival vibes.
Brixton Light Festival: The Lineup
The festival started late in the afternoon in Kingston Frost Park, where participants mingled and ate local food and admired the parade floats.
Then the parade kicked off at nightfall, with a Pantsula performance and the Brixton Tower lighting.
Once the parade really got going I went totally mad, running up and down the street and weaving among the hordes of people, nearly falling/knocking over others, and shooting messy watercolors as I cried tears of unadulterated joy. I wasn’t alone, either. The Brixton Light Festival parade was a full-on frenzy of unadulterated joy.
Elzabé Zietsman, formerly of Zietsies, and pianist Tony Bentel performed opera from a towering rooftop. Masked ghosts fluttered behind burglar bars at a house on Chiswick Street, then reappeared later crouching above a street mural on Barnes Road. Red smoke poured through Breezeblock‘s front door at the corner of Chiswick and Fulham, where the Field Band and its whirling dervishes burst onto the scene. The House of Iranti was lit up like a giant rainbow.
The parade surged down the alleyway near the corner of Wimbledon and Barnes, which was filled with art made specifically for the festival.
It was really crowded in the alley and I wasn’t able to photograph the exhibitions very well. So I’ll share some alley photos that I took before the festival started:
The parade crescendoed in front of the Brixton Kerk with uKhoiKhoi. Then we continued back into Kingston Frost Park, where we enjoyed one more performance by the Field Band and a mini recital at the swing set by Moving Into Dance.
After the last performance, Thorsten and I trudged, exhausted, back to the parade starting point and discovered with immense relief that the food vendors were still there. I had been too excited to eat before and was starved. Thank you Erica for serving us delicious lentil stew in plastic cups, and Ashley for gifting us your last roti. It was the perfect end to a perfect evening.
Thanks, Brixton, for reminding me why I keep on choosing to live in Joburg.
As I’m sure you can imagine, there were many huge contributors to the Brixton Light Festival — lighting and sound engineers, logistics consultants, security professionals, and other crew members and behind-scenes people — who I didn’t mention in this post. If any of you are reading this, please accept a massive thank on behalf of me and the hundreds of other people who are still buzzing with joy from this amazing event. (Please see this Shade Instagram post for a comprehensive list of credits.)
If you are a potential sponsor (or anyone with money) and looking for a great Joburg cultural event to support in the future, I highly recommend you consider the Brixton Light Festival.