«The temple» is burning. A gentle heat rushes over my face. At this moment, the desert of silence has reasserted itself. The flames stretch skyward taking with them the message I affixed to the soft wood of the
structure: «Everything is ephemeral.» Yet AfrikaBurn’s flame still continues to burn, deep in my soul. Throwback to a lifetime experience.

«This is not a music festival. This is not an art festival. This is a temporary artistic experience, in community and in total autonomy». With these few sentences found in the AfrikaBurn Survival Guide, I discovered the universe and the philosophy of this «festival».

The first edition of AfrikaBurn took place ten years ago. After three years of meeting, organizing, bargaining with the Black Rock Art Foundation – created in 2001 by some of the organizers of the Burning Man festival – the concept finally emerged. Like its big brother, the principle remained the same: the desert, a temporary city, artistic activities, both incongruous and foolish, a burning love of life anda philosophy based on respect and sharing.
«You exist. You build camps, art, and mutant vehicles. You are the artist – and the public. There is no ‘them’ – it’s just us, and we are all together»- from the AfrikaBurn Survival Guide-.

AfrikaBurns festival, South AfricaAs I read these words, I feel the fire burning in me. A desire to live this experience, diving into the unknown, back to basics. Thus, having bought myticket online, I put a red cross on my calendar, to April 27, 2015. That day, I will become a «Burner». I met some «Burners», happiness recidivists, a few months prior to that date. «To make the most of the event, it takes a minimum of preparation”, advises me Jason, who participated last year.

And to live in total autonomy in the desert for a week, this minimum quickly becomes a challenge. Tents, camping equipment, food and water (five liters per person per day), costumes and transportation to bring all these people in the desert. «The only thing that you can buy on the spot is ice. Better bring something that’s thirst quenching! «, He concludes.
At this point, I did not know that Jason would be with me for my first steps on the planet «Burn.» Today is the 27 April and we have been driving for 3 hours. Destination point: «Tankwa-Karoo», a semi-arid desert located 330 kilometres north of Cape Town. At each turn that brings us closer to our promised piece of desert, my heart starts racing. These few months of preparation grew in me an excitement that is expressed openly at this moment. We stop by the gates of the site. We present our ticket that gets us a bracelet, as in any festival. But the comparison stops there.

Before launching its «burn» each neo-burner must comply with a series of rituals. The first is to pour a handful of sand on his head to soak up the place and to be one with the desert. Then he is asked to ring a gong to announce his presence and mark the beginning of his experience. Finally, the neo-burner must promise to follow the rules of the burn and respect the others and the surrounding nature. A promise sealed by putting the imprint of his hand, previously painted in a chosen colour, on a huge white wall. I did so.

«Welcome to the Burn,» Jason whispered.

I then walked across this imaginary line that splits the desert. One that separates the known from the unknown. Behind me, I leave the civilized and ultra-connected world. In front of me, in this suspended universe, money and time do not exist. Watches and smartphones no longer have their place. During these 7 days, the sun will become a common reference, accurately timing every burner’s own adventures.

The first day of the adventure consists of setting one’s camp. In this desert where the temperature rapidly reaches 40° C, the shade is a luxury one can’t live without. Some will choose to create a pleasant and functional space. Others will engage in theme camps, more or less extravagant: cinema space, Derby-Roller Track to take part in wild races or an open stage for a Punk-Rock concert. There is some for everyone.

People at AfrikaburnI take full advantage of this day to get familiarized with the site and Tankwa Town’s rules. The event is governed by a set of principles that promote inclusion, civic responsibility and active participation.
Leave no trace is also an essential part of AfrikaBurn. I don’t think that the sun is aware of it. During its first sunset, it set the sky alight and marks its territory. It engulfed my vision and pushed my thoughts away. Everything I expected!
All around me, thousands of people wearing costumes as extravagant as wacky. In my African King outfit, I walk the streets of this ephemeral city: I pause to enjoy gypsy concert, talk with an 8 years old girl who is attending her 5th «Burn», I play djembe with a Zulu warrior, photograph the huge sculptures that will soon disappear among the flames, I write my thoughts on one of them, jump on a tarantula-like vehicle, embrace the sunset to the sound of bagpipes and fall asleep under a tree with roots as soft as cotton.

The friendships we make at AfrikaBurn are reinforced by the shared experience to exist harmoniously in such a hostile environment. At every meeting, every discussion, I cannot help but think of the African philosophy of «Ubuntu». «Ubuntu» is a concept that everyone knows, but that (too) few people apply. It is that of a mutual incentive, a sharing, a mutual interdependence between human beings.

This concept germinated in me throughout my adventure. I felt it and saw it during my encounters, my interactions. Like the time, my mind does not really exist. I let go and «follow the flow» to paraphrase a friend of mine. That’s when experience takes its full dimension: what is happening here is more than just entertainment. By giving me the power of the present moment, I allow myself to be who I am, to embody whoever I wish to be.

Fire show at AfrikaBurnsThe D-day of the Burns has arrived. The day that everyone expects, the one everyone dreads. There is beauty in this
temporary ceremony, but the human mind has trouble letting go. One by one, the artistic structures go up in smoke, leaving behind a great void, the desert. The excitement is at its peak, misty eyes meet. All these faces look so familiar to me: I am them, they are me. I thought I’d become a «burner» when arriving, but it is from the moment I left the Karoo that I became one. Before moving back to the other side of the imaginary line, I looked behind me one last time. The wind lifted the sand, whipping my face. In the middle of the tormented desert, I noticed a large colourful wall. A fresco of thousands of handprints that stood proudly. A gentle allegory of my adventure, seeming to brave the elements and defy time.

Afrikaburn : travel info

  • Afrikaburn 2016: from 25 April to 1st May.
  • Ticket price: 1000 Rands (about 60 euros).
  • Directions: Driving from Cape Town takes about 5 hours to reach the Tankwa-Karoo desertin the Western
    Province. Please note, the last two hours will be on a dirt road. Small vehicles often break down. Rather take
    the 4X4 instead of a Mini Cooper! (Do not forget the spare wheel).
  • Preparation time is very important. As explained in the article, it is advisable to read carefully the Survival Guide provided on the website before the d-day in orderto be in total autonomy (no shop / electricity / network): water (5 liters per person per day), food (think of bringing ice to keep your food at its best ), tents (the widest possible to be comfortable there, it will be your home for a week), camping equipment (torches lamp, floor mat, sleeping bag, bowls, camel back, camping shower, first aid kit, etc.), warm clothing for the night and light ones for the day. If you want more comfort, you can come in campigng-car. There is a lot of space!
  • The best part of the planning process is creating your costumes: be creative, be crazy! You will see that they will become like a second skin. They also allow your friends to find you in the crowd and especially to
    quickly make new friends.
  • Sandstorms are common in the desert and can quickly become unbearable. Remember to take clothing to
    protect your face: scarf, mask, sun glasses or even motorcycles mask. You will also need to have a bottle
    of water in handy at any time. The camel back will be your best ally at this moment!
  • On site, the only thing you can buy is ice. There is also a medical center that is opened 24h/7.
  • Information about this adventure can be found in the «AfrikaBurn Event Survival Guide» and can be uploaded
    from the website of the event : www.afrikaburn.com

Texte et photos Yann Macherez