Black Girl Festival Guide

…or any other apocalyptic event that may befall us in the new SA

Words: Sibu Mabusela | Photography: Sibu Mabusela's Facebook page

Anyone who’s ever been to a South African music festival will tell that not many of my people venture into this world, and constitute only a tiny percentage of attendees. Fortunately for those black girls who are reading this in the hopes of gaining insights into surviving this, I have found myself in that small percentage on many occasions. 

Over the years, my love for music has got me into many a situation. From a nine-hour cross-country drive with someone suffering from severe food poisoning, who refused to let the driver stop the car, to partying alongside some of our country's most-loved B-list celebrities, I’ve seen and been through the literal most. But still I soldiered on, because at two in the afternoon, when everyone’s under the sponsored tent listening to an unknown indie band from Brazil, or a super dope rendition of 'Home' sung by Laurie Levine and Josie Field, everything seems right in the world. Looking back fondly at those years, I decided it was time to share my knowledge with the masses (or minority in this case), compiling my very own “how-to list” on surviving a music festival when you're a black girl.

Now let’s get just one thing straight from the get-go – I’m not referring to the mundane things like how to pitch a tent, or mastering the art of a “shower in a cup”, because quite frankly, our ancestors have been doing that for centuries. I’m referring to a hardcore survival guide that you won’t find anywhere else on the internet. Yet. This is the black girl’s guide to surviving a music festival.


Your skin (read: face) will be touched, often followed by a “Wow, you have such beautiful/soft skin” or an, “Oh my gosh, you’re so lucky you don’t have to wear sunscreen!” Embrace it, because such are the perks of that melanin glow when the African sun hits you just right. Plus, you’re probably going to run into Roxie (girl who touched you) later on in the beer tent when you’ve lost all your mates, dignity, and/or your wallet – and that’s when she’ll offer to share the contents of her hip flask with you, while introducing you to her rather large group of friends. Did I mention that Roxie is dating one of the sound engineers? So depending on how close you guys get, he may or may not introduce you to some of our country’s biggest B-list celebrities.

Please don't touch

About your hair. No matter what you do, it will be the centre of discussion at one point or another. Braids will have a "Stacy" asking (while in line for the porta potty mind you) if you could do the same to hers. A weave will have a confused "James" on some “how’d you get your hair like that?” steeze. And an afro, no matter how big or small, will have people reaching out, to touch it, asking how you get it so soft. The way I see it is, you’ve just been given a five-minute opening to talk about your whole life. Use it to practise your elevator pitch, speak about your childhood, your ambitions and where you want to go in life. Mad at an ex-best-friend? Get it off your chest, because whether or not it relates to what your hair looks like, someone is willing to listen to what you have to say, so I say use it. Who knows, the end of that discussion may lead to you finishing off with an “oh, so your dad invests in small businesses does he?”

Get Acquainted

Make Afrikaans-speaking friends (yes, you read that right – get you a Boer homie). They’re the ones with the endless supply of Klippies and Coke, Old Brown Sedgwick's and random boerie rolls made on an actual braai. Did I mention that the Afrikaans guy is really good at helping you set up your tent? Cause he is. I’m not sure what it is about them, (maybe it’s all the years their people spent wandering the South African veld?) but one thing's for sure, they’re always the most prepared. Forgot your sleeping bag at home? Johan and his mates have a spare you can borrow. Craving a little eggs benedict with a side of tomato/onion mix in the AM? Kobus will certainly hook you up. They’re also the ones who are more likely to give you a jumpstart when your car's broken down on Sunday morning, because they always seem to have jumper cables in their boot. So when you’re spending hours in the queue on a Friday afternoon, and you meet someone from Nieu Bethesda, the Karoo or Potchefstroom, make sure you get well-acquainted.

Down by the riverside

During your time at the festival, you’ll want to head down to the river/damn, even if you don’t intend on swimming (because you know – hair). So go ahead, put your feet in the water and soak in the Red Bull truck blasting deep house music, where an Afro’d DJ is ready to play you a rendition of Black Coffee’s three-hour Mixmag session. It may not sound like it – but it’s a vibe – and it also provides the most amazing light for those Insta snaps. I don’t know why, it’s probably just how the sun hits the water giving you just the right amount of festival aesthetic.

Aweh JP

When the big day finally arrives and the headliner you’ve been dying to see hits the stage, you’ll meet a fist-pumping "JP" who looks like he may or may not crunch Creatine and a dozen other supplements for breakfast. JP, who'll be wearing rugga shorts, a lumo vest and flip-flops, is also the guy who’ll turn to you, look you straight in the eye and say: “You know what, I really hate racism!” He’ll also probably say something about his deep and undying love for uTata uMandela and how he just doesn’t understand why we can’t all get along. Congratulations! You’ve just met the “I hate racism guy” and it’s only about to get better. “I hate racism guy" will also say the five Nguni words he learnt from his best mate Sipho (aka Seeps), because he's convinced he too can speak “Khoza”. Our homeboy, by now, is convinced you two are besties and has just the guy in mind for you – his best mate Seeps – who will entertain the introduction of course, even though you both know he’s really into short, blonde betties. At first glance, these guys may seem like douchebags, and you may or may not want to tell them where to get off, but before you do, note that they’re the only guys at the festival who’ve been training all year to put someone on their shoulders, and are also the only two who have enough stamina to allow your dancing self to stay up there for all 45 minutes. That someone may as well be you. So go on and embrace it, let your inner dancing butterfly come to life as you sit perched atop your new best friend JP’s shoulders, singing along to Mac Miller's ‘Cinderella’. Cause if this isn’t a #rainbownation-worthy picture perfect moment, I’m not sure I know what is.

Spice of Life

Stay away from the curry and samoosas. This may seem like a great place to be on a rough morning but trust me, they’re not a good life choice. Especially considering you and however many thousand people will be using nothing but porta potties (where the "Stacys"of this world seem to congregate) for the next three days. Stick to water and small portions of food, and save your Durban-inspired cravings for home, or times when the toilet situation isn’t so, uhm, unique.

The Real J-money

By this time, the drinks have been flowing, the vibe is going and it would be a great time to hit the electro tent. Chances are you’re going to be the best dancer there, even though it may have to be to a remixed version of a Martin Garrix and Tiesto song from two years ago, or a dirty bass remix of 'Nkalakatha'. Unless of course, J-money is there, then step away from the dancefloor. You can spot J-money a mile away. He'll be in a NY snapback (the right way around), high-tops and a longline tee. And he’ll try to take you on in a dance battle – I mean, he’s only been prepping for it since he first saw Stomp The Yard and Step Up, and has been enrolled in dance lessons ever since. So if it’s not too late, now would be the perfect time to moonwalk away, graciously.

Now that you’re fully prepped for festival living, go forth and have a great time this festival season.

And always remember – wash your hands, stay hydrated, and don’t try and save any little girls who claim they “genuinely didn’t know” about feminism, racism and the dismantling of an oppressive patriarchal system – you are not an alarm clock. You need not wake anybody up.

Also, remember to pack coconut oil, it literally fixes everything.