South Africa
Durban,South Africa(Jun 18, 2011)

Durban,South Africa

Now in its third year, the not-for-profit, Glastonbury-meets-safari-camp, international music festival bills itself as "a musical experience in the cradle of mankind", bringing together east African and international artists.

All proceeds go towards local grassroots education, sanitation and environmental projects. Around 2,000 people - a mix of Kenyans and international travellers - attended in 2010, but by 2011 the small word-of-mouth gathering had become a 5,000-capacity celebration.

Ed Williams's PA company Kenya EdTheMix will be technically supporting the festival again in 2012, rolling out a Turbosound Flex Array system again comprising 9 TFA-600H a side over 6 S-218 subwoofers. The company's recently purchased C-5215 floor monitors and RACKDP-50 multi-channel DSP amplifiers will form the stage monitor system. The secondary stage will be powered by the well proven TQ-440 / TQ-425 rig with Milan Mi5s on monitor duties. DJ sets in the bar will be supported by Milan S18 and NUQ12, with Mi0s for DJ monitors.

The Rift Valley Festival is definitely off the beaten track, about an hour-and-a-half from Nairobi, situated on a big grassy plain surrounded by tall trees with just one stage, right in the middle. During last year's daytime event the festival seemed fairly sedate with Nairobi city workers and their families spreading out picnics on the grass, while local Masai tribesmen, resplendent in their red shuka wraps, patrolled the site - they had been employed by the festival to act as security, keeping an eye on things and helping people pitch their tents.

However once it got dark - which happens quite early in these parts, around 6pm - the party atmosphere started to build. The music started at around the same time and the crowd were up and dancing as soon as it began.

The diverse music programme covers local and international artists, bringing together traditional African roots and global music influenced by African beats. Last year, one highlight was Kenyan musician and Peter Gabriel favourite Ayub Ogada, whose plaintive vocals and nyatiti (a lyre-like string instrument) have been used extensively in film, most notably in The Constant Gardener. When he performed, the energetic crowd stood perfectly still. Osogo Winyo, another Kenyan, had the opposite effect: his beat-heavy, harmonica-led songs had them dancing like crazy.

If you're a fan of Afrobeat music, you will love this event. Many acts waived usually large fees to appear and, despite technical glitches, power cuts and deafening thunderstorms that put acts scheduled for 9pm back to 2am, the atmosphere after dark each evening (somewhat compounded by generous quantities of Tusker beer) was, in typical African fashion, one of irrepressible fun.

Big smoky barbecues blazed all night, upturned beer crates became makeshift bars to lubricate the happy, dancing crowds, and the music was only occasionally interrupted by a bowel-rumbling groan from beyond the electric fence put up at night to keep out the hippos that live in the lake.

The setting, beside Lake Naivasha adds a lot. It was hard to grasp the size of the lake while standing on the banks, but at 139 square km, it's so big it can be seen from space. A short distance away from the tents was a wobbly jetty over the latte-coloured water, from which festival-goers could take boat trips to observe the hippos. Some were difficult to see, hiding beneath the surface with only their ears and nostrils exposed, but they reared up when they heard the boat coming.

When you're in the Rift Valley, you don't necessarily want to spend your days in festival grounds. Several people who were on safari and staying in fancy lodges (such as the gorgeous, giraffe-surrounded Mara Simba Lodge, where, if you ask nicely, they'll let you use the pool) just came down to listen to the music in the evenings after an afternoon's lion watching.

If the festival's growth over the past two years is anything to go by, this year's event will be even bigger: acts confirmed so far for 2012 include JStar, Frankie Francis and the Owiny Sigoma Band. But the Rift Valley Festival already feels big and special. It is quite unlike anything else - a combination of proper festival atmosphere and safari spirit.

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