Take one tropical island in the sun, add sweet reggae music from all corners of the globe, mix together vigorously for 5 days in a little seaside village called St Leu and what you get is a thing called Sakifo. Reunion Island's biggest music festival. Sakifo, literally means, 'that which must happen' in Creole. And upon visiting the island you realise why this festival must happen. Because Reunion is a long way from anywhere - especially La France, who claim the territory as part and parcel of their national make up. It's also the closest first world country to the Republic of South Africa. Without a huge international festival like Sakifo, the Reunionnaises would feel very, very isolated.
'We love going to Reunion and Sakifo.' Confirms Pedro Da Silva Pinto, 340ml's frontman. 'It's like being at home but with an amazing European style music festival in your backyard. It's like being in Europe and in Africa at the same time. Reunion reminds me of a mashed up Maputo and Paris.'
But why pay to bring out a South African hip hop act, an Mzansi-based Mozambican dub outfit and a dark post-Electro band from Cape Town that no-one in Reunion has heard of? Surely they should simply import the latest and greatest from the French and European Pop Charts.
Thankfully the Sakifo Festival endeavours to represent both the region and the tastes of the average Reunionnais. Which is why there is such a large spotlight on reggae music. Because let's face it, if you moved from France to a small volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, it wouldn't take long before you were into reggae music too.
Festival organiser, and chief protagonist Jerome Galabert knows that the crowds will come from far and wide to see the big acts like Patrice, Nigerian songbird Ayo, blind Malian world musos Amadou & Mariam, French gangster rapper Joeystarr. And thus has the liberty to break new, exciting and relatively unheard of artists in the opening slots. As long as the music speaks for itself.
'How do we choose the acts?' Asks Jerome rhetorically. 'With our nose...It's like a puzzle, you find one piece and you know it will fit. There are a few known names that bring the people in and then we match them with discoveries.'
'Many years ago 340ml played a show at Carfax alongside a band from the Reunion Island called Zong.' Explains 340ml and The Volume's guitarist, Tiago C Paulo. 'We liked their sound and they liked ours. They were accompanied by their manager Jerome and he spoke briefly to us about a festival he was putting together. We made the deal and a few months later we were flying to a volcano in the middle of the Indian ocean to play at the Sakifo Music Festival.'
The first year Sakifo started they invited 340ml and Max Normal to open for another South African, Johnny Clegg. That year 340ml played their fresh samba-infused Mozambican-bred ska and dub rhythms on the smaller free stage, the Massalé, in the middle of town - to rapturous applause.
'No doubt!' Opines Tumi Molekane from The Volume. 'Reggae is island music, they love that shit up in Reunion.'
Nowadays the 340ml dubstars are playing on the mainstage in La Ravine - in front of 6500+ happy smiling people. It's evident that as the chief promoter of Sakifo, Jerome plays a key roll in not just attracting the big guns to his festival, but also developing and nurturing younger fringe acts that they believe in.
'We've played Reunion Island 3 times, now.' Tumi Molekane from the Volume. 'First time we came, we played the free stage. We were given the opportunity to prove ourselves...Which we did. Now we're playing the main stage on the last night.'
And Sakifo's love affair with Tumi and the Volume doesn't end there. Sakifo productions have signed Tumi and The Volume with the aim of releasing their latest album in France and assuring the band a series of gigs across the French motherland. Granted the cash is not huge, but the potential exposure is. 340ml look certain to follow in their footsteps with a similar Sakifo deal - especially considering that both 340ml and Tumi and the Volume share two players. Which basically means you get two bands for the price of one and a half - when it comes to airfares and accommodation. It also brings in an element of competition.
'Competition is a nasty word.' Says Tiago. We're Siamese twins, joint at the hip. Sakifo works more often with Tumi and the Volume right now. They're our management for the whole of Europe. Sakifo wants to work with 340ml too. But right now 340ml is more focused on finishing the new album, when that's done we'll start talking management and distribution.
'Having the album released in France is a milestone for us.' Says Tumi. 'After being in Europe a couple of times you get a sense that the music industry has changed a lot, and getting your album in stores is not so easy.'
Yet, it's still hard to understand why a predominantly French Festival chooses to put so much time, effort and support behind South African musicians who can hardly speak the language. Until you speak to Jerome.
'I love South Africa! I think it is a brilliant country with huge opportunities. Like many places in the world there are lots of difficulties, but I love the way people face those difficulties. I get the feeling that the story is being written everyday. I will definitely carry on working in SA. No matter the language barrier. Music is the language. I think there is a special line between South Africa and Reunion Island, to reinforce. Reunion is interesting because it's a small piece of Europe, a small piece of France amidst all these independent countries. But it can be an advantage. A relay in South/North business relationships. And I am extremely proud if we can take artists like Tumi and The Volume and 340ml to France then Europe. As well as bringing artists from this region to Africa.'
'It's another gateway into Europe.' Says Tumi. 'In terms of the music, the festival exposes you to a different world of music. It's dope to see our drummer Paulo Chibanga next to Patrice and kicking it, along with Ismael Lo and Amadou and Mariam. There's a whole link to West African musicians that we don't get in South Africa...unless you hang out in Yeoville.'
The larger than life figure of Tumi Molekane, on the stage, backlit in blue, steps to the Mic.
'Do you want to be apart of the beat?
Come say it with me...
I wanna be apart of the beat?'
The crowd look up at the big black man on the microphone and many a perplexed face contorts with le French frown. They do not answer, 'I wanna be apart of the beat!' as they should at a Tumi and The Volume gig. Probably because the English word 'beat' sounds a lot like the French word bite (pronounced beet) - which means dick . Do they want to be apart of the bite - non merci . But they certainly want to be apart of what Tumi is delivering, whether they understand it or not. This is evident in the volcanic eruption of applause after each song.
' It's really hard playing for people who don't know your music.' Says Tiago. 'You have to be a lot more engaging in every sense while you perform.'
In terms of the crossover, we still have some way to go before our message stops getting lost in translation. But the future of Sakifo is certain. And South African musos are set to play an increasingly important role.
'Sakifo is a great festival because of the audiences.' Tiago continues. 'They're avid music lovers who aren't looking for the next best thing or what's cool according to radio. If you're good they'll tell you and show you, and if you suck they won't say anything, they'll just leave to watch someone else performing on one of the other 4 or 5 stages.'