So there I am, on a small, make-shift, plywood stage, covered in the yellow ochre dust of the desert. I’m in the Tankwa Karoo and I’m wearing a full-on corset, high-heeled patent leather stilettos, black gloves and a cerise and black bustle. My false eye-lashes bat against the wind. The generator hums somewhere back-stage as the lights flicker. The audience – some half-stoned, some half-drunk – cram together, cross-legged on the patchwork of mats, like school kids in assembly.
“Bare Necessities” I hear the MC say as she finishes her spiel. That’s me. I stumble onto the stage behind my partner in crime, Wonder Lust (her stage name) and we pose. The familiar Jungle Book song strikes up on the sound system and I’m dancing. I’m dancing in the desert. I’m dancing in the middle of nowhere, about 120 kilometres down a sand road and even further from the nearest petrol station. There’s no wifi, no internet, no electricity and no phone signal. I’m off the grid, in every sense of the word: Me and 13,000 others who’ve made the annual pilgrimage to Afrika Burn.
Out in the distance, enormous wooden structures loom in the fading light of dusk. As a thousand million stars twinkle in the endless desert sky, gigantic flames lick the inky darkness. Glowing skeletons are exposed beneath the burning artworks. Who built these things? Ordinary people, that’s who. People who gave up their weekends all year round to make the treacherous trek over stony ground to this remote and hostile place. People who carried wood and tools and water and food and shelter. People who toiled under the sun, the wind, the sand storms and the icy winter skies. They built these homages with their bare hands and now they burn them bright against the black night.
The music thumps out its bass across Temporary Tankwa Town. The Binnekring (inner circle) is lined with bedouin tents and mutant vehicles. Everyone is dressed up, or dressed down. You’re either in a fabulous creation or in God’s creation: Trinketed and adorned or free as the day you were born. Critical tits, let it all hang out, panda suits and steampunk garb. You can be anyone you like here. You can do anything you like here, providing it doesn’t hurt anyone. Freedom to roam. Freedom to be. No watch, no phone, no rules, no proper time of day. Only dusk, dawn, night, bright hot sunlight and The Burlesque Show at 6.30pm.
The Steampunk Saloon buzzes with quirky DJs, burly girls, live music, dust, dirt, bad whisky and the obligatory steampunk leather with cogs and wheels, top hats and bowlers, corsets and bustles, cuffs and straps and buckles and laced boots. Victorian Gothic in the Age of the Industrial Revolution with a punky alternative twist. A guy from the audience steps up on stage. He’s drunk but he picks up a guitar and plays Wonderwall. His friend slurs the lyrics into the mic, the audience accompanying him. We’re lost in a moment in time. An eternal moment of connection and shared experience. A moment of cohesion, of knowing, of kindred spirit.
Come to the cabaret, oh chums, life is a cabaret. All life is at The Burn.
© Bridget Finklaire, 2016