”Written byRaelee Seymour-Brown
Good Kid, m.A.A.d Disorderly: Kendrick Lamar and why we need to start demanding more from South African Music Festivals
As King Kunta himself once said on the album inspired by this very country, “When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?” and as he returns to South Africa almost a decade later to play at first time festival Hey Neighbour, these lyrics could not ring more true.
The highly anticipated Hey Neighbour music Festival made its dazzling debut in Pretoria this past weekend. With hugely influential international and local headliners including H.E.R, Swedish House Mafia, breakout star Tyla, and of course Kendrick Lamar, the hype was unreal in the months leading up to the festival weekend. However, even with all of these amazing artists, many people still felt ticket prices were out of reach – ranging from R3,500 – R4000 for the full weekend pass. But the game changed when Hey Neighbour later announced the day-pass option, whereby enthusiasts could purchase tickets to see their favourite artists on the day they were performing only. This made things much more affordable, and was how I was able to attend the event myself, with the majority of people buying Day 2 passes just to see Kendrick and Kendrick only – and for the die hard K.dot fans, the rest was just noise.
But before that, you obviously needed to get there first, presenting its first challenge of the evening. Despite many of the attendees already having to mission all the way from Johannesburg, once you finally get towards the entrance, it only gets worse.
With seemingly only a single road in and a single road out – traffic was backed up kilometers down the R515, before you even got to the Rhino Park dirt road to get into the venue. The festival’s park-and-ride option really wasn’t much of an option, cost another R300, and was stuck in the same traffic as everyone else. After almost 8 months of anticipation, having to wait up to 2 hours just to get into the venue itself was torturous. And if it was taking this long to get in… my mind was already racing with how we were supposed to get out.
Overall though, Hey Neighbour’s first edition definitely offered more positives than negatives. Once you were inside, the ticketing process was smooth and easy, and walking through the gates to an iridescent ferris wheel and the neon lights everywhere felt like we were entering an adult playground, honestly difficult to not get swept up in the whimsy of it all. The setup was solid, and with so much to see and do, it really felt like the full festival experience. That was until you actually tried to do anything. Cashless festivals have been around for ages, but have yet to get less annoying. To pay for anything you needed to load money on your wristband, but to do that, you needed to stand in the 2-plus hour line first. And then another huge line for a drink. Hungry? Another outrageously long line. Although lines are somewhat inevitable at festivals, and you should prepare yourself for them, at this point it became very clear just how many tickets had been oversold.
As King Kunta himself once said on the album inspired by this very country, “When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?”
Vendors were overwhelmed and definitely not prepared for the number of people that showed up, and with lines spanning over a kilometer at some places, it eventually forced the day pass ticket holders to make a choice: spend the few hours you have here waiting in never-ending lines, or be starving and dehydrated and go party. Safe to say I chose the latter because I sure as hell didn’t eat fishpaste toast for a month to afford this ticket just to get there and stand around.
But, if you did manage to make it past these obstructions to groove progress thus far, there was a lot of fun to be had. Every stage at the festival bought the vibes – whether you were there for amaPiano, acoustic bands, Gqom, or anything in between, there was truly something for everyone. It’s always a moment of huge pride when you get to see our own local artists showing out in huge venues for massive crowds and receiving all the love they deserve.The sound rigging was even so exceptional you could hear the music from the stages while you waited for your burger for the next 2 hours. If you did get to see it all, the production and design for the stages and for the festival overall was not something to scoff at. It’s clear Hey Neighbour spent much time (and money) on curating a specific aesthetic. This definitely rubbed off successfully on the festival goers, with everyone dressed to impress too.
And then, before you know it, as if it sneaks up on you the magic happens. Thousands upon thousands of sweaty, excited bodies rubbing together, chanting “Kendrick, We Wanna Party!” until the lights come up, and the faint chords of The Heart Part 5 wash over all of us, and nothing else matters anymore.
One more deep, collective breathe just before a cacophony of a thousand screams escapes us because there he is.
Arguably one of the greatest, most powerful voices of our generation (and generations to come) appears like an apparition wearing his classic all-black uniform, complete with a clean pair of white Nike Cortez.
Many people feel this way about their favorite artists, but there is something so distinctively special about being in a Kendrick Lamar crowd. The energy electrifying, your voice completely drowned out by lyrics that shaped you growing up, and your eardrums blown out after every verse, getting to experience the pure ecstasy of hearing Lamar’s craft live is something I’ll forever be missing the vocabulary for.
After the pandemic especially, live music has never been more sacred, and we were all worshiping at the Morale Church on Saturday night. And with a set list inclusive of his best work, we were treated to a masterclass in artistry with performances of Money Trees, m.A.A.d city, Alright, Humble, Backseat Freestyle, and Loyalty, plus an array from his most recent project Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Die hard fans of Lamar’s discography could’ve done with two or three more songs I’m sure, but where many hip hop and rap artists fall flat, there is no denying Lamar’s incredible stage and live performance prowess; truly a professional through and through.
“Heavy is the head that chose to wear the crownTo whom it’s given, much is required now” – Crown – Kendrick Lamar
But part of the ephemeral magic of live performance is that it is always fleeting – and before we even have a chance to take in what we just saw, we are being escorted to the festival gates. Oh, little were we aware that we were about to enter the Fyre Festival portion of the night. For as far as the human eye could see, completely surrounding and touching the horizons of Rhino Park was an ocean of red lights and an onslaught of cars in every direction. Even if there was security, there is absolutely no way they could’ve done anything to control the situation, the fact of the matter is there were too many people, even more cars, no signal, and a single dirt road. Having just experienced one of the best live music performances of your life, and then either having to walk kilometers to find some signal or waiting in your car until 5am really leaves a bad taste in your mouth to say the least. It’s clear there was absolutely zero exit strategy put in place for the Day Pass holders, leaving us completely stranded with dead phones in the freezing cold. There have been reports of it taking over five hours just to get out of the venue alone, notwithstanding the exorbitant Uber surge if you managed to get any signal at all.
Although there were thankfully no fatal incidents, the lack of care and safety precautions from Hey Neighbour is unacceptable. As a weekend long festival experience, your job does not cease with the last performance of the night, and the fact that situations like this have become normalised within the SA festival scene only makes it worse. As a festival, putting your attendees in any amount of danger is too large of a risk. From the lack of security presence to the logistical hellscape it was to navigate entering and exiting the festival the night could have very easily taken a much darker turn. It’s unfortunate that these festivals are the only places where South Africans have access to international artists, yet the price of admission seems to be carelessness, greed and indifference from organisers who would rather oversell the event to meet ridiculous target numbers than curate a genuinely joyful experience for their patrons. We have the buying power, and as South Africans we need to collectively demand better service delivery from festivals overall, but especially ones that bring international acts if we ever wish to see more of it in the future.