VOU Director talks about the experience and excitement of performing at the iconic Glastonbury Festival in the UK
For years I had dreamed of what it would be like to go to the prestigious Glastonbury Festival. We had all seen the videos on line, from the dim light of our mobile phones just before we go to sleep, of moving performances by Florence and the Machine, Beyonce and all the greats that had been and gone to this global festival. It seemed like a place of freedom, an artistic hub where people really valued and appreciated the arts on display. So when VOU received the invitation to come and perform at Glastonbury it seemed almost to good to be true.
After our long 42 hour journey we took to get from our little wooden downtown Suva studio to the remote paddock where they build the Glastonbury community every year we were just in shock and awe at the sheer scale of this festival.
To put it into perspective, this is the largest music festival in the world. This year, 200,000 tickets went on sale and were completely sold out within 2 hours. The tickets cost 210 Pounds (FJD$630) and they are highly sought after!
Another amazing commendable thing is that they give so much to charity, last year they gave almost 4 Million Pounds (FJD$12 Million) to various charities and causes, this year the main charities were Water Aid and Greenpeace as well as many community groups and organisations. And as an aspiring Fijian dance company to be even at the same venue with the likes of Adele and Coldplay and literally thousands of the worlds most interesting and creative people was just mind blowing. So almost twice the population of Suva comes together to camp in the mud together for three days and gets to enjoy the best of what the world has to offer in terms of music and contemporary arts.
And when I say mud, I mean MUD. So many English friends had told me prior to our trip – “you going to Glastonbury don’t forget your Wellies.” And I naïvely thought to myself – “Nah, I have braved many a Fiji Hibiscus Festival in nothing more than my trusty Bata flip flops – I will be fine.” But nothing could prepare me for what lay ahead – ankle deep and everywhere! What a workout! It had rained consistently for 2 weeks while they were working on the construction of the site so by the time the masses descended it was mud-wrestling heaven. (Though not as fun travelling with two small babies!, an interesting memorable experience non the less)
We were met by Haggis who manages the theatre and circus stages at Glastonbury and he took us on a tour of the site and told us how the best diving he had ever done was in our very own island of Kadavu! Of course!
The design of the place was astounding they had something for everyone, debate stages, for enlightening conversations, a kids festival area where there was a playground and arts and crafts, there was a techno rave like place, rock n roll, RnB and a Cabaret stage, there were huge art installations everywhere and every corner of the place had been so carefully and artistically thought through. And I thought to myself – this the tangible result of having creative subjects taught in schools – you create life, value, meaning and experiences. And I was immediately so grateful for all the arts, music, and dance classes that had allowed me to come to this moment.
The VOU performances were staged in the Astrolabe tent, in a huge and beautiful circus tent that was brought in from Italy. Despite the muddy conditions they had state of the art lighting and sound with a gracious and very helpful crew. Our VOU performance consisted of the first section of a fun live drumming and dance, and a second section that went into something more serious. The contemporary Fijian dance in the second section was confronting. The choreographer Navi Fong is asking the question – if our culture is so innately tied to the land – na vanua, what happens when our land is gone or destroyed through the effects of climate change? Just as we saw with the affects of Cyclone Winston – this can happen so quickly and brutally.
Who are we, without our land, culture, homes, communities? How do we deal with loss after a disaster such as Winston? And how do we prepare for this happening again and again if we do not reverse such trends?
This is not a pretty subject, it is not an “entertaining” subject to dance about. And from my sound desk at the back of the tent, when the high energy drums were playing, the audience was clapping, and more and more people would gather to watch. But as the subject turned to something more grim, more real, more serious I could feel the energy in the audience change, people felt awkward maybe, uncomfortable – and they started to leave. It was interesting to see that perhaps people are happy with us playing to their expectations of the “happy natives” but when a Pacific artist wants to talk about something real and that is affecting them NOW – there sometimes seems to be an unwillingness to listen.
Nevertheless we will continue to tell our VOU stories be them uplifting, tragic, or insightful – because that is our duty as contemporary Fijian artists to always be pushing to create something new – something VOU. The Glastonbury experience was so inspiring and seeing the organisers really value the artists and build such a huge platform for them was great to see. I hope that we can create more kinds of dynamic festivals in the Pacific for our communities to experience.
Photo credits: Both Hemispheres Photography