Zambia report

Sun struck

Author: Meener Tokoloshe
Date: Nov 3, 2001
Views: 2840

Zambia was host to a crowd of sun worshippers gathered for a celebration of shallow hedonism....
as the last slivers of sunlight disappeared behind the dark silhouette of the moon, an ecstatic roar went up from the motley crowd of revellers, more than 7000 strong, who had gathered from around the world on a remote farm in central Zambia.
This was the Solipse festival, a 10-day trance music marathon and countercultural orgy centred on the solar eclipse and the winter solstice of June 21. The event was the sequel to a similar festival in Hungary during the solar eclipse of August 1999.
But this year's Solipse was special, and not merely because of the unique confluence of celestial phenomena that it celebrated. It was one of the first such events to be held in a developing country and hence one of the few times the counterculture of the First World has met face-to-face with the Third World it lionises.
Trance music is a dreamy mix between techno-pop and psychedelic rock. It is heavily synthesised and computer generated. A typical performance ensemble might include only an electric piano and an array of turntables, computers and beat machines.
The trance scene started in the early 1990s in underground clubs in Europe and North America. From there it emerged to become the signature sound of a generation of technologically sophisticated and geographically restless middle-class kids, taking advantage of the explosion of electronic media and the boom in youth travel over the past decade.
Its industrial rhythms, synthetic tones and lack of lyrics combine to make it a kind of musical Fanagalo, a sound that people from different countries can enjoy and communicate in on equal footing.
Culturally, the trance music scene draws heavily on the psychedelic counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s that blossomed in California. As in the past, the trance scene is infused with drugs and pays homage to non-Western and indigenous cultures. And just as the counterculture of the 1960s emerged alongside anti-Vietnam War protests and emerging social opposition to the "military-industrial complex", the new counterculture accompanies a new political crusade - the anti-globalisation movement.
All of these elements were present at Solipse. Organisers set up a "Sacred Space" in which participants could meditate, perform a Native American-style pipe ritual and celebrate quasi-Eastern religious ceremonies.
Drugs were ubiquitous and omnipresent. The sweet smell of dagga wafted across the savannah and dealers peddled psychedelics, making sure their customers were prepared to experience the eclipse in an altered state of consciousness.
Furthermore, the organisers of Solipse explicitly linked their festival to some of the themes and rhetoric of the anti-globalisation movement.
"We exist in a world where the people and the planet are increasingly seen as units, commodities to be bought and sold," says the festival's website. "It's easier to place blind faith in ignorance in the principals [sic] of capitalism reinforced by the daily tide of mass media information. We live in a culture where helping the economy is seen as more important than helping the community and the people ... As humans, surely we can do better than this?"
Yet Solipse fell far short of its ideals. Musically, the abstract global flavour of trance music drowned out any local peculiarities. The few African groups that performed were shunted to the last, post-eclipse days of the festival.
Beyond the music itself, there was little local content to the rest of the festival, save for a few craft stalls, a display by a local Aids organisation and a couple of local food merchants.
Few Zambians came to the festival, other than the police who had been hired to provide security and a few visiting government officials who took in the scene with much bemusement.
The festival might have been held anywhere in the world, it seemed, save for the geographical accident that put the moon's shadow in central Zambia as opposed to Europe.
Perhaps the title of the festival said more about the nature of the event and the counterculture itself than it was intended to. The word "solipse" is suggestively close to the word "solipsism", which refers to a theory that the self is the only thing that exists and the only thing that can be known. In its fixation on international trance music and its separation from the communities it was surrounded by, the Solipse festival suffered from a kind of self-absorption that detracted from the quality of the experience.
If the trance counterculture is to avoid falling into the shallow hedonism and materialism that swallowed the counterculture of the 1960s, it will need to do a better job of reaching out to the rest of the world. Travelling there is only the first step.
Revellers at the Solipse festival experience the eclipse

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