Celebrating the third annual Brixton Light Festival (photo: Craig Adams)
South Africa - There is a very special community living in Brixton, Johannesburg who regularly come together to bridge the gap between social groups with the emphasis on love, art and compassion, all with the aim of creating the kind of neighbourhood people want to call home. Throughout the year they present various events like their Youth Day Fashion show, a rally called Feast of the Nations, workshops and even things like watching movies on the tennis court, braais in the street, and reserving half an hour every Tuesday to pick up rubbish in the area.
In early September, the community of Brixton, Johannesburg celebrated the third annual Brixton Light Festival. The SOS Charity Fund sponsored the wages of 12 crew members who worked tirelessly to make the festival a reality, while DWR contributed Robe lighting fixtures to create mesmerizing special effects and illuminations on the iconic Brixton (Sentech) Tower.
Gearhouse Splitbeam, led by managing director Alistair Kilbee, played a pivotal role as the primary technical supplier, who provided equipment at a significantly reduced cost.
In 2023, the festival's theme, Where the Waters meet the Light, pays homage to Brixton's geographical location along the Witwatersrand watershed. Depending on which side of this watershed line rainfall occurs, water journeys either toward the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic on the opposite side. This thought-provoking theme has sparked the creativity and imagination of both community members and artists, serving as a source of inspiration for the event.
Mark Schaerer, Brixton resident and one of the festival organisers says, “This line has historically also been used to divide. It underlies the pervasive lines of segregation and ongoing inequality in our city. But for Brixton this line gives us hope. The Light Festival offers our neighbourhood an opportunity to embrace our shared humanity by bringing exuberance and joy to our streets. It is our turning point.”
The Festival's artistic programme was managed by Shade, a project space nestled in Brixton that seamlessly blends waste management, youth engagement, and the arts. Their innovative programme, Waste Not Want Not, receives support from the Goethe Institutes and the British Council's Sustainable Together Series. This initiative offers artists an exceptional opportunity through an artist residency, granting them access to Shade's extensive waste materials library.
This year artists were invited to craft their creations specifically for the festival's parade. An impressive 280 artists and performers came together to participate in the Brixton Light Festival Parade, making it a truly remarkable spectacle.
Spectators were treated to a diverse array of highlights, including amongst others, Brixton's very own Local Vocal choir led by Shairze Schaerer, Zimbabwean craftsman David Gara’s ships installation, the enchanting melodies of the National Youth Orchestra, Field Band Foundation and NWU Brass ensemble, Hillbrow choir and Soweton punk band Shameless.
In the midst of all of this, Fried Wilsenach, a sound designer from The Working Dog and a resident of Brixton, put on his technical director’s hat! He enlisted the lighting design expertise of Alex Farmer, Benjamin Mills and Oliver Hauser to also illuminate the iconic Kingston Frost Park, Brixton Water Tower and the Sentech Tower which has become a symbol of the festival, and was as deeply appreciative of the crew members who lent their assistance.
Fried set up his Front of House (FOH) station on a concrete garage in his garden to accommodate an impressive lighting array including two Robe Tarrantula fixtures, two Robe Esprites, one Robe Forte and a Robe MegaPointe.
“This is a special project that’s very close to my heart,” explained Fried. “Through active citizenship and continued innovation, our community strives to create a safe and friendly neighbourhood, improving the quality of life for all who are a part of it.”
The Brixton Light Festival is a community-led and community-driven project supported by the City of Joburg Department of Transport, DWR Distribution and OHCHR and made possible by scores of volunteers.
Duncan Riley from DWR expressed his enthusiasm, saying, "Being involved, even in a small capacity, in this special project is truly a privilege for both the SOS Charity Fund and DWR Distribution. It seems to encapsulate an idyllic vision, making us wonder if this might be the very type of community Nelson Mandela had in mind when he envisioned the Rainbow Nation. It demonstrates that all things are possible. I can only imagine the memories the children living in Brixton will have when they think back to these good old days.”

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