The Friendliest Festival on the Planet – In Zanzibar!
ZATI is proud to celebrate the Zanzibar music festival “African Music Under African Skies” – SAUTI ZA BUSARA – or in English, SOUNDS OF WISDOM.
The tenth successful music festival in Zanzibar took place in mid February this year to record crowds and acclaim as “The friendliest Festival on the Planet”.
Boosting tourism in February every year, the festival brings increases income to hotels, tour operators, street vendors, souvenir sellers restaurants and many other local businesses in Zanzibar every year.
When Sauti za Busara started in 2004, the goal was to stage a music festival with mostly Tanzanian artists for Tanzanian audiences. However, a decade on, it has morphed into an international festival that attracts a global audience with thousands of revelers annually. Firmly placed as one of the highlights on the African cultural calendar, it clearly has staying power. So why are some critics claiming it has become a victim of its own success?
Thapelo Mokhathi, a mineral explorer and an avid traveler who has visited over 20 African countries, counts Tanzania among his favourite countries with Zanzibar being his absolute favourite place on the continent. He has attended some of the continent’s biggest music festivals, including Bush Fire Festival (Swaziland), Lake of Stars (Malawi) and Festival au Desert (Mali), but there is one that has eluded him - Sauti za Busara - and this year, the festival’s 10th anniversary, he finally gets to make good on his promise to himself to be there, instead of just hearing about it. The attraction, the festival’s location – Zanzibar – and the strong emphasis on music by local Africans artists for African and international audiences are two factors he believes to be the strength of the festival.
Sauti za Busara, which translates as “Sounds of Wisdom”, is unofficially known as the friendliest festival on the planet. Held each year at Stone Town, Zanzibar, which is known for its tropical beaches, gleaming, crystal waters and clear blue skies, it is the biggest music festival in East Africa. According to Yusuf Mahmoud, festival founder and director, their “vision was to provide a platform for showcasing the wealth and diversity of African music, with the main focus of building appreciation for traditional and contemporary music from the East African region. Through the power of music we show the world Africa is positive, Africa is peaceful, Africa is rich in culture and humanity.”
Today, Sauti za Busara serves as a platform for diverse, home-grown and continental musicians to express their creativity before an inclusive audience – bringing people from different backgrounds together to be entertained and inspired. According to Frederica Boswell, a journalist and producer with National Public Radio (NPR) in the US, this is one factor which makes the festival significant on the African festival landscape because “once festival goers enter the old fort, everyone is together – ‘tuko pamoja’ meaning ‘we are together’ is the ethos that guides Yusuf and his team, and I think this makes the festival very special.” Boswell, who is Kenyan, and who once covered the festival as a BBC journalist and would later work in the capacity of press officer with the Busara team, said what piqued her interest was the organisers vision to promote African – and in particular Zanzibari (Tanzanian) – music, and the firm belief in the artistry and beauty of live music which means audiences hear “quality music.”
From its early days at Forodohani Gradens in 2004, where Mahmoud describes the festival’s humble beginnings as “poorly funded, where the stage backdrop looked like a refugee camp,”Sauti za Busara has “evolved, bringing in more international acts while retaining its essential local flavour.” It can count artists like Didier Awadi (Senegalese rapper), Nneka (Nigeria singer/songwriter), Thandiswa (described as one of South Africa’s most influential musicians), Eric Wainaina (Kenyan singer/songwriter) and Bassekou Kouyate (Malian musician) among its diverse musical alumni.
According to Mahmoud, the festival “provides a platform for local people to experience music from other parts of Africa, while introducing East African music to the visitors. In any society, this kind of interchange is vital to the health and development of musical styles. Festivals bring people together in celebration and unity regardless of their political and religious differences. Such opportunities are rare in Zanzibar and these events play a crucial role in maintaining peace and stability, building intercultural understanding and respect.” Mahmoud adds that this is a critical factor in the festival’s success and in its ability to keep attracting audiences over the years, contributing to its growth and staying power – the shared experience between visitors and the locals because “local people are more confident in their culture and the fact that it must be special, while international visitors know they are experiencing something authentic and unique.”
His point of view is shared by Cheikh Lô, internationally acclaimed Senegalese’s artist and this year’s headline act. He said: “It’s always a good sign and a reward when an African festival, happening in Africa, arrives at its 10th anniversary. We see celebrations outside our continent, so it’s significant thatSauti za Busara has made 10 editions.” Lô, who will be making his first appearance at the festival, goes on to add: “We Africans have to go forwards with our own festivals, to show our musical and artistic talents to our own people. Many of our talented musicians are playing more outside the continent, at American and European festivals. It’s time to play for our people and show the world we are able to organise big acts in Africa.”
With thanks to Belinda Otas for copy and pictures.