Annually, over 400 African musicians and thousands of music lovers converge in the touristic, prominently historic and artistic city of Stone Town, Zanzibar for the four-day and world-renowned carnival-style music festival, celebrating African music and culture over three enormous stages. Beyond the maze of African beats imbibers indulge in the colorful mix of dancers, fire eaters and a food market with Zanzibar’s favourite foods.
The year 2022 marks 19 years of providing unforgettable entertainment and stimulating diverse audiences. The festival also plays a large part in acting as a space for collaborative efforts and conversation amongst performers from the continent and those from overseas.
One of the continent’s foremost and sought-after music festivals, it will this year run from 11 to 13 February 2022 under the theme Paza Sauti: Amplifying Women’s Voices, a call to bring to the fore, gender equality within cultural and creative spaces.
When the line-up for this year’s edition was recently announced; it revealed the diversity and multi-coloured landscape of the African music scene. The occasion was also a highly anticipated move for music audiences most of whom may be physically gathering for the first time since the pandemic hit.
Sauti za Busara has an impressive track-record of showcasing some of Africa’s finest musical talents at its annual festival traditionally held during the month of February.
As always, the festival shines a spotlight on live music from across Africa, including young and upcoming talents and a special priority on women artists from Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Congo and Zambia.
The magical open-air location of the main stage inside the Old Fort inspires Sauti za Busara artists to give their best and they come with high profiles. Sampa The Great from Zambia, one of Africa’s greatest live hip-hop artists; Siti & The Band from Zanzibar, playing original taarab-pop fusion with conscious messages; singer-songwriter Msaki from South Africa, whose recent double album ‘Platinumb Heart’ will surely be acclaimed as one of the year’s finest releases; Sholo Mwamba, one of Tanzanian electro singeli music’s finest exponents; the award-winning Sjava, who is among the wave of artists creatively fusing hiphop and R&B with indigenous sounds from Kwa-Zulu-Natal and Tanzanian singer-songwriter Vitali Maembe, who combines inland and coastal rhythms with poetic and provocative lyrics calling corrupt leaders to account.
Sylent Nqo, from Zimbabwe is an internationally award-winning guitarist, instrumentalist and singer/songwriter who has shared the stage with prominent artists from Africa and internationally; Suzan Kerunen is a contemporary singer-songwriter from Uganda; Ben Pol, who combines top-notch vocal artistry with great stage presence and a uniquely Tanzanian style of R&B; Evans “Pfumela” Mapfumo (Zimbabwe) plays a fusion of Zimbabwe’s folk traditional rhythms accompanied by an acoustic guitar and other western music instruments; Fanie Fayar, a singer-songwriter and dancer from Congo Brazzaville, whose music combines pop, funk and soul rhythms with traditional instruments; upcoming roots-fusion groups Wamwiduka Band (Tanzania), Zan Ubuntu (Zanzibar) who promise explosive energy on stage … and many more!!
“The festival slogan ‘TUNAKOMAA!’ is already being embraced and celebrated by African music communities. Kiswahili does not always easily translate to English, but its sentiment testifies to keeping going and remaining positive in the face of challenges,” said festival founder Yusuf Mamoud.
He added: “Around the world, African music fans are excited and looking forward to converge in Zanzibar to celebrate African music, 100% live. Large audiences are expected and the organisers promise unforgettable experiences to exceed even the wildest expectations.”
The festival has since grown to invite and accommodate a large number of artists from the continent. This has resulted in audiences becoming much more diverse and the impact on aspects of the economy like improved tourist arrivals and activities.
Mamoud further explains: Since the first edition in 2004, the geographic remit of the festival has gradually expanded from its original focus to showcase East African music, to become a truly pan-African event featuring musicians from across the Continent and diaspora. However, with ongoing challenges of the global pandemic and travel restrictions still in place in many countries, its main focus is now re-shifting to the East and Southern Africa regions.
“With the quantity of quality and diverse music styles that continue to blossom in these regions, the outcome is only positive. During each afternoon, the festival hosts ‘Movers & Shakers’, an informal and friendly forum for local and international artists, managers, promoters, media and other professionals to meet, network and exchange. Artistic and professional contacts made during Movers & Shakers always lead to positive associations.
“With an increased concentration of participants from EAC and SADC regions, the platform facilitates exciting possibilities for increasing partnerships and collaborations in the future.”
Organising the festival during the pandemic has presented its own hurdles. The coronavirus crisis hit the arts and cultural industries particularly hard, leading to new challenges for the sustainability of the entire music ecosystem, said Mamoud.
He further highlighted that the global pandemic has resulted not only in severe loss of employment, fewer sales and services, but also a decline in standards of projects supporting local communities, such as eco-friendly or culturally responsible tourism.
“Sauti za Busara is one of the few African festivals that managed to continue annually with live editions throughout the pandemic, with increased health and safety protocol, whilst maintaining exemplary programming, technical and production standards. Other festivals transformed their programmes into distant digital experience, or even disappeared,” he noted.
In February 2021, the festival took on board the challenge of organizing a safe event after many months of restrictions, isolation and confinement, and successfully hosted 5,000 people over a reduced two-day programme, with more emphasis on Tanzanian artists and audiences.
Feedback comments from artists and audiences were unanimously positive and some of these are: “Well done for a fantastic job: very professional, especially in ways that you addressed challenges of the global pandemic”. – Sophie (Zimbabwe), “We were worried if people would show up but they came in large numbers and everyone was excited, happy and smiling” – Hilda (Germany), “All the health, safety and security precautions made us feel safe” – Fellician (Tanzania), “The artistic curation and programming, technical arrangements, quality of lighting and sound at Sauti za Busara were as good as all the European festivals I’ve attended’ – Lorenzo (Italy), “The unity and positivity at Sauti za Busara sent a powerful message of hope and inspiration to the world” – Hassan (Tanzania) and “Long live Sauti za Busara. Congratulations to the whole team for keeping the cultural flame alive even in this challenging pandemic time.” – David (Mauritius).
“Tickets have been selling steadily and surely. Generous discounts are offered for Tanzanians, East African residents and all African nationals. This helps create a wonderful audience mix!” said the festival founder.
“Most hotel rooms around Stone Town are fully booked for the festival period. Enquiries continue coming in from people across the world who plan to attend, though due to ever-changing travel restrictions, many now prefer to wait until last-minute to confirm their flights”.
Mamoud revealed that the festival has been marked by its biggest challenge of financial insecurity, with all major donors distancing from cultural support. “At the same time, costs rise for travel, vaccinations, health and safety arrangements and PCR tests.
“Yet the festival is determined to keep ticket prices affordable for locals (daily entry at 6,000/- TZS = US$2.50). To ensure the safety of all attending or connected to the festival, safety procedures continue to be in place.”
Requirements like wearing of facemasks and social distancing are recommended, but optional. Temperature checks for all entering the venue are mandatory. The festival makes regular announcements for people to sanitise or use the handwashing stations that are scattered around the main venues.
Furthermore, medical staff are on site to assist if required. The pandemic situation is constantly reviewed, in close liaison with local authorities. For up-to-date information, one can visit their website.
More than Entertainment and Tourism:
Remarkable has been the impact made by the festival to Zanzibari and Tanzanian tourism industry and value chain.
This is explained by that the festival’s role extends beyond merely entertainment or a tourist attraction. It is also a learning channel, serving a number of important values: identity, community and participation, integration and equality, freedom of expression, creativity, cultural heritage and pluralism and long-term legacy that generates income, especially for women, youth and marginalised communities.
With over 20,000 festivalgoers each year (pre-pandemic), the festival’s economic impact is clear. Visitors spend money within the community, buying local food, drinks and handicrafts and exploring the island beyond the predominantly foreign-owned beach resorts.
Sauti za Busara also increases local business for connected sectors including communication, printing, transport, equipment and service providers, especially the hotel, catering and tourism industries. The number of tourists to Zanzibar increases significantly when the festival is held in February.
In 2019, tourist arrivals in Zanzibar increased 9.2% to 50,387 in February from 46,133 in January 2019 and increased by 7.4% compared with corresponding month in 2018. While in 2020, tourist arrivals increased by 0.5% to 61,752 in February 2020 from 61,461 in January 2020 and increased by 22.6% compared with corresponding month in 2019. For the year 2021, the arrivals increased by 3.4% to 51,574 in February 2021 from 49,868 in January 2021, and decreased by 16.5% compared with corresponding month in 2020.