Zanzibar. The cancellation of the 2016 edition of the Sauti Za Busara was somehow an anti climax and the abrupt hiatus broke several hearts both on the Isles and elsewhere on the continent.
Last year’s edition was sorely missed, with hotels, restaurants and businesses still reeling from the shock of Zanzibar’s quietest February in many years.
When the festival took a break, organisers said that after that the festival would comeback even stronger than before as some then believed that the hiatus would make the community see the importance of what they have always taken for granted.
“Sometimes it’s necessary to take one step back, before continuing to move forwards. We shall be working hard over the coming months, to ensure the festival resumes stronger than ever from 2017,” festival director was quoted then.
Now, with anxiety mounting, it has been confirmed that the festival will take place in the second week of February ushering in five nights of unequalled partying with inaugural night kicking off on February 9.
This year the edition runs under a theme “Africa United” as music acts as a sole agent of unity with a universal language across borders in a world that is constantly getting divided.
This week at a news conference in Dar es Salaam Sauti za Busara organisers also confirmed that there will be three stages showcasing the most exciting music line-up that the festival has ever seen.
“What makes Sauti za Busara festival unique is that it’s 100 per cent live, proudly showcasing quality, originality and innovation, giving priority to young and emerging artists and music with cultural identity,” says Yusuf Mahmoud the festival director.
Considered as one of the finest festivals on the continent, this year’s edition features original and live music, including 25 of East Africa’s finest groups and 15 from the rest of the African continent and the Diaspora.
“We expect to host about 400 artistes, 40 groups and 150 crew members, with 2,000 people also employed indirectly in Tanzania’s wider tourism sector,” says the festival director.
Conservative estimates indicate the festival brings a boost of more than $7 million for the island each year during February and the boom seems to be back.
“People of different colours, ages and backgrounds once again will be united, in celebration of African music. Anticipation and excitement are high. Hotels around Stone Town are already fully-booked during festival week. Audiences are expected in high numbers, from across Tanzania, Africa and the world,” says Mahmoud.
The line up for the performance is rich and full of promise as the festival celebrates strong and independent women with top singer-songwriters from Guinea-Bissau to Seychelles, via Somaliland.
Zanzibar taarab music is fêted alongside African blues and hiphop pioneers, boy-bands and urban ghetto sensations from Kenya and Tanzania, conscious reggae vibrations from Morocco to Ethiopia, highlife and afro beat masters from Ghana, with an eclectic mix of African music collaborations.
According to Mahmoud, because Sauti za Busara is promoted widely it attracts many international music professionals, providing the perfect platform for East African musicians to share their music with the world. “Each year a number of local performers at Sauti za Busara are invited to tour and perform at other festivals in Africa or Europe. Those who are most likely to get invitations abroad are artistes who are unique, expressive, and play music with identity,” says Yusuf.
Speaking on this platform, the Norwegian ambassador to Tanzania Hanne Marie Kaarstad who will be part of the festival said that in an increasingly globalised world of today people need places where they can meet and learn from one another.
“It is a place where we present our cultural heritage to one another and make sure that we see diversity as an asset. I hope that this festival will inspire Tanzanian artistes as I am sure that investment in creative industry is important for job creation,” said the ambassador.
Bongo Flava missing
Unfortunately, even with a promise of a wider audience rich in diversity it is a platform that local Bongo Flava artistes are not keen to exploit.
This year out of the 40 groups that had been shortlisted to perform only Yamoto Band had been listed, unfortunately they too won’t be featuring at the festival.
“We always want to have these guys here but there isn’t much we can do when they do not follow the established channels of gaining entry,” says sources at the festival.
The exclusion of Yamoto Band at the eleventh hour added fuel to the speculation that all is not going on well in their camp with some saying that the band is no more, something that Said Fella calls mere idle talk.
The local groups that shall perform are those that play indigenous tunes that are directly associated with Tanzania.
“We are confident that artistes such as Afrijam Band, CAC Fusion, Chibite Zawose Family, Cocodo African Music Band, Jagwa Music, Matona’s G Clef Band, Mswanu Gogo Vibes, Rajab Suleiman & Kithara, Tausi Women’s Taarab, Usambara Sanaa Group, Wahapahapa Band, Ze Spirits Band and others will truly represent Tanzania on the global stage,” says Yusuf who has been at the helm of the festival for over 10 years.
The debate on why Bongo Flava artistes don’t see this as platform to explore Africa’s diversity is something that baffles many despite the genre having made giant strides on the continent in recent times.
The commercial success of the genre is yet to translate into professionalism on the part of many artistes something that pundits blame on management.
“There are some artistes who have made an effort to grow in this industry and reach out to the larger audiences in Africa but they are let down by what they call their managers who hardly understand the dynamics of the industry,” says a source at the festival.