Sauti za Busara a festival like no other

Friday February 20 2015

African diversity: Traditional Performances

African diversity: Traditional Performances like these highlighted the 12th edition of the Sauti Za Busara festival in Zanzibar      

By Salome Gregory

It is a festival that draws attention throughout the continent and beyond as it attracts visitors from almost every corner of the world.

And this time around it wasn’t going to be an exception; the Stone Town was abuzz with visitors as anticipation filled the air.

Fortunes too improved for local business that see an increase in sales due to the number of visitors that turns what would have been a low tourist season into a time of harvest.

The international media coverage which featured household names such as CNN, BBC, RFI, KBC CCTV, and many others highlighted the growing allure of the festival.

The giant posters announced the festival as soon as you arrived at either the airport or at the port.

It was time for the 12th edition of the Sauti za Busara, a festival that many have often referred to as a celebration of African creative diversity.

Ali Kiba’s impending performance was probably one of the hottest stories on the opening night given his latest revival since a self imposed sabbatical.

It was surprising that the same artiste was not ready to grant a post performance interview to an army of international journalists who were waiting in the press area.

As I walked toward the Old Fort there was every indication that we were in for something special as music instruments were being tuned to kick off the new season under the theme ??Together as one, Amani ndio mpango mzima.’

A theme that festival director, Yusuf Mahmoud says was meant to foster peace and togetherness.

“Through Sauti za Busara’s live music and film programme, workshops and fringe activities, the festival plays an important role in Zanzibar to counter xenophobia, to build peace, unity and respect for diversity,’’ says Yusuf Mahmoud.

Inside the grounds a handful of anxious youth were already there to witness the final sound check, as Ali Kiba finalised his rehearsal and most of the exhibition booths were already set.

Sticking to the tradition of the festival the opening parade was a spectacle to behold as the procession moved from Uwanja wa Tumbaku generating plenty of interest from onlookers.

Security was so tight with both plain clothed and uniformed police officers being called to duty.

And what followed in the four days were nights of song and dance with live performances from 19 music groups that represented Tanzania, with 18 groups from other African countries.

There were questions that lingered on every reveller; will local crowds turn up for the performance? Will our home grown artistes finally rise to the occasion after some questionable performances and many others?

Of course, on platform so huge like that of Busara there are always lessons to take home ranging from stage performances, music instruments, to the vocals.

Even with great performances from Msafiri Zawose, Leo Mkanyia, Cocodo Band, and Ali Kiba who wowed the audience, many of the home grown talents were out done by foreign performances.

And even though this was not a contest in any form there was every indication that local artistes were losing out.

Performances such as that of Tcheka from Cape Verde, Ihhashi Elimhlophe, from South Africa, Erik Aliana from Cameroon, Mimi Suleiman from Zanzibar/UK, Octopizzo, 100pc Dakar from Senegal and Blitz the Ambassador from Ghana were quite outstanding.

Speaking to The Beat, Sauti Za Busara’s Simai Mohamed, says the main objective of the festival is to create a platform for musicians around the world to share their work experience, learn new skills and expand their networks.

He adds that there is a need to be positive about local artistes since some of them are still in the formative stages of their career which make it difficult to compare them with artistes such as Blitz the Ambassadors.

“I think it is too early to draw conclusions because majority of the artistes who came to the festival are international. The best approach to go about it is to see whether they have learned anything during the four-day festival,” says Mohamed.

Commenting on the festival, Blitz the Ambassador who performed for about one hour and a half, says it is a festival that no artiste can afford to miss for the opportunities that it presents.

“Being an international artiste does not come over night. You have to work extra hard and spend most of your time in your work. Respect everyone even when you are up there and be ready to learn something new every day,” says Blitz.

One of the main attractions at the festival was a South African group Ihhashi Elimhlophe, a band that features a father, mother, daughter-in-law and two others.

Full of energy that was reminiscent of the Makirikiri group from Botswana; they moved the audience with their lyrical prowess which got the audience singing along.

“Our songs are mostly inspired by the desire to retain African culture. They also promote peace and love among the people of South Africa through their songs,” said one of their representatives.

Manuel Lopes Andrade aka Tcheka’s was another who thrilled revellers with his performance that kept the audience on their feet.

Commenting on his performance he said; I could see the connection with the crowd when performing. I think my talent connects me with people almost everywhere I go.

On his part Msafiri Zawose one of the most admired Gogo musicians whose father was a musical giant, an influential figure in post-independence Tanzania said that, majority of the Tanzanian artistes lack originality.

His performance clearly identified Gogo beats which to him is the root of his creativity.

“In order to stand a chance to compete with artists from the rest of the world a lot has to be done to shape our music. In West Africa there are different institutions working together to put the origin on their songs,” says Zawose.

He adds: Majority of our artistes are taking the easier way out, they are looking at the commercial side and in the process we completely lose the Tanzanian beats in our songs.

He urges the National Arts Council (Basata) to work closely with the musicians to change the way we work.