The missed opportunities in music festivals

Sunday September 11 2022
Busara pic
By Paul Owere

Dar es Salaam. Festivals have over the years acted as a tool of social cohesion as they offer platform for cultural exchange that would otherwise be very difficult as both social and economic angles come into play.

And as some commentators have put it before festivals offer the opportunity for society to focus and celebrate the positive side of life, even if it is for a few days.

This is because every society is dependent on social heritage, which is a mixture of customs, traditions, moral values, attitudes, festivals, folklore, beliefs and ideals that binds them to pass it on from one generation to another.

Even in the light of such revelation not many in the political seat of power see the values of this festivals in empowering the Citizens and businesses.

East African festivals are struggling for survival and it is for many reasons which include financial and regulatory frame works that in many ways stifle the growth of the entities.

The future of Zanzibar’s internationally acclaimed Sauti za Busara festival is once again uncertain and unless something happens the 20th edition will not take place in February, 2023 as announced by organisers.

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Also read: Sauti za Busara’s future yet again uncertain

This was followed by a rather bizarre announcement by the Ugandan Parliament that had moved in to bar the Nyege Nyege festival which makes a return at the Source of River Nile in Jinja after a two-year hiatus due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The parliamentarians debated with passion on the reasons to block the internationally famous festival that many locals say has changed many lives in that part of Africa.

And just like in the case of festivals such as Fiesta in Mainland Tanzania and Sauti za Busara, the political divide often cites moral issues as the cornerstone of their argument of either lack of support or strict laws that make such festivals not worth attending.

The festivals are a cultural and economic melting pot as paths of different people from every corner of the globe crisscross.

Tourist attraction

With close to two decades of entertainment usually the number of tourists to Zanzibar increases significantly each year in February with International media naming the Sauti za Busara as one of the top 10 must-go-to events.

During the festival, and several days after the festival hotel rooms in and around Stone Town are fully booked due to the number of visitors who come to the Isles.

A report shows that even in 2020, tourist arrivals in Zanzibar during the month of February increased by 0.5 percent to 61,752 arrivals whereas in February 2021, there were 51,574 arrivals compared to 49,868 in January of the same year.

This was quite against global trends where most countries had closed their airspace and some were still in lockdowns.

During the 20 years the festival has grown its audiences from the initial 7,000 during the four days to 30,000 in 2020.

In the Ugandan case, the shores of Lake Victoria and the Source of the Nile is looking forward to welcome over 8,000 visitors who will party for several days.

These visitors do not come empty handed, because government earns money and yet there is very little contribution towards the growth of these festivals. Instead, organisers are required to pay for several permits to city authorities.

Career opportunities

In 2016, when Sauti za Busara was forced to take a break, businesses around Stone Town recorded losses in comparison to a similar period in the previous year.

Over the years as documented by festival organisers events like Sauti za Busara is a source of income for artistes because they earn performance fees or new performance contracts with their presence at the  festival.

As opportunities for live performances are limited, festivals like these have considerably raise the profile of artistes in the process influencing their chances for new performances elsewhere across the world.

Due to its credibility and reputation in the global music industry, the festival attracts other festival promoters, record labels and even producers who are scouting East African talent and new sound.

And as a matter of fact the festivals remain as a main promotional tool for the introduction of East African musicians and Bands to the international scene.

Government reluctance

Unlike other governments where festivals are funded as part of the cultural programme, the government of Tanzania does not fund such festivals despite recognizing its enormous potential to the economic activities.

Early this year when it first emerged that the then sponsors would not renew the contract which had lasted for over 10 years, government through the Arts and Culture docket issued assurances on the final day of the festival.

But that was just that, nothing concrete was achieved and even the instructions by both the Presidents of the United Republic of Tanzania Samia Suluhu Hassan and President of Zanzibar Hussein Mwinyi regarding the sustainability of not only Sauti za Busara but others as well are yet to be implemented.