Dancing with the Diaspora

Sauti za Busara

Zanzibar's wisdom music festival, Sauti za Busara, celebrates the wealth and diversity of African music and promotes livelihoods through cultural tourism.

During February the famous Stone Town in Zanzibar comes to life with the Sauti za Busara music festival. Sauti za Busara is translated from Swahili to mean “voices of wisdom.” The festival is known for its strong focus on music that has cultural identity, local instruments and rhythms and showcases the authentic and traditional music of the continent to an estimated 20 000 visitors from all over the world.

Festival director and founder, Yusuf Mahmoud has had a career in World Music in the UK from the mid-eighties to late-nineties. When the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) was inaugurated, Yusuf assisted in coordinating the first edition and running an annual programme for music and performing arts. With a fascination for traditional Tanzanian music, he put is full effort into shining a spotlight on East African music. In 2003 the NGO Busara Promotions was established to produce the Sauti za Busara music festival.

He says, “Music is a universal language, through which the world can see Africa is positive; Africa is vibrant, Africa is rich in its many cultures and expressions. With these thoughts in mind, Sauti za Busara festival provides an example of an event designed to develop, in both locals and visitors, an appreciation of the uniqueness, wealth and diversity of African music. It shows there is beauty and depth in our musical traditions, with employment and income to be gained in sustaining them.”

His holistic, well researched and energetic approach to programming ensures the festival has a dynamic programme of Africa-related music that represents quality, originality, innovation, gender balance, positive messages for society, energy and excitement on stage, "traditional" and electric, rural and urban, young and emerging talents as well as 'big names.'

The festival has had a tremendous impact on Tanzanian music by providing a platform for local audiences to experience music from other parts of Africa, whilst showcasing the diversity of East African music to international visitors, creating a successful shared experience between locals and visitors, and appreciation for the cultural diversity that exists on the African continent.

Yusuf says, “Locals are more confident in their traditions and culture and the fact that these must be special, because visitors come from all over the world to see the festival. International visitors know they are experiencing something authentic and unique, as they enjoy African music under African skies, shoulder to shoulder with the local population.”

The Tanzanian group “DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra,” has gone onto international acclaim after performances on the festival. Jagwa Music, an Afro-Punk group has toured the world since being exposed at the festival.

Yusuf says, “Great music could be popular if people knew that it existed.

The festival has done wonders for cultural sustainability on the island with employment provided throughout the year and feeder projects into the wider tourism industry, allowing artists more ways to earn a creative living in music and the arts. Mid-February used to be low season in Zanzibar and because of the festival is now one of the busiest times of year.

Yusuf says, “Everyone does well around festival week, from local taxi drivers, fishermen, to the women selling tomatoes in the market.”

Government statistics show the number of visitors to Zanzibar in February increased by more than 1,000% since the festival started, injecting more than UD$7.2 million to the local economy. The festival has had to partly rely on international donors and grants. I believe there will always be some reliance; however the broader fundraising strategy is to move into larger long-term commercial sponsorships by exploiting the festival's marketing power. Essentially becoming more business savvy, and rooted in longer-term 'win-win' partnerships.

Training workshops and seminars for skills-development and networking are key elements of the festival. In partnership with other festivals in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Denmark and Norway, skills, knowledge and contacts are shared across borders, building stronger Pan African and International Networks.

Special Programmes:

Swahili Encounters ,' is an innovative live performance collaboration between Zanzibar's Dhow Countries Music Academy and visiting musicians to the festival.

Movers & Shakers is networking forum for local and visiting arts professionals to share and exchange ideas.

Busara Xtra programme provides a platform for externally-organised events of cultural interest, providing further opportunities for local artists to showcase their work, encourage visitors to see more of Zanzibar, and share economic benefits with the wider population.

Details: The festival is organised by Busara Promotions, a non-profit NGO registered in Zanzibar.

Admission is free daily for Tanzanians until 5pm. Discounts are also offered to other Africans, who regularly travel to Zanzibar every year in February, from far and wide across the Continent. 'All Festival' (4-Day) Passes for Sauti za Busara 2017 will soon be available through our website: US$10 for Tanzanians, $50 (other Africans) or US$100 for other nationalities.


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