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Sauti za Busara 2008

Eye witness report

Sauti za Busara 2007 – Stone Town, Zanzibar – by Birgit Quade

A dhow race on Sunday afternoon
A dhow race on Sunday afternoon

One of the first words you will hear when coming to Zanzibar is ‘Karibu’. Like the breeze of the Kaskazi trade winds, it is a warm Swahili welcome to the coast of East Africa. I have just landed at the airport and already I can feel a sense of excitement in the air. I am happy to be back again, this time for Sauti za Busara "Sounds of Wisdom". A music festival held in Zanzibar every February.

Zanzibar, exotic paradise in the Indian Ocean, known for its magnificent white beaches, warm turquoise waters, coral reefs with hundreds of colourful tropical fish and the world heritage site Stone Town, is on the top of many people's lists of places to visit. This time, I have come to enjoy not so much the wonderful beaches but a music event that has made its name as ‘the friendliest festival on earth’.

In its fourth year that the non-profit organisation, Busara Promotions, aims to bring together people of all ages and backgrounds in celebration of the wealth and variety of music from the Swahili region in a five-day event.

Chibite
Chibite

My expectations are high, and a recent article in The Guardian (UK) on Zanzibar’s musical traditions, describes the festival as an ‘intriguing musical experiment’ that has begun to rival those other African attractions, the Festival in the Desert and the Segou Festival in Mali, or the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco.

The programme booklet, which has been available from the Busara website for some weeks before promises music performances from East Africa and beyond: from rap, hip hop and bongo flava to taraab, muziki wa dansi, reggae and R’n B. Festival director, Yusuf Mahamoud, explains that the main focus is to promote the richness of the music of the Swahili-speaking region. This year, more than half of the 400 performers and 40 groups come from Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Carnival parade reaches Forodhani Gardens
Forodhani Gardens

I stroll around the Old Fort and the Forodhani Gardens, where most of the performances will take place, and enjoy the busy atmosphere before the official opening in the evening. A carnival parade of dancers, clowns, stilt walkers and acrobats, emerges from the narrow alleys of Stone Town; out of the shadows into the "spotlight" of late afternoon sunshine. Spectators gather around. Local children excitedly join in. The 4th edition of the festival has arrived; now we can begin.

Later in the evening, after a rather formal opening ceremony in honour of the sponsors, donors and supporters, the short appearance of Bi Kidude is one of the highlights. Bi Kidude is enthusiastically welcomed on stage to say a few words, as is the world premiere screening of the outstanding documentary As Old As My Tongue: The Myth and Life of Bi Kidude. Bi Kidude’s world is the stage that is where she is best, and much to the regret of her fans, she cannot perform at the festival because of a hernia operation she had to undergo recently. Later, I see her sitting in a chair, far from the VIP guests, smoking a cigarette, chatting to festivalgoers.

Over the next three days, the Old Fort will be the main attraction for the people of Zanzibar, the mainland, tourists and world music travellers alike. It is a wonderful setting. Stalls offer food and drinks, local handicraft, clothes, CDs and t-shirts. Those wanting seating, can pay a little extra to gain access to a VIP area. I go with the crowd and sit on the grass. In the afternoon, local people, families with children and visitors from all over the world would sit here. It is a relaxed, and as the organisers promised, friendly atmosphere. For Busara, it is important that the music is accessible to all: Entry before sunset is free for everyone, after sunset it is 1,000shillings (US$0.80) for residents and US$8 for non-residents. I am very impressed that the festival organisers managed to schedule the gigs around prayer times to give Muslims the opportunity to pray - and not miss the show.

The next three days offer many musical highlights. I am very interested in those groups that blend different styles, traditional local music with those of other parts of the world and create new compositions.

Ellika & Solo
Ellika & Solo

On Saturday, Ellika & Solo are one of the performers that show the audience what the outcome of crossover and fusion can bring. Solo Cissoko’s and Ellika Frisell’s kora and fiddle blend the griot music of Senegal and polska tradition of the Nordic countries. Abaraka!/ Tack!, which won the best folk music album of the Swedish Grammy 2006, is the duo’s latest album. Their debut album, Tretakt/ Takissaba, was awarded the BBC World Music Award 2003 (www.ellikasolo.com).

Another highlight is the performance of the Swahili Encounters group, a dozen musicians who came together three days before the festival for a workshop at the Dhow Countries Music Academy. It is a unique project where musicians from very different backgrounds and experiences have the possibility to jam, slam and perform.

A similar crossover project is Dhow Crossing, a collaboration of Norwegian and Tanzanian-Zanzibarian musicians. Their performance is a laid-back fusion of taraab, Norwegian folk and western music (www.zanzibarmusic.org), much applauded by the audience.

I am very curious to see Olith Ratego from Kenya, who is very popular in his own country, receiving massive airplay on local radio with his song Mamano Daa. A lot of people have turned up, and we are all ready for some dancing. But before he can convince us, we're caught in a sudden downpour. People are running to seek shelter by the stalls, cursing the interruption but enjoying the refreshing rain. Only once we are reliably informed that the performances cannot be continued for safety reasons, do we reluctantly leave the venue.

Netsayi
Netsayi

Despite these ‘heavenly’ interruptions, the next day the festival continues as scheduled. People are very excited when Netsayi from Zimbabwe-UK comes on stage. She was born in London, at the age of eight her exiled parents moved back to an independent Zimbabwe. Netsayi has a strong presence on stage. Her powerful, beautiful voice draws you in and makes you listen. Her lyrics are personal, often political, like the songs Like and Refugee Song. Her folk version of Malika in Swahili is just outstanding. Last year, Netsayi released her first album, Chimurenga Soul, which was widely acclaimed (www.netsayi.com).

Imena, from Rwanda, give a spectacular show, traditional Rwandan drumming pounds powerfully as the dancers move gracefully. Imena have been performing Rwandan music and dance for more than twenty years, and are clearly an audience favourite.

Less traditional, but enjoying an excited response from the audience are Mo’Some Big Noise from Mozambique-Austria, combining rural and urban elements with groovy, swinging sounds (www.servus.at/pntgm/msbn.htm).

Juma Nature
Juma Nature

Local interest however is waiting patiently for the big star of the evening. Juma Nature is one of the most popular hip hop artists of the bongo flava scene and much admired for his word plays and lyrics. I am very curious to hear how his music style has developed after TMK Wanaume Family split up last year. This new formation, TMK Wanaume Halisi, introduces a new dance style, Ma-kung fu flex, and at the festival yes, he is still one of the stars in the East African hip hop arena. At Busara, featuring P Funk on the turntables and DJ mixer, Juma Nature is at his best. Last year, Juma Nature won the best African act at the MTV awards. Look out for his latest recording, Ndege Tunduni.

Day four, pre-dawn: I am waking to the call for prayer. There is a fresh breeze from the sea. I am lying on the bed, just listening. It is beautiful. Last night’s impressions are still very vivid, the excitement of the performances, the singing and dancing of the crowds.

The programme promises another exiting day. I am particularly keen to see from Zimbabwe The Collaboration featuring the internationally recognised vocals of Chiwoniso Maraire and Busi Ncube. Eight well-known musicians (six of them have their own bands) have come together for this performance and it's great. With their different backgrounds and experiences, their repertoire is varies in styles, languages and voices, from traditional songs to jazz. In 2005, they released an album Hupenyu Kumusha (Life at Home), produced by Thulani Promotions (www.thulani.net). They are currently working on a new album, which will be released soon.

Rather embarrassingly for the organisers, the Kenyan group Yunasi were turned away at Nairobi airport as their flight had been overbooked. Instead, we get to see Tamarind Band (who could not perform the other night due to rain). Tamarind soon get the people dancing with their confident mix of traditional music with new elements, playing muziki wa dansi, modern guitar music and East African coastal rhythms.

Didier Awadi
Didier Awadi

Next up is Didier Awadi & Phat 4 from Senegal-Switzerland (www.awadimusic.com). Didier Awadi is a highly acclaimed rapper in the West African music scene, and beyond. He released several successful albums with Doug E Tee under the name Positive Black Soul. Since 2003 he is working alone, and in 2004, he was awarded the RFI’s Musiques du Monde. Didier’s rap is very dynamic, which he mixes with traditional elements. In particular, I thought the combination of rap and kora / djemble play was fantastic. For me, this was the gig of the evening, though many Tanzanians and Zanzibaris are saving their cheers for the evening's final performer.

Jose Chameleone
Jose Chameleone

Jose Chameleone, from Uganda, has been very successful in East Africa, and increasingly is developing an international following too. His style is a combination of Ugandan folk music, rumba, zouk and ragga and tonight he's pleasing the crowds with some of his most popular songs, Jamila, Mama Rhoda, Kipepeo, and Mama Mia. With Africa Unite and One Love, even the exhausted stage crew join in and sing along. Chameleone’s performance is energetic and enjoyable. It's no wonder he holds the stage for more than an hour.

And then? As urgently as it started, it is suddenly all over. Many thanks to the Busara crew of over 100 helpers for a well-organised festival. I have had a fantastic time, have seen many great bands and met a lot of nice people. I cannot believe it is already over – well at least for this venue. Tomorrow there is "Taarab Tuesday" and on Wednesday, up on Kendwa beach, there is the Festival Finalé Party with DJ Yusuf and DJ Eric Soul (Rwanda-UK) on the decks. And I am sure it will be another chance for ‘dancing the night away’.

The Guardian, ‘Sultans of swing’. January 5, 2007
http://arts.guardian.co.uk/filmandmusic/story/0,,1982591,00.html

Documentary: As Old As My Tongue: The Myth and Life of Bi Kidude (ScreenStation UK), Zanzibar, 2006, Feature length: 66 mins approx, Language: English/Swahili
http://www.asoldasmytongue.net 

Busara Promotions
http://www.busaramusic.org

Busara Live – Reviews, pics and video clips from the festival
http://www.busaralive.com

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