The Sunday Mail
Robin Chaibva RECENTLY IN ZANZIBAR
DIVERSE African cultures, music, and unique food and drinks united festival-goers at the recently held Sauti za Busara (SzB).
Almost all of Africa was represented somehow; be it on stage, behind the scenes or simply as tourists. However, the majority of attendees and performers were from the host block, East Africa.
The air was filled with African pride as various “sounds of wisdom” filled the historical site of Ngome Kongwe, aka the Old Fort and Forodhani Gardens in Stone Town, Zanzibar.
The Swahili term “Sauti za Busara” means “Sounds of Wisdom”.
The festival focuses on young emerging artistes who have meaningful messages in their music. Unlike most festivals that are mostly concerned with staging popular acts, SzB offers quality experience of musical productions and artistes who have depth, especially in their message.
One of the messages of wisdom was that of African unity as seen even in the theme “AfricaUnited”.
Africa’s liberation and the need for the continent to unite in order to rise was a recurring subject. Reggae legend, Bob Marley, was honoured at the festival through several renditions of his songs of freedom by many of the acts at the music fiesta.
Morocco’s reggae band Bob Maghrib gave a fusion of Bob Marley sounds using traditional Moroccan instruments, singing “Get Up, Stand Up”.
Ethiopian artiste Sami Dan and Zewd Band serenaded festival-goers with “Peace and Love for Africa”.
Ghanaian artiste Rocky Dawuni’s closing performance included his cover of the iconic “Get Up, Stand Up” from his 2015 Grammy nominated album “Branches of the Same Tree”.
The atmosphere as the songs of unity filled the Old Fort was positive as many waved the Rastafarian flag and sang along to the music. It felt like unity as everyone became a believer in the beauty of the African continent despite where they came from.
Empowerment of the African woman was also part of the festival theme. Not only was the SzB behind the scenes team headed by many women, the artistes comprised of a lot of strong women who have overcome many barriers.
Musical artiste, Sahra Halgan from Somaliland, a fighter herself, had to live in exile as a result of the civil war. Through her music and activism she now lives in her homeland as a politician. Tausi Women’s Taarab, a Zanzibar all women group, gives its members “a sense of belonging and renewed purpose”.
Another woman, whose artistic prowess symbolises power, is Grace Barbe from Seychelles. Commenting on her role as a female creative she had this to say:
“For me, from experience, and this is what I hope anyway, when women see my sister and I on stage playing our instruments they get inspired. Seeing two women on stage playing the drums and bass, something regarded as a male role in a band, has inspired women to be bold, regardless of their fields, not be threatened by roles taken on traditionally by men,” said Barbe.
Standout groups included Malawian Madalitso Band, who played their music using traditional instruments and delivered soothing melodies. The simplicity and organic sound of the band mesmerised the Amphitheatre stage in the Old Fort. Another bombshell was Kenya’s young and hip group, H_Art the Band, who sing a genre called Afropoetry, a combination of Afro-beats, spoken word and poetry. The band uses a bold fashion style, which is an expression of their artistic side and perform a combination of theatre and comedy.
The ability for SzB to involve local artistes and residents of Zanzibar is what makes the festival special to the Stone Town community. The raw talent in the artistes’ selection also made all of them have their space in the four-day festival.
The festival is not for the pop culture enthusiasts – it is for the mature listener, a music fan who appreciates authenticity, rich lyrics and the traditional African sound. The artistes used their everyday experiences and culture to tell their stories.
Grace Barbe sang about life on the island of Seychelles, as well as honouring her ancestors with a traditional song.
Imena Cultural Troupe (Rwanda) are a proud cultural performance-based group that also wowed the crowd as they stomped on the stage in traditional garb.
In a conversation with 2015 Gammy nominee, Rocky Dawuni (Ghana), he said authenticity and innovation can make African artistes break onto the international musical scene.
“I was nominated for a Grammy for my album ‘Branches of the Same Tree’, which was a first for my country. For an artiste to move beyond their usual environment and break into the global scene, they need that mindset that whatever art they are doing, they are doing it for their people but also for all the people in the world. And your music and how you really position yourself is all towards feeding into that whole philosophy,” said Dawuni.
He spoke about the lack of musical institutions that serve as platforms for artistes to reach the global level.
In Ghana, he says many musicians have to carry their brands by themselves without any institutional support system.
“What it did was make me stronger and understand that for me to push the music forward I had to constantly innovate, be open enough to learn from other sources and really be able to grow my music. I had to strengthen my songwriting and I also got to have a sense of humility so that people could be able to open doors for me. One needs an unquenchable thirst and sense of mission to go out there and be heard,” he added.
SzB also held workshops for artistes for their development and issues regarding the music industry in Africa with their Movers & Shakers workshops; therefore creating a comprehensive system for artistes to develop.
Activities in Zanzibar
One will leave Zanzibar inspired by the rich history, beauty of the land and many cultural influences of the place. Visitors can experience the culture and history with a guided walking tour of Stone Town and a visit to the Zanzibar Museum of the Arts.
They can also explore the island’s reputation of the spices with a Spice Tour, smell the spices and taste the fruits. Expect a coconut climbing demonstration with the popular “Jambo Bwana – Zanzibar”.
Also to be enjoyed are boat rides to Prison Island and the sandy beaches, and taste of the Zanzibar pizza, fresh sugarcane food, seafood and chips omelet at Forodhani Gardens.
The festival is more than just music, but an African awakening of consciousness and pride in the beauty of our continent’s culture and music.
Robin Chaibva is a travel storyteller. Follow more travel adventures from www.sundaymail.co.zw, Instagram @hambanow and microblogging site www.hambanow.com.