Each year in February some of Africa’s most accomplished musicians gather in Zanzibar to showcase the continent’s diverse and vibrant music and culture in a festival that has earned global recognition as one of the best of its kind.
Last week thousands of music fans from across the world trooped to the idyllic Indian Ocean island as Sauti Za Busara, celebrated its 20th anniversary with three days of performances by an eclectic line-up of artists from around Africa and its diaspora.
Festival Director Yusuf Mahmoud was effusive: “Everyone says it was historic, legendary, the best,” he told the BDLife a day after the end of the festival that he called “a celebration of African music under African skies.”
“When people come to Sauti za Busara, they leave with memories from the performances and the island which last for many years and some have gone on to forge working relationships that continue to other aspects of their lives,” says Mahmoud.
The musicians represented every part of the African continent, from the Maghreb North to the far South, most of whom were performing in Zanzibar for the first time.
“Artiste selection has always been one of our major strengths over the years, artistes whose music is truly African,” said Mahmoud.
He added that the festival is cognisant of the different musical styles that represent the diversity of Africa in this modern age.
Topping the bill at this year’s Sauti za Busara was the legendary Ivorian performer Tiken Jah Fakoly who together with his band delivered an energetic set of his brand of African reggae on the main stage to close out the last night of the festival.
Fakoly is an outspoken proponent of African unity, and economic, political, and cultural renaissance, and these themes resonated with the fans who danced and sang along to his music.
The towering figure in a flowing robe strutted across the stage, his distinct voice soaring through a setlist including politically conscious songs like Discrimination, Tonton D’America, African Revolution, We Love Africa, Religion, I Can Hear and Africa Wants to be Free.
“We don’t understand how our continent is very rich but our population is very poor. That’s not normal,” he told the charged crowd during an electrifying performance.
The previous night, the South African outfit BCUC, had made a stunning return to Sauti za Busara after their maiden appearance in 2019.
The group from Soweto didn’t disappoint with a high-energy fusion of rock, pop, soul and dance, closing out the second day of the festival on the main stage.
The seven members of the band rapped, chanted, danced, and even did push-ups on the stage as they delivered songs of hope, love, and strength.
Other attractions were Asia Madani the Sudanese singer and percussionist based in Egypt, playing folk music from her homeland on the traditional drum known as dalooka, and Senegalese kora griot Sana Cissokho.
Zimbabwean singer, songwriter and mbira player, Nasibo was a crowd favourite playing her signature mbira (thumb piano), while Canadian-based Naxx Bitota, showcased mutuashi with a twist of rumba from her native country, the DRC.
The musicians from the Atse Tewodros Project, an ensemble of Ethiopian and Italian artists used their performance to speak about the healing power of music “We faced the Italian occupation of Ethiopia and there were many wounds,” said lead singer Gabriella Ghermandi.
“There was only one place that we could make peace and it was in the land of music. Here we are, Ethiopian and Italian musicians, and we are going forward.”
As usual, there was a host of homegrown stars at this year’s Sauti za Busara including Mzee wa Bwax, who is one of the hottest names of the singeli genre of Tanzanian dance music, singer-songwriter Damian Soul, Stone Town Rockers, taarab ensembles Cultural Musical Club, and Uwaridi Female Band, and the children’s orchestra, DCMA Young Stars.
The theme of this year’s Sauti Za Busara was “Our Diversity, Our Wealth” an acknowledgement that Africa is a huge continent with different historical backgrounds but common aspirations.
“It is nostalgic to remember how it all started. Today this festival has survived and grown to become one of the most respected in Africa,” said Zanzibar’s Minister for Tourism and Heritage Simai Mohammed Said who was among the founders of the festival.