Performing Arts

Top musicians perform in Zanzibar


Members of the Siti and the Band Zanzibar taarab- Afropop ensemble. PHOTO | POOL

Even as many music festivals were cancelled in the last two years, amid health and safety restrictions, travel complications, and scarcity of funds for the arts, one event defied the odds and continued with live physical performances in 2021 and 2021.

Organisers of Sauti Za Busara, one of the region’s most popular music festivals are confident that the resilience of staging events in the last two years of the pandemic will stand them in good stead as they prepare to welcome performers and visitors to Zanzibar next weekend for three days of live music by some of Africa’s biggest music stars.

This year, with much of the world having opened up for business, thanks to Covid-19 vaccinations, organisers are hoping to recapture the full energy of this world-renowned showcase held against the backdrop of the Stone Town, as the event celebrates its 19th edition.

“On the positive side, African festivals like ours now partner with more TV and digital platforms, to ensure we continue to reach wide audiences,” says Yusuf Mohammed, CEO and festival director of Sauti Za Busara.

“Even so, very few African artists have been able to derive a sustainable income from TV broadcasts and online streaming.

Yusuf says that there is much to celebrate about new digital opportunities and hybrid models for engagement.

“While virtual concerts can be enjoyed at home, it is impossible to replicate the magic, excitement, and energy of the physical experience.

For three days starting February 11th, a line of exciting artists from East and Southern Africa will perform to the theme of this year’s festival, “Paza Sauti: Amplifying Women’s Voices.”

“We acknowledge the particular difficulties that women musicians face in developing their professional careers,” says Yusuf.

“We pay special attention to the selection of female artists, encouraging their presence on stage as well as behind the scenes.”

One of the stand-out artists on the first night of the festival is South African Afro-Soul singer- songwriter Nomfusi whose big voice and powerful stage presence earned the praise of among others the late Hugh Masekela and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.

Nomfusi also famously played the character of Miriam Makeba in the 2013 film “Long Walk to Freedom” based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography.

She has been on tour promoting her latest album The Red Stoep” which reflects her story of growing up in the townships of the Eastern Cape of South Africa as the daughter of a sangoma (traditional healer).

While she has earned acclaim in Southern Africa and Europe, this will be her first performance in East Africa and there is no better stage to connect with a diverse audience of fans in this part of the world than Sauti Za Busara.

The island’s locals will also be delighted to have one of their hottest new talents, Zan Ubuntu on the bill during the first night of the festival.

This is a group comprising artists who are products of the famous Dhow Countries Music Academy based on the island’s Stone Town who have made a name for themselves since emerging in 2020 performing traditional dance and percussion, capoeira, and acrobatics.

The second day of the festival also features a fantastic line up including the Ugandan ‘Alur Queen’ Suzan Kerunen, who is well known to festival-goers around East Africa thanks to her previous performances at events across the region.

There will also be excited at the appearance of Sampa The Great, the highly regarded Zambian rapper who has been based in Australia for almost a decade.

She has returned to her native country since the beginning of the pandemic and has been making new music, tapping into some of the sounds from the Zamrock era of the 1970s blending African rhythms with rock, soul and funk.

Another major interest on that bill is the Zanzibari taarab outfit Siti and the Band.

Those who watched the ensemble perform in Nairobi in 2018 will fondly remember their sweet brand of taarab-Afropop fusion and in the recent past, they have earned international acclaim playing alongside top stars like Nigerian Seun Kuti.

The last day of the Sauti Za Busara festival will feature top South African singer and guitarist Msaki whose second album “Platinumb Heart Beating” released at the end of 2020 references the “Marikana Massacre” where 34 striking miners were shot dead by police a decade ago.

If you are travelling for this year’s Sauti Za Busara, then like other festival-goers from around the world, you will be counting on the vibrant atmosphere of music and art in the sweltering heat of the idyllic island to rejuvenate your spirits after the turmoil of the last two years.