All roads lead to Zanzibar for East Africa’s finest festival

For an established international news agency to carry the story: ‘7 African festivals you really have to see’, it is beyond no doubt, that humanity traces from all over the world in early February each year to converge at one of the world’s top events. Beating a distinct path that leads to the Swahili spice island, Zanzibar! Not for any other reason but to converge at the rocky, serene, awesome atmosphere at one of East Africa’s historic treasure locations of Stone Town, Zanzibar off the shores of Tanzania to absorb the sounds of wisdom produced by an array of rich African artists. This will be the annual Sauti za Busara festival taking place from 12 to 15 February 2015 in Zanzibar. One of the top seven festivals in the world you really have to see!

Blitz The Ambassador is set to headline Sauti za Busara 2015.
Blitz The Ambassador is set to headline Sauti za Busara 2015.

The February period in Zanzibar is usually at its most vibrant, an exotic blend of ancient architecture and African contemporary music. The congregating audiences from all corners of the globe put on their dancing shoes and get together for a musical journey, 100% live. The number of guests at the island during the festival continues to grow. It is only at the Old Fort - festival venue in Zanzibar where one will meet a South African, Kenyan, Egyptian or Canadian at the entrance, then grab a dance with an Ethiopian or Italian, go ahead and pause for a picture with a Finnish or a Dutch and later have a drink with a Nigerian or Norwegian. For sure you will agree, Sauti za Busara festival is one you really have to see!

The February 2015 twelfth edition of Sauti za Busara festival is one that’ll carve out a special place in your soul considering the lined up artist. A drum roll to Ghanian-born NYC-forged rapper, producer, and thinker Samuel Kuntulo Bazawule whose trade mark name is Blitz the Ambassador. With a vision that embraces his personal West African past and a revolutionary future of Afropolitan cross-pollination, the young MC meshes African popular sounds, American vintage soul, and hard-hitting beats and lyrics with the help of an international cast of collaborators, including Angelique Kidjo, Seun Kuti and Nneka.

‘I wanted a story that wasn’t just about glamour, but that captured the challenges for young immigrants as well’, says Ghanaian-born, Blitz the Ambassador of his latest album, Afropolitan Dreams. Blitz himself arrived in the US in 2001, fresh from Ghana. Afropolitan Dreams was inspired by meeting peers in different disciplines. What they had in common was that they were all immigrants. Blits cuts himself out as an outstanding, different rap artist with a strong sense of identity. As always with Blitz, the album is about far more than the music. It’s about the immigrants who made America, who shaped and moulded it. Local artists who will share the Busara stage need to be boastful of the fact that their profiles will be raised alongside the renowned names yet to showcase at Sauti za Busara.

Coming back home, Tanzanian recording artist, songwriter, dance and surprisingly an actor, Saleh Kiba - better known as Alikiba - remains one of the biggest stars the country has produced during the Bongo Era. He has cemented his rightful place throughout the East African region and his international reputation is currently rocketing.  In 2010 Alikiba collaborated with US singer-songwriter and producer R Kelly for the successful One8 project alongside Fally Ipupa, 2Face, and other African artists. R Kelly singled out Alikiba for his unique and beautiful voice, giving him lead for the project’s single, 'Hands across the World'. During the same period, he won the BEFFTA Award for Best International Artist in a category where had been pitted against Nigeria’s 2 Face Idibia, Beyonce and Akon. One year later, Alikiba released Dushelele, which he co-produced and co-directed and went ahead to win the Kilimanjaro Music Award for Best Zouk song. Like most peers in Tanzania’s bongo flava scene, Alikiba usually performs ‘playback’. However, it goes without saying for this rare and unique performance at Sauti za Busara 2015, Alikiba is set to perform with a full band, with real musicians, 100% live!

The programme for the 12th edition is smoking hot with the inclusion of Kenya’s fierce and fastest rising acts of the contemporary group Sarabi and the hip hop icon Octopizzo. These two are on a steep curve of rising popularity in Kenya’s music scene. Sarabi, a band of young adults who started playing together at 11 years has been referred to as ‘The new face of Afro-fusion in Kenya’ by some local press. Influenced by everyday happenings, they create a sound picture that vividly represents the Kenyan society. Sarabi’s music is rooted in traditional rhythms such as benga, with a blend of Western sounds. In 2013 they released their first album, titled Oyaore, to rave reviews. In 2014 they took Kenya by storm with 'Sheria'. Juliani, the Kenyan hiphop legend, collaborates on the track. 'Sheria' looks back at the maize scandal, the missing free primary education money, the Kazi kwa Vijana scandal and more. But the song also blames the Kenyan people for accepting bribes and bribing.

Octopizzo, commonly referred to as Namba Nane Baby by his fans, was born and bred in one of Kenya’s largest slum, Kibera. Octopizzo is one of Kenya’s top hip-hop artists known for his catchy punch lines and self branding with the no 8, a number representing his hood. The artist debut the music scene back in 2008 with his mix tape strugglers of Nairobi which became a huge success and has been on the uphill trail of his career since then with hits like 'Ivo Ivo Ivo', 'Vile Inafaa' and 'On Top'. Apart from music the artist is also an innovative entrepreneur with a clothing line (Y.G.B), a tour company called Chocolate City and a condom line, Let’s Do It. Octopizzo is active in his community and his music reflects this, with lyrics urging Kenyans to vote, and the need for peace, unity and economic equality. He is the founder and chairman of the Young, Gifted and Black community organization, consisting of rappers, poets, graffiti artists, graphic artists, and dancers. He has toured Europe and several countries for live shows. Octopizzo will stretch his act further by appearing with a live band. These and a host of other artists are set to light up Stone Town during the Sauti za Busara festival, where a sea of humanity is constantly flowing through in the month of February.

Apart from providing a networking opportunity to local artists, the Tanzanian government indicated in statistics it released that since the establishment of the festival at the first edition in 2004, tourism has ballooned with the number of guests increasing up to 500%. As the festival director, Yusuf Mahmoud, puts it: “Festivals invigorate young people’s interest in local culture, give opportunities for artists and music professionals to meet and learn from each other, keep traditions alive, create employment for local people and promote Zanzibar as a model for responsible tourism that honours and respects local culture.”

The lineup of artists set to perform and the warm welcoming hearts of the Zanzibari people surely has everything to do with this. The festival goers from all over the world follow the African drum beat and enjoy the rich African culture on display in such a magnanimous island. The mellow, sweet voice of the gifted Isabel Novella from Mozambique, will rent the air at the Old fort. She is blessed with the voice to sing. Straddling between soul-bossa jazz, marrabenta-bossa, upbeat reggaeton and Afro soul; Isabel has coined a new sound for herself - ‘pop-world soul’. On stage, among them will be Ihhashi Elimhlophe (South Africa), Tcheka (Cape Verde), Diabel Cissokho (Senegal), Culture Musical Club (Zanzibar), Msafiri Zawose (Tanzania), Aline Frazão (Angola), Tsiliva (Madagascar), Leo Mkanyia and the Swahili Blues Band (Tanzania), Mohamed Ilyas & Nyota Zameremeta (Zanzibar), Thaïs Diarra (Senegal / Mali / Switzerland), Liza Kamikazi and band (Rwanda), Erik Aliana (Cameroon), Mpamanga (Madagascar), Mgodro Group (Zanzibar), Rico Single & Swahili Vibes (Zanzibar), Zee Town Sojaz (Zanzibar), Ifa Band (Tanzania) and more.


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