East Africa’s largest music festival cancelled!

Busara Promotions has reluctantly announced their decision to cancel the 2016 edition of Sauti za Busara due to a shortage of funding. Next year will therefore be the first time in 13 years that Zanzibar does not enjoy an international music festival in February.

The Sauti za Busara team on stage at this year's festival. Photo: Peter Bennett
The Sauti za Busara team on stage at this year's festival. Photo: Peter Bennett

Yusuf Mahmoud, CEO of Busara Promotions, announced today: "This decision was not taken lightly. Previously we had always announced festival dates a year in advance. But after closing the books on another highly successful festival in February 2015, once again we were back to square one, with no funds to start working on the next edition."

According to Mahmoud, the festival failed to raise the $200 000 target before July, when the next edition festival dates would have been announced. The fundraising period was then extended to Wednesday 19 August, but they only managed to raise $42 000, leaving the organisers with no option but to cancel the festival. Mahmoud said selling tickets for the festival "was never a problem" but ticket sales only account for 30% of the festival's costs.  

Mahmoud noted that festivals such as Sauti za Busara 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 models for responsible tourism that honour and respect local culture. "However, since 2004, we've had zero financial support from the government in Zanzibar, the United Republic of Tanzania or the East African Community. Despite tireless efforts, support from donors, embassies and commercial sponsors has reached an all-time low," he said, adding that Busara Promotions is an NGO and the festival is non-profit. 

Busara Promotions is already exploring avenues to develop partnerships ahead the 2017 edition. "Some suggested we try crowd-funding. However, to truly be more sustainable, before the 2017 edition our priority will be to develop long-term partnerships with donors and sponsors who share our vision. If anyone reading this is interested to help keep Sauti za Busara alive, generating employment locally while shining the spotlight on our rich musical traditions and promoting cultural tourism for Zanzibar and Tanzania, please contact me at Busara Promotions,” said Mahmoud.

Conservative estimates suggest that since 2004 Sauti za Busara has generated $70 million in revenue for the island, and the festival is widely regarded as one of the premier African music festivals in the world. “Sometimes it’s necessary to take one step back, before continuing to move forwards," explained Mahmoud on the decision to cancel the 2016 edition. "The Busara Board and management shall be working hard over the coming months to ensure the festival resumes stronger than ever from 2017. Possibly this will mean moving location, or making it a biennial event. Certainly our priorities will be to keep the event accessible for the local population, whilst seeking to build longer-term partnerships with the public and private sectors."

While the festival takes a break, Busara Promotions will continue with its regular activities to promote African music, strengthen local knowledge and skills, and promote the regional music sector. Throughout the year, Busara ensures East African artists are invited to other international events and facilitates skills-building for local artists and festival crews, through exchanges and training in arts management, marketing, media and technical skills. This work, supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Dar es Salaam, will fortunately not be affected by the decision to cancel Sauti za Busara 2016.

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