A NairobiNow’s Guide to Exploring Sauti za Busara Festival, February 9-12 2016 @ Stone Town – Zanzibar

February 6, 2017 at 3:46 pm Leave a comment

Map of Zanzibar Stone Town – most of the action will be happening at Old Fort

Sauti za Busara Festival is here with us again with two days before the official kick-off in Stone Town. Having participated in the previous edition of the festival in 2015 (in 2016 the festival did not take place due to funding constrains). I thought it would be nice to share some of the things to look out for – especially for a first timer to Zanzibar Island.

Sauti za Busara Banner outside the Old Fort | Photo by Robert Njathika

Sauti za Busara Banner outside the Old Fort | Photo by Robert Njathika


The highlights are based on this year’s festival line-up – the official programme plus also the insights gathered in the previous festival.

Day 1: Thursday, February 9, 2017 – Carnival Parade and official Kick-Off of the Festival

Parade through the Streets of Zanzibar in 2015 | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

Parade through the Streets of Zanzibar in 2015 | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

The festival officially starts on Thursday, February 9, 2017. However, between now and Thursday there a number of events – concerts in selected hospitality Sauti za Busara partners and guided town walks through the Old Town. However, should you arrive at the Island on Wednesday or Thursday morning do make time for the carnival parade. This will be nothing like you have ever seen.

The carnival starts far from Old Fort -the centre of activities during the four day musical extravaganza – at an open space called Mnarani. This is around 2 KMs from the Old Fort. The carnival starts at 3 pm. It is advisable to go earlier at the Fort and leave with the people who will be going to Mnarani – they know their way around and you don’t want to get lost on the first day!
Wear light clothing and carry lots of water – the carnival can take the toll on you if you are not used to the blazing Zanzibar heat.

The Masai of Tanzania participating in the Parade - SzB 2015 | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

The Masai of Tanzania participating in the Parade – SzB 2015 | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

The unique thing about the carnival is that is rich in cultural identity and the residents of Zanzibar and Tanzania in general adore their traditional garb and sing along the way through various streets of Zanzibar – signaling the official opening of the festival to all and sundry.

A Parade gymnast does a cartwheel on the streets of Zanzibar. In the background is the housing complex built in the late 70's | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

A Parade gymnast does a cartwheel on the streets of Zanzibar. In the background is a public housing complex built in the late 70’s | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

Also, through the carnival parade watch out for the influences in the architecture of the city – like there are housing estates which were built in the early years of independence – which are clearly influenced by the East. Also, now that China is back in the continent – you will not fail to miss their presence – especially in the infrastructure outlay.

Participants in the Parade - approaching the Old Fort | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

Participants in the Parade – approaching the Old Fort | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

Lastly, the political elite know that there is a big Gig in town and as such there are billboards to that effect – you won’t miss them (unless they were there in 2015 because Tanzania was approaching the elections in 2016)!

Thereafter the action going to Forodhani stage which is the stage outside the Fort. At that point in time the food vendors will be setting up at the Forodhani gardens and if you were drained by the carnival, that is the perfect time to snack up and prepare yourself for a long evening!

One of the things you will learn is that the festival starts at five pm and ends past mid-night. Eight/Nine pm is when juices flow which gives one some ample time to catch the sunset, do dinner and possible freshen up.

Old Fort - the stumping grounds for one Ali Kiba, the headlining act in 2015 Festival. | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

Old Fort – the stumping grounds for one Ali Kiba, the headlining act in 2015 Festival. | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

The headlining act for day one has not been indicated in the festival programme – one was hoping it would have been Yamoto Band but since this has not been announced it seems a good bet to check out the Ethiopians – Sami Dan & Zewd Band.

Day 2: Friday, February 10, 2017 – Sarabi Band (from Kenya are the headlining act!)
Depending on how you indulge on day one – whether you decide to do an after party after the last performance, on day two you ought to be pretty free in the morning hours. However, expect to be woken up by call to prayer at 5 am if you are residing next to a mosque.

It is advisable to do your morning errands early in the morning before the heat becomes unbearable. However, during the morning hours you can also do the old town tour or do a spice tour.

In the afternoon, if you are among the lucky few invited to the movers and shakers forum (a busara xtra event) – then you can participate in deliberations on digital opportunities for musicians with practitioners’ from all over Africa. (please note this an invite only event and the dates for extending the invitation have lapsed.)

However, worry not if you are not among the select few – there are endless things to do in the island. An afternoon swim near Old Town is ideal – however, you can also plan to get out of Old Town and a good spot to unwind is Upendo Resort which overlooks the Rock! This is a one and a half hours jorney on the eastern side of the island and as such you ought to go there early so that you can leave in time for the evening performances.

Mandela - the lead vocalist of the Sarabi Band performing in 2015 at Sauti za Busara | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

Mandela – the lead vocalist of the Sarabi Band performing in 2015 at Sauti za Busara | Photo by Gabriele Fiolo

On the second day, Sarabi Band are the headlining act – performing at midnight. Do carry a Kenyan flag if you can – if you intend to go the full throttle in supporting the Kenyan boys and a girl band. This is the second time performing at the festival having made their debut in 2015. They seem to be a favorite of Yusuf Mohamoud – the Mzee wa Busara! Also, they have a new single out – Hakuna Matata – take a listen to it here.

Day 3: Saturday, February 11, 2017 – Hart the Band (from Kenya are performing from 8.20 pm)
By day three you will have got the hang of Island life! Saturday should be pretty much like the previous day. However, it being a week-end you will notice more residents of Zanzibar – especially those one’s who were bogged down by office work.

This would be an ideal day to take a cruise to Pemba Island and/or indulge into other outdoor activities. You will find almost everyone in Zanzibar has or knows someone in the industry offering one thing or the other! Seek recommendations from either your hotel or someone you know. Also, the Sauti za Busara programme and/or vendors inside the Old Fort can be of assistance.

On day three don’t forget Hart the Band are performing early – at 8.20 pm – if you intend to catch them and playing. Otherwise, itakuwa ngori!

The headlining act for the day is Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band from Ghana.

Day 4: Sunday, February 12, 2017 – Shake Your Dreads with Rocky Dawuni (Headlining Act from Ghana)

On the last day – shake your dreads with the festival headlining act – Rocky Dawuni and indulge in a number of post festival activities lined up in the island.

A number of Sauti za Busara Xtra events are lined up for the day and I would recommend you try the Soulful Beach Brunch at Upendo – Michamvi. Ideally, there should be a bus leaving for Upendo resort outside the Fort at or around 10 am.

Also, you can unwind at the Serena Inn listening to Culture Music Club. Serena has a excellent viewing area where you can catch the memorable views and you wind down the official four days of festivities.

Download the festival-programme (pdf).

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Entry filed under: concerts, festival, out of town, review. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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