Features February 22, 2024
Afropop in Tanzania 2024: Sauti Za Busara

After an intense week of music in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, I, Sean Barlow and 24 intrepid Afropop travelers made our way by ferry to Stone Town, Zanzibar, to experience one of Africa’s most impressive music festivals. Sauti Za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom) presented its 21st edition in the town’s towering coral-stone fort. Over three nights, we could take in over 25 acts, mostly from East and southern Africa.

Friday, February 9, began with the Carnival Parade through the town under a scorching African sun, ending up in the seaside Forodhani Gardens just outside the fort. This parade was long a tradition at the festival, but it’s been absent for some years now, so this was a welcome return.

(Photos by Banning Eyre, 2024)

Festival site before the action starts
Festival site before the action starts

On the fort’s smaller Amphitheater stage, Anuang’a & Maasai Vocalsanai presented a riveting set of traditional Maasai songs from Kenya’s Maasai Mara, complete with wailing, grunting and deep vocals reminiscent of South African Zulu music, as well stick dancing, and the Maasai’s signature dance, leaping implausibly into the air as if propelled by some unseen force.

Anuang’a & Maasai Vocalsanai

The standout acts on the main stage the first night included Selmor Mtukudzi, daughter of the late Oliver Mtukudzi. Her set featured a few of her father’s classics, the love song “Neria,” and the prayerful song inspired by the AIDS crisis, “Todi” (What shall we do?), which had the crowd enraptured and singing along in full voice. Selmor’s own songs notably updated the Tuku sound with youthful drive and energy.

Selmor Mtukudzi

Next came one of Zanzibar’s most beloved popular acts, Siti and the Band, featuring Siti’s rich vocals and innovative use of instruments associated with the Island’s venerable taarab music, kanoon, violin and oud.

Siti and the Band

The night’s crescendo was a spectacular set of singeli music, the latest Tanzanian music craze, born in the streets of poor Dar Es Salaam neighborhoods, but now a national sensation. Sholo Mwamba delivered it all, super-fast-paced rhythmic loops, staccato vocals laden with playful messaging, inventive ensemble costuming and choreography and plenty of audience engagement. The crowd went fairly berserk right up to the festival close just after 1AM.

Sholo Mwamba

On Saturday afternoon at the Forodhani Stage outside the fort, more singeli! This time it was Tamimu, a young act from Bagamoyo with a look all their own. These are not traditional ethnic outfits, but rather creative amalgams of influences. At one point Tamimu commanded the audience to run to the sea and back, and many did, and then—in a classic singeli move—he told the men to take off their shirts and swing them around like flags. Once again, the singeli exuberance and joy were infectious even to foreigners experiencing it for the first time.


The main stage offerings opened with a Sauti Za Busara tradition, Swahili Encounters. For this act, members of various festival groups come together for three days before the festival to create a set of original arrangements. Artists from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and also Niger and Ethiopia—these two from the group Afropentatonism—delivered a fantastic concoction of sounds, a never-before-heard amalgam that set the mood for another great night of music.

Swahili Encounters

The two closers that night were particularly noteworthy. Flying Bantu—one of three excellent Zimbabwean groups at this year’s festival—kicked out a fresh take on Zim-pop, with echoes of chimurenga, Tuku music, gospel, r&b and funk, all with the unmistakable drive and energy of Harare.

Flying Bantu

The Saturday night closer was an iconoclastic, Afrofuturistic act from South Africa. The Brother Moves on presented as shirtless guys with a decidedly anti-glamour vibe, that seemed to proudly mock conventional pop aesthetics. Despite his ungainly appearance, lead vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu sang like an angel, and the band’s music was an endlessly surprising mashup of traditional South African music, rock, hip-hop and Sun Ra-like experimentation. Not realizing what I was in for, I had retired my cameras to the hotel, so could record this remarkable set only with my phone, but you get the idea.

The Brother Moves On

For Sunday, the closing night, the action concentrated on the main stage after sunset with five outstanding acts, beginning with maverick Congolese guitarist Francesco Nchikala and his group from Lubumbashi. There were echoes of rumba and soukous in the sound, but this guy proudly proclaims his allegiance to Jimi Hendrix and has the chops to prove it. A thrilling, emotive performer, Nchikala owned the big stage blurring the lines between rock and Congolese pop like no one we’ve heard before.

Francisco Nchikala

Next came a brilliant, 24-year-old artist, again from Harare, Zimbabwe, singing, dancing and playing mbira with astounding freshness and verve. Mary Anibal and her irrepressible band were an absolute highlight for this Zimbabwe music diehard. This is the most inventive and impressive take on that country’s traditional pop we’ve heard since Thomas Mapfumo himself. Outstanding on all fronts.

Mary Anibal

I was immediately drawn to the press room to speak with Anibal so I missed a good bit of Stewart Sukuma and Banda Nkhuvu from Mozambique. But what I heard was fantastic, another big band with a dizzying range of influences and a charismatic front man. I look forward to catching up with the recording we made!

Stewart Sukuma and Banda Nkhuvu

Zoë Modiga is a South African singer building on the Miriam Makeba tradition of SA pop jazz. She’s been on our radar for a few years with her great videos. But seeing her live was a treat. This is a global star, very likely to appear on American stages soon.

Zoë Modiga

The festival closer was historic. Mádé Kuti is the grandson of the immortal Fela Kuti, and son of Fela’s eldest son Femi Kuti, leader of the band Positive Force. His career is just beginning, and shows tremendous promise. Mádé’s take on Afrobeat was ripping and visceral. Femi is known for revving up the pace and intensity of classic Afrobeat, and Made takes this malleable genre a step further, as one might expect. I actually wondered whether the set’s ferocious pace might be taking a cue from Tanzanian singeli, because it was that kinetic. Made is a hyper-talented multi-instrumentalist and he and his band, The Movement, gave this outstanding festival the sendoff it deserves. Our Afropop crew was exhausted and wowed by the end, many vowing to return in 2025 for more.

Mádé Kuti

Afropop Weigh in on Afropop's digital future and download an exclusive concert from the archives—free!