Banner photo: Culture Musical Club, by Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones
Homepage thumbnail: Old Fort, by Rashde Fidigo
Afropop’s Banning Eyre and I are very excited to return this Monday to Tanzania and Zanzibar for a reporting trip. The centerpiece of our work will be covering the pan-African Sauti za Busara Festival (Swahili Sounds of Wisdom) at the open-air Old Fort—a UNESCO World Heritage site—in Stone Town on the beautiful Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar. We reported on the second Sauti za Busara Festival in 2004 and now we are returning to help document this one-of-a-kind music festival’s 20th edition. Stay tuned for the live recordings and interviews, photos, videos and stories we bring back to share with you.
Artists set to perform this February 10-12 at Sauti za Busara that have especially caught our ears and eyes from their YouTube videos include Zanzibar’s own Culture Music Club (CMC), a majestic taraab of a 30-some piece orchestra of violins, cellos, and bass with a unique sound that speaks to the island’s Swhaili/Arabic heritage. Also from Zanzibar is the younger generation—the punchy Stone Town Rockerz. Also representing Indian Ocean island culture is Zily from the island of Mayotte. Her sound is closely associated with salegy from the nearby California-size island of Madagascar. Closer to home is the taraab singer Patricia Hilary from Tanzania, and from the opposite side of the continent, from the Casamance region of Senegal, come the fine kora player Sonna Cissocko and Band.
Yusuf Mahmoud, Sauti za Busara's founder and director, is fond of saying “The best place to experience African music is under African skies.” We heartily agree! Yusuf also talks about the priority the festival has placed on promoting emerging talent and women-led bands, and this year’s edition bears that out brilliantly. We’ve never heard of many of the artists on the bill for the three nights. And this year’s festival is a parade of female talent. We’re pleased that the memory of recently passed Congolese mutuashi roots pop pioneer Tshala Muana is being honored by the wonderful young mutuashi singer Naxx Bitota out of Montreal. Nneka is a young Nigerian rapper with a degree in anthropology and politically charged lyrics to share. And Ivory Coast’s charismatic and legendary reggae artist Tiken Jah Fakoly will close out the festival. Stay tuned for our reports.
You can read my extensive interview with Sauti za Busara’s Yusuf Mahmoud about this year’s festival and see some gorgeous photos of Zanzibar and the artists.
Before setting foot in Zanzibar, we’ll land in Tanzania’s cultural and commercial hub, Dar es Salaam. Dar is one of my favorite musical destinations in Africa. The city’s multi-generational offerings include the classic big bands called musiki wa dansi as well as immigrant Congolese musicians leading mixed Congolese-Tanzanian bands based on the solid rumba music that has entertained African dance music lovers since the 1950’s. Then there is the dominant local youth music genre, bonga flava. We’re also looking forward to taraab fusion music, updating traditional taraab sounds with electric instruments, drums and Congolese rhythms. Finally, something new to us is the electro singeli music reportedly most popular in the poorer suburban neighborhoods of Dar.
I’ve learned a lot to get me ready to dive into the Dar music scene by talking with the program director of the popular Clouds FM (88.5 FM), a mainly bonga flava radio station and the program director for EFM (93.7 FM), renowned as the number one singeli station. Both these fellow radio men are handpicking the stars in their respective genres to talk with us and to perform. You can follow Banning and I vicariously by googling these stations and listening to them stream live. And you can brush up on your Swahili while you’re at it! Also stay tuned to afropop.org. We’ll be burning the midnight oil making live recordings and interviews but we’ll find time somehow to fire off dispatches from Tanzania to send you stories and photos every other day or so. Insh’Allah…