Aiming to play more than Africa’s music

BRINGING bands like Bob Maghirib from Morocco with their Reggae sounds to the Sauti za Busara (SzB) stage is only part of the international music festival’s way of exposing locals to other unique, authentic original sounds. (Photos by Iman Mani)


IT’S now sealed into history that after one year’s gap, the Sauti za Busara (SzB) international Music festival came back with a bang, last month.

During the four-day celebration of African music in Stone Town, Zanzibar, 40 bands of which 50 per cent were locals, with over 400 artists presented their musical sounds on three different stages to huge crowds.

Now it is also recorded that “six thousand festival goers” from different nationalities, flocked nightly to the Old Fort, there in Stone Town, where the atmosphere was described as being ‘electric’.

The outsidestage, in the Forodhani grounds was especially popular with young people and local families, who gathered to enjoy diverse musical sounds against a backdrop of the ocean and its sunsets. When in conversation with the Festival Director, Yusuf Mahmoud recently, he said “through the language of music” SzB showed the world “Africa is positive, full of hope, joy, culturally rich and diverse.

” He also pointed out that as a result of the festival, people in Zanzibar and across the world, witnessed the “power of music to promote peace, friendship and unity.

” This, according to Mahmoud, who is also Busara Promotion (BP) CEO, is something to be deeply grateful to all the artists and crew together with the people of Zanzibar, sponsors, media partners and literally anyone, who attended and contributed to its ‘success’.

Many festival-goers spoken to, while on the Isles, told the ‘Daily News’this was the ‘best one’ they had witnessed. They referred to it as having a ‘fantastic and diverse’ music programme, which featured ‘high quality’ sound and lighting for the first time. Many also noted an improvement in the day-to-day organising, which resulted in everything running a lot more smoothly and on time.

Another thing that has made the festival organisers proud and useful to note here is this year BP partnered with Emerson’s Zanzibar Foundation (EZF), to officially launch the first annual Emerson’s Music Awards (EZMA). This honoured the best performance by a Zanzibarbased artist from a local group, which had performed this year.

The award went to Gora Mohamed, a Ganun player in Issa Matona’s G Clef Band. For his prize Mohamed took home USD 1,000 - a special trophy, a framed certificate and had a post-award celebration, hosted by the Emerson Spice Hotel.

Therefore, with all this and the crowds cheering for more of such events, it becomes easier to believe that SzB is set to return next year on February 8-11, as scheduled. When conversing with the event’s Board of Trustees Chairman, Simai Mohamed Said, he talked about deliberately having a mixture of music to show the richness of the African continent’s culture.

This becomes a lot more necessary, he says, bearing in mind most of the music, which is heard, at the festival is not seen or heard on African television or radio, despite the people having great love for them.

“So every year when we receive applications from people all across The Continent and the Diaspora, we deliberately try to choose a wide selection of music that we think would resonate with local people …With the groups from far away, we usually bring them for another reason, which is to open the minds, eyes and ears of our local musicians, to show them what’s possible,” Said explained.

Maybe an example of how this ‘opening’ process the chairman spoke about actually works could be better understood with reference to another conversation the ‘Daily News’ had with the Perth-Australiabased Seychelles musician, Grace Barbe.

She talked much about the relationship the performer has to have with their audience, when on stage, as being crucial to having a successful show. For her, this relationship with the audience is built consciously throughout a performance and it’s not just “going on stage performing, having a good time, dance and come off”.

There’s a very important connection happening, which means the performer can grab the audience for that moment or lose them. It’s the audience that keeps the performer going, she suggested.

Now, from the exchange that automatically takes place when musicians meet, those from here can get a better understanding of how to behave with an audience, especially when on stage. Grace’s words should make the benefits also clearer to anyone interested in the other side of a performance.

“That energy we give the audience has to come from a good place. And when they receive this good stuff, they’ll throw back that good stuff. So there’s a beautiful exchange and you’re building the relationship with your audience, as you’re performing,” she explained.

Therefore, when on stage she is very careful how she connects with the audience, irrespective of their number. After-all, she maintains, it’s them that keeps the performer going, so for it to work there has to be a constant exchange of energy between an audience and the performer. She wants people to feel good when they leave her performance and to continue to follow and connect with them, no matter where they are.

This is why she is very careful how she connects with her audience, for without them she would not be performing, she said. For the former Bongo Star Search (BSS) winner, Misoji Nkwabi, performing for the first time at the just-ended SzB with her Afrijam Band, was pleasantly different from what she thought it would be.

Contrary to what she had been hearing, she was surprised to see how people just kept on filling the amphitheatre during her performance.

“This has given me a big call to prepare for next year’s episode, God willing. Just from seeing the way people participated in creating a happy atmosphere, plus wanting us to continue when it was time for us to leave the stage, is very encouraging,” she said.

To sum it all up, from the various conversations and what actually took place on stage the SzB team seem determined to provide support for those willing to create music, which is unique, interesting, relevant that people will love both here, at home and overseas.

This explains why, some of the local groups they choose, tend to be those which are not usually seen or played on television and radio. According to the Festival Director such groups, which are not in the mainstream, get the possibility of being spotted by the many international promoters that come to the event, looking for “unique, organic and original” music.

He lives in hope that one day these local groups will have an impact on television and radio stations, who will pay more attention to the ‘diversity and richness’ of music that Africa has to offers.

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