Zanzibar’s long-running Sauti za Busara Festival recently announced the cancellation of its 2016 edition, scheduled for February of next year. The annual festival, one of the largest in East Africa, ran for the last 12 years in Zanzibar’s Stone Town and provided a valuable showcase for local Swahili talent, from taraab legends Bi Kidude and Culture Musical Club, to homegrown Tanzanian pop and hip-hop.
The announcement of Sauti za Busara’s cancellation came late last week, in a post on the festival’s website http://www.busaramusic.org. The announcement cited a “shortage of funding” and a failure to meet their July fundraising goals.
Festival founder Yusuf Mahmoud explained: “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. We set ourselves the target to raise US$200,000 before July, when we hoped to announce dates for Sauti za Busara 2016. After many meetings with stakeholders, we extended our fundraising deadline to midnight on Aug. 19. The total amount of cash or ‘in-kind’ support we were able to raise presently stands at $42,000, so there is still a long way to go. Usually at this time of year, we are already well advanced in agreeing contracts with venues, equipment suppliers, artists and managers, towards scheduling the timetable and confirming artists’ travel and accommodation arrangements as early as possible. The pressure was on… Selling tickets for Sauti za Busara was never a problem, but these only cover 30 percent of festival costs.’’
Yusuf continued, ‘‘Since 2004, we 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. Busara Promotions is an NGO; the festival is nonprofit. 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… Busara Board and management shall be working hard over the coming months, to ensure the festival resumes stronger than ever from 2017.”
Since its inception in 2004, the Sauti za Busara festival and the Busara foundation have become cornerstones of sustainable development in Zanzibar, building capacity and careers in the music, arts management and tourism sectors, and promoting East African artists internationally. The festival attracted thousands of tourists every year, providing a valuable February boost during Zanzibar’s low season–and generating an estimated $70 million in tourist revenues during its 12-year run.
The festival’s profile has also grown internationally over the years, garnering critical praise from CNN and BBC World Service, and attracting artists from all over Africa and beyond, including Senegal’s Cheikh Lo, Mali’s Khaira Arby, Ghana’s Ebo Taylor and even Norwegian Sámi singer Marie Boine. In recent years the festival boasted such international artists as Debo Band, the Nile Project, Blitz the Ambassador, and South African collective The Brother Moves On.
Afropop’s Sean Barlow and Banning Eyre were at the inaugural Sauti za Busara festival in 2004 and produced a show on it. Listen to the program below.