Culture vultures heading out to the idyllic Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar for the 2014 Sauti za Busara Festival this February should have finalised their travel and accommodation plans by now. East Africa’s premier world music showcase is a pilgrimage of sorts that books out the ferry service between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. This coupled with an absence of [hotel] rooms for those that do not plan very early. The wise thing is to reserve one’s place of abode up to six months in advance. Unless you want to take a chance on sleeping out in the sweltering sea level heat, an adventure on its own. Joel Sebunjo is the lone Ugandan on the festival bill this year in what is yet another indictment of the World Music scene in Uganda. One would have expected fine outfits of note like Janzi Band, Myko Ouma, Suzan Kerunen or even Lilian Mbabazi to have made the grade. Let’s hope the folks at Bayimba, a partner festival to Busara, have not been napping on the job in not aggressively pitching our export-quality World Music talent.
And hopefully Sebunjo will not self-destruct this time. The last time he was at Busara in 2010, he buckled under the weight of the stringed Kora to deliver a lacklustre performance that was eclipsed by more authentic players from West Africa. Luckily for him, following his Visa Pour la Creation Award that came with a four month residency in France plus a Coke Studio Africa anointment all in 2013, he should bring his A-game to the Busara audience, the bulk of whom do the Zanzibar pilgrimage to escape the Western hemisphere deep freeze for a quick tan.
But arts journos, most of whom are self-sponsored because most regional media houses care little about a “filler” beat, will have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for permits whose sales are meant to plug a festival funding shortfall. A Festival Pass will go for $25 for African journalists and $95 for International journos. For this, accredited members of the press will be granted entry to the festival and entitled to free access to the pre-festival press conference, all press meetings, wifi-equipped media facilities in the Old Fort, interviews with artists and festival organisers, and Movers & Shakers networking sessions. Video journos; those with operations involving a tripod, microphone-stand, extra lighting, or more than one person are only allowed with a Festival Filming Permit costing $500 for African journos and $1500 for their international counterparts. More information is available at http://www.busaramusic.org/press/press_accreditation/
However, beyond being a tourism marketing gimmick that shows off Zanzibar’s heritage, turquoise ocean waters and savoury aquatic cuisine, Sauti za Busara is a great networking opportunity for any World Music artiste wishing to make a mark on the global entertainment scene. The Movers & Shakers afternoon sessions offer great intercourse with discourse and banter over coastal sweets and coffee. The Swahili Encounters segment is also a great way for visiting artistes to soak up bits of indigenous Swahili culture alongside possible music collaborations. This is where the festival sure lives up to its billing as a Sounds of Wisdom (the English translation of its title) showcase. On that you are guaranteed to leave the four-day searing extravaganza with a higher cultural IQ.
Text: MOSES SERUGO (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)