When I
noticed that my favorite African music festival was the day after my music
publishers meeting in Jhb last month, I impulsively decided to head to Zanzibar
for 10 days of the fantastic East African live music, workshops, networking and
a spot of Kite surfing!

And wow – am I glad that I followed my gut with this one. It was a trip beyond my expectations on all fronts – music, business opportunities, new friends and scuba diving (instead of the planned Kite surfing!)

Sauti za Busara, the “Sounds of Wisdom”, has been an annual live music event for more than 15 years with hundreds of live African music acts having performed at the 300 year “Old fort”, in the atmospheric and other worldly maze called Stone Town.

Old fort, Stone Town, Busara 2020

After a 3hr45min Mango flight from OR Tambo I arrived at the quaint Abeid Amani Karume airport, 5 km from Stone Town and hitched a taxi ride with another traveler to my 19th century hotel, which had also housed many a sultans family over the past 125 years. I’m not sure how they coped before aircon – it is freaking hot and humid in Zanzibar in February!


After a street parade and free public performances at the lively Fordini food gardens outside the Old Fort, and right next to the ocean, the ceremonial greeting speeches announced the start of the “friendliest music festival in Africa”

Highlight acts on the first night were local Zanzibari act TaraJazz, who merged traditional Taarab, jazz and energetic EDM flavour builds into fresh cross over sound. Another Taarab crossover act, Siti and the band, were up next. They had come along way since I first saw them two years previously and their extensive international touring showed in their evocative performance.


I first met
with the super talented Lawrence Okello, a top Ugandan traditional musician who
I was keen to record whist in Zanzibar. Luckily Lorenz Harrmann had just set up
the new Stone Town Recording studios so everything was looking on track for a
session in few days!

Then I met Lucy Ilado from Nairobi, who is the East African correspondent for Music in Africa, a great news resource in our industry. She’s super cool, knows everyone and has a great understanding of music trends, conferences and festivals, so I was really chuffed to meet her and look forward to building our relationship going forward.

Then it was
the “Movers and Shakers” workshop discussion on how artists should present
themselves for festival bookings, to record labels etc… The room was full of
industry experts from all over Africa, but surprisingly few artists…mmmm!

The music performances started at 7pm, and two of the first nights bands were from Reunion. Pigment, an edgy island rock act and Kaloubadya, a frenetic perc ensamble that reminded me a bit of SA’s BCUC.  It was great to watch the swaying traditional Zanzibarian rhythms and romantic melodies of Taarab super group Nadi Ikhwan Safaa who can trace its roots back to 1905.

Apio at Busara 2020

I also loved the soulful acoustic rootsy sounds from Ugandan singer Apio Moro, who reminded me of SA’s Sahara. An upcoming star to keep a look out for.

But the act that got the 12000 plus crowd jumping madly was Guiss Guiss Bou Bess, a French / Senegalese Afro electro dance act. Their energy was mad and the group was a festival highlight. But the act that got the 12000 plus crowd jumping madly was Guiss Guiss Bou Bess, a French / Senegalese Afro electro dance act. Their energy was mad and the group was a festival highlight.

Guiss Guiss Bou Bess at Busara 2020

The night ended with Blinky Bill, an artist that I was keen to see as he’d been popping up in many a TV ad brief as a reference, and is the very popular face of the Kenyan Ultra hip Hip Hop scene. With full live band his sound was not what I expected – quite chilled, but funky and tight as hell. Cool assed confidence was oozing from the stage! 

Blinky Bill from Kenya live on stage at Busara 2020