Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Voices of Wisdom 2009

I am ashamed to say that this is the first year that I bothered to attend the Sauti Za Busara Music Festival in Zanzibar. Typical of course- I am usually the one yakking on endlessly about how we should have festivals of all kinds that celebrate our art and give us a chance to appreciate it. Busara has been running for three years now. Paradisans- this one is worth it. At the prices that locals pay, it is hardly more expensive than a weekend at Kigamboni and infinitely more interesting. So, the recount:

1. Book Salaam was stellar, considering it was the first of its kind in Bongo. Patrick Neate made for an excellent host, and can I say the man has some seriously good poetry? I was amazed at the difference that hearing people's writing spoken out loud can make to how you relate to the text. I have struggled to find a way to describe the evening, but it was one where you kind of had to be there to appreciate the atmosphere, the mood, the writers' works and the music, the festivities...A number of people have some ideas about doing something in the same vein in Paradise every so often and I think we are about due. What would interest me most is confluence: if we could get the Anglo-oriented intellectuals (us) to link up with the Swahili intellectuals and some of the more proficient Bongo Flava artists we might have something very exciting on our hands.

2. The Music! I make for a particularly bad music critic because my reactions tend to be less than nuanced: I like it. I don't like it. That's it. In my defence though, music is primarily a physical experience isn't it? The piercing of clear, sweet singing, the rhythmic pulse of a good beat, goosebumps, submersion. Got all of that and more during the festival. Acts that stood out for me: Omega Bugembe Okello, the faculty of the Dhow Countries Music Academy, Ty. The first is a fusion group led by a Ugandan earth goddess type singer- can we get an Amen for neosoul?The second was simply gorgeous, the sound of veteran musicians making beautiful sounds with ease and confidence and familiarity. The last is a UK hip hop artist whose music is quite good- and you know how I'm so immune to the hippidy hop. One of his back-up singers, Andrea, is doing things with her voice and a music box that have to be seen to be believed. That's her on the left, sitting next to Baby Soul who can scat like Ella reborn.

3. Unguja. The last time I was on the island was maybe four years ago. This jewel of the Indian Ocean is changing. Modern life is rolling over it and in another decade will probably have scoured clean the unique and interesting flavors that took centuries of cultural encounters to build. There are a lot more young men on the streets than before, a lot more strung-out people too. You can sniff the edges of the drug addiction epidemic. I love going to the island for the heavy weight of history I feel there- not all of it comfortable. A few generations ago walking around in Stone Town, a dark-skinned kaffir girl like me from the deepest interior, I imagine I may have been caught, collared and stuck in a cargo hold bound for Arabian shores. Watching my fellow tourists meander by in cargo shorts lugging telephoto lenses it seems silly to feel melancholy and displaced. But I like going to Zenj to get the historical blues before dipping into the ocean at one of the perfect beaches, it keeps things in bittersweet perspective for me. Now I have to make sure I go as often as I can before this ancient, complicated place becomes less challenging.

Yeah. I am not sure how much wisdom per se was included in the Busara festival, which I had always assumed had a much more pronounced music history feel to it than it does in reality. Still, it is a unique and excellent event. The old fort is a very evocative setting, the free entry makes for a great mix in the audience and really, does one actually need any convincing to attend a music festival in Stone Town?

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, I should def make a plan to go. Next year when my IGP (not related to cop stuff) is constant and hopefully tres fruitful. And hasn't it been 7 years of the festival already? or is that the film one, which we should also attend...

    No! Zenj must not change! Must stay stuck in a time warp and be our very own off-shore bit of quaintness and gorgeous beaches!


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