Busara music festival, Zanzibar

09-14 February, 2007

I’m in Stone Town to see the Sauti Za Busara music festival – East Africa’s premier music festival representing the Swahili speaking world. 


Held in the old fort on the seaside, last night’s entertainment was not short of laughs. Though only a few of them were intended. First there was this Norwegian/Zanzibar collaboration, who most people wished would Finnish. The Muslim prayers which followed sounded melodic by comparison.


The group looked and sounded like year 8 percussion class, and conclusively proved that for all the excitement and learning that can be gleaned from cross cultural collaborations, it doesn’t necessarily result in good music. Paul Simon has a lot to answer for.


Particular mention should be made of the Norwegian guitar player, who had the demeanour of class teacher and who suddenly broke out into such a wailing guitar solo that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had put his guitar behind his head and played the Tanzanian national anthem with his teeth. Meanwhile the lead singing Norwegian girl didn’t need an instrument to wail – that’s what she used her voice for. Well, the Norwegians are known for their wailing. 


After that there was some decent Tanzanian music, free of any western interference bar a few well placed saxophones, and, of course, plenty of incredible spasmo dancing.


That’s when the heavens opened, causing the local crowd to disperse, and the tourists to mill around singing football chants, oblivious to the fact the evening’s performances had been cancelled (of course, no official announcement was made or the like. People were just expected to know.)


So we headed to the local nightclub, Living Stone. Here, together with a newfound French friend who danced like he was on cocaine, looking the part in an unbuttoned Thailand shirt (bonsoir Sebastian!), we raised collective eyebrows with our interesting interpretation of Western dancing styles.


That is, until I found myself competing against a local guy in a breakdancing competition. I’m not sure how it all happened, but spectators say it was like watching Napoleon Dynamite versus Mr Motion. Needless to say, by the end of the demonstration, I was panting and groaning, still on my knees from the dancing – which was a good vantage point to search around for my sandals which I’d flung into the cheering crowd, and hoping nothing would fall out of my newly acquired crotch split in my pants (this was probably a safe bet).


The next night’s music program was superior, showcasing the African hip hop variant called Bongo Fleva. An African guy also offered to teach me to dance, but my foot is infected from the breakdance competition the previous night and I can barely muster a hobble. Perhaps that’s a good thing.


Norwegian wailing