The music festival circuit within the African continent usually kicks off the second week of January with Festival in the Desert held in Mali. However, this particular festival has been in exile since their 15th edition in 2015. What follows is Festival on the Niger taking place on 1st – 4th February 2018 in Mali. The next two festivals that follow are: Amani Festival in the Democratic Republic of Congo taking place on the 9th – 11th February 2018 and the second one on the same dates is Sauti za Busara taking place between the 8th – 11th February 2018, in Stone Town, Tanzania.
Last year at Afropunk Joburg I bumped into one of my Festival Kween gang member Mahlatsi Maredi better know as Mel. We had a little chit-chat and as we parted ways. He said to me: ‘do not forget Sauti za Busara is coming up in Feb” and I thought ‘O! shit, you are absolutely right. Thanks for the reminder.’ I thought if I am going to plan a trip to Zanzibar to attend Sauti za Busara music festival, Mel would be the right person to speak to regarding the how about, dos and do not’s. As he is one of the people whom I know who has travelled the African continent far and wide on his own and tends to go back to these African countries he has visited before to explore more. In preparation for Sauti za Busara, I reckon he is the to-go-to African travel connoisseur to chat to. So here it goes:
Out of sheer fascination and curiosity, I am tempted to ask you about all your African continent exploration but I will narrow it down to just Tanzania for now. Seeing that the preparation for Sauti za Busara is underway. well, at least for late planners anyways. You have attended Sauti za Busara music festival before, can you please tell me about the vibe at this particular festival in contrast to the other music festivals you have attended within the African continent?
Sauti za Busara ( SzB) is probably the most different festival of all popular festivals in the continent. There’s no campsite for SzB, patrons are encouraged to staying in Stone Town to immerse themselves in the culture and hospitality of The Zanzibar people. I find that the musical experience is emphasized a lot in SzB. It is truly a reflection of Africa and the Zanzibari culture. For example, no SzB goes without a Taarab music performance. It’s always a crowd favourite.
How would you then explain Sauti za Busara music festival in one sentence?
This is such a hard questions. SzB is a celebration of Swahili culture through music, dance and art.
Based on your past experiences is the music lineup at Sauti za Busara so good that one can spend the whole day watching stage performances or one can breakaway for a walkabout in town or in between performances?
The performances are very good. There will be artists you have never heard of and end up liking. For example, in 2015 they had a taraab band called Tarabband that I absolutely liked. I played Baghdad Choby on repeat for months to no end. I am currently inlove with their new album called Ashofak Baden. The title song is a tale of love at a time of war.
I digress! The performances at SzB start at 17:00 and end at around 2:00 am. Thereafter, the official after parties start and the party continues till the crack of dawn. Zanzibari know how to have a good time, trust! From the morning till 17:00 one can see the beautiful island of Zanzibar. From the North in Nungwi and Kendwa where the beach is a pristine turquoise contrasted beautifully with the beautiful white sand. The sunset is breathtaking and a must-see if ever in Zanzibar.
Like Zanzibar, the nightlife in Dar is thriving
At Lake of Star in Malawi, one can go lay by the lake and swim all day then only go watch the bands later on in the afternoon. Is this the case at Sauti za Busara; how far is the beach from the venue where the festival is held?
The festival is held at the Fort in Stonetown. Stonetown on its own is such an attraction that should not be missed by anyone. The fort is opposite Forodhani Gardens and Zanzibar’s main seafront. One can lay their head down at Forodhani or just simply watch the day go by sitting by the seawall. Further down there are beaches where one can rest. Alternatively, one can take a cab to the different parts of the island and get a good rest at the beach.
Sauti za Busara takes place over four days from Thursday, 8 February until Sunday, 11 February 2018. What can one expect from these four days, is the festival so much fun to spend all those four days in attendance?
Thursday is the launch of the festival. Normally it is marked with a parade to the Fort. Friday and Saturday are the main nights and must not be missed. Sunday is a more relaxed day than Friday and Saturday. All four days are special but if one has time constraints then I’d say attend Friday and Saturday.
Making self-bookings to travel within the African continent is a very daunting task more especially because it is also relatively expensive to travel within our continent than outside. How does one book their trip from Johannesburg to Tanzania at a good value? [e.g. should I fly directly into Zanzibar or Dar es Salaam, the fairy etc.]
I must admit, it appears difficult and expensive at first until you dig deep. In 2015 I was so desperate to go to the festival that I took about three planes and a total of 8 hours to get to Zanzibar. I flew with Rwanda Air to Kigali then connected to Dar es Salaam. Upon my arrival in Dar es Salaam, I took a light aircraft for 20 minutes to Zanzibar. My reward was seeing Zanzibar at dusk from the top and I was sitting next to the pilot. It was magical.
Many travel agents don’t know the continent very well and they just throw you with what the search engine gives to them. I say you need someone who has travelled the continent a few times to help you out with your travel bookings. Mango flies to Zanzibar directly from Johannesburg on Tuesdays and Saturdays. If you’re going to Zanzibar for the festival then mango won’t work very well for you.
The other alternative is to fly with South African Airways to Dar es Salaam. SAA flies to Dar es Salaam twice a day, the flight duration is just a little over three hours. Once in Dar es Salaam you should then connect to Zanzibar using Precision Air. It’s a quick20-minutes flight and they have a few flights during the day. If you have the time then I would recommend that you take the ferry to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam. The fairy takes about two hours. I’d only recommend this if you have time. The traffic in Dar can be horrendous. [ed: the fairy is cheaper than the flight. The fairy takes two hours, the flights take 2ominutes from Dar to Zanzibar. You decide what works for you.]
Or you can fly Kenya Airways via Nairobi. my favourite flight is KQ765 from Joburg. It leaves at around 1:00 am and with a short layover in Nairobi and usually arrives in Zanzibar by 10:30 am and at 11:00 am you will be in Stone Town. Generally, I love Kenya Airways for travel within the African continent. They have great connections.
I have never had an incident of hate in Zanzibar and I’ve been there a handful of times.
Which airline is mostly more reliable that comes at a good price?
Best value for money would be Kenya Airways. One can get to Zanzibar for under $500. With SAA $500 only gets you to Dar es Salaam from Johannesburg. You will then need another $100 or so to get to Zanzibar from Dar.
Given that you are a seasoned traveller, from experience what flight times and days of the week do you usually prefer flying and why?
My favourite travel hack is travelling on a Wednesday or Thursday. Sounds silly but it works. Many people travel on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Friday for Work. SzB starts on a Thursday so I’d say travel with KQ 765 on Thursday morning or SAA on Wednesday if you want to take the ferry from Dar to Zanzibar.
What are some of the rookie mistakes that can be avoided when booking flights?
Most people wait until the last minute to book their flights and they really do get popular [ed: airlines start selling cheap seats first on flights. The fuller the flight gets the more expensive the tickets become.] Another rookie mistake is taking a flight with long layovers. You don’t want to be using your time stuck at an airport.
When it comes to booking accommodation in Zanzibar what would your advice be?
There are many options available. I would recommend that you find a place in Stone Town so you can walk to your accommodation after the party ends. Many people stay in resorts in the north or east of the island, which isn’t a problem, but they end up paying a lot more on cabs. Also, I am of the school of thought that you just need a place to lay your head and keep your belongings safe. So I wouldn’t pay a lot of money for a hotel. If you want to stay after the festival then I would say save some cash during the festival and splurge on a nice hotel afterwards.
When comes to cultural respect and awareness, what are some of the things that people should not do when in Dar er Salaam or Zanzibar? Out of respect for the people in Tanzania, their culture, and beliefs?
Zanzibar is about 90% Muslim. Locals understand foreigners but I always recommend that one be respectful of their culture and religion. So I’d recommend that ladies cover their shoulders and knees when walking around in Stone Town. For the gents, go easy on the tight short shorts. If you consume alcohol, try and not drink in public or show drunken behaviour. Public display of affection is also frowned upon quite a lot, so try and not be overly affectionate.
Given the recent incidents targeted at the LGBTQIA, Sauti za Busara festival and surroundings a safe space for the LGBTQIA community?
I have never had an incident of hate in Zanzibar and I’ve been there a handful of times. Yes, it is socially taboo and same-sex sexual acts are illegal and punishable by law in Tanzania. If you’re casually walking down the street no one is going to arrest you, it is not a sexual act to be LGBTQIA. The crime is the same-sex sexual activities. No one is going to knock down your hotel room and see what you do with your partner. However, I would caution against hooking up with a local. One can never be sure what their intention might be. They may report the sexual act to the authorities or try to solicit a bribe in return for their silence. Other than same-sex sexual acts I would say it is a very safe space for the LGBTQIA.
If one has a free night in Stone Town where can they go out for something to eat, drink and maybe dance thereafter?
I really enjoy sundowners at Six Degrees South overlooking the Indian Ocean. Six degrees turn up the music a little later on for a good party. I recommend Indian food at Silk Route or splurge on a 5-course Swahili meal at Emerson Spice. There are a number of clubs almost everywhere in Stone Town. Chat with a local and they will show you a good time.
It is always advisable to learn a bit of the language the people speak where you intend on visiting. Is language a big barrier or one can get by, by speaking English to the natives or it is Swahili and nothing else?
Most Zanzibari speaks Kiswahili and English. A number of the young locals are very conversant in English. I would say learning how to greet and say a few magic words such as thank you and please in Kiswahili would be a show of respect for the natives. The rest of the words can be learnt as you go along.
How does one get around at night in Stone Town, Uber, maxi taxi, dala dalas?
Dala-Dalas run best during the day and the last I checked Uber hadn’t arrived in Zanzibar. So the best would be to use a maxi taxi.
Nightlife in Dar Er Salaam?
Like Zanzibar, the nightlife in Dar is thriving. I’ve not had a proper night out in Dar to give you details.
If one has one day to spend in Zanzibar what would you advice they do to get the jest of the island and its culture?
I would definitely tour Stone Town as a start. There’s so much history there and you will understand the Arab influence in the island much better once you’ve toured the streets of Stone Town and seen the beautiful Swahili/Zanzibari doors. If you like cooking I’d recommend the spice tour; if you like sunsets and a good time I’d say head up north to Kendwa for sundowners and good music.
If one has one day to spend in Dar es Salaam what would you suggest they do?
That’s a short time. I’d go to Kivokoni Fish Market for lunch and go do some fabric shopping at Kariakoo market. The Dar CBD looks nice and shiny now, I’d take a walk about there. Sundowners at Oysterbay or chapatti na nyama yakuku in the Muslim quarter.
Mel is an accountant by trade, an academic by day, and a culture wanderer in between. He has travelled to over 40 countries in six of the seven continents, mostly solo. He has a soft spot for the African continent and the diaspora and has travelled to 19 African countries to date. You can contact him on his Twitter and Instagram.