New generation at the helm of ‘Sauti za Busara’ Festival
New Busara director Lorenz Herrmann, outgoing director Yusuf Mahmoud and new festival chief Journey Ramadhan discuss the beats. What were the best shows, the biggest challenges and where is one of Africa’s best-known music festivals heading?
Looking bad at two decades of Sauti za Busara’s success, can you recall a moment that deeply resonated with you? Yusuf Mahmoud: Without doubt, orchestrating the festival during the challenging Covid-19 pandemic was one of the toughest tasks. We never shut down and proved that resilience can prevail. Of course, we meticulously followed safety measures.
Journey Ramadhan: I have been with Busara since 2009. It has been like a prestigious college for many of us, and Yusuf was our professor, skilfully nurturing young talents.
Your favourite bands of all time?
Yusuf: Oh, there were many. In 2012, Nneka, the Nigerian-German singer-songwriter gave a show many will never forget. I also loved the original sounds of the African hip hop fusions we featured, including Blitz the Ambassador (Ghana/USA) and Zambian legend Sampa The Great last year. Or more traditional groups like Madalitso band from Malawi who build their own instruments. To present upcoming talents has always been a main focus of Busara. We helped many Tanzanian artists onto the global stage, including Jagwa Music, Siti & the Band and Sholo Mwamba.
Lorenz Herrmann: Seeing reggae veteran Tlken Ja Fakoly live was a special treat. Then I was of course part of the audience. And the audience, as we all know, is very special in Zanzibar!
Some people consider the vibe and crowd at Busara more important than the music…
Journey: Right! A chilled crowd from all over the world, local street food, great drinks. Whether you sit on a VIP stand or on a blanket on the lawn – you are part of an irresistible fusion.
Lorenz, what aspirations do you have for steering Sauti za Busara ahead?
Lorenz: The festival is very cool as it is! But sure I got some fresh ideas and perspectives…
Such as? Lorenz: To involve more visual artists and creatives in designing the whole location, the bar, the stands and so on. I want to strengthen the Busara family all year around, with different events, workshops, more sponsored gigs, maybe even a gala night. Among my personal most cherished festival experiences was the ‘Sakifo festival’ in La Reunion Island, where multiple stages created an unforgettable flow of music.
What about the free stage outside the Old Fort? Lorenz:
Yes – we are workling hard to bring it back. To have a local radio station sponsor, would be great. It’s such an attraction, with massive visibility for any potential sponsor!
25 bands per festival for 20 years. What are your criteria for choosing them?
Journey: Diversity matters. United in diversity is our motto and our commitment to that is unfaltering! Lorenz: It’s all about the vibe, uniqueness, quality of music and performance the band brings to the table.
The line-up for next year? Lorenz:
We have a strict selection commitee We received 476 applications, but only 25 acts or so can make it – a very tough choice!
Some say the tickets have become too expensive? Lorenz:
An early bird VIP ticket priced at $149 for all festival days provides full access and a seat on the grandstand. The pricing aligns with international norms. And don’t forget, our non-resident tickets subsidise a low entrance price for Zanzibari who pay TZS 20,000 for the entire show.
The festival has few big names…
Lorenz: More than one or two headliners would strain the budget. And we want to discover amazing talents from all over the continent.
Yusuf: Ticket income does not even cover a third of costs. Some bands even pay for their own tickets. We have never received cash support from local or national government, although the festival is certainly a recognised tourism draw. We rely heavily on private sponsors, also for the accommodation of musicians.
Yusuf, any last words of wisdom for the incoming leadership?
Yusuf: I am hundred per cent confident in both Lorenz’s and Journey’s capabilities and dedication. My advice is to keep focus on the goal and never give up! When people are united in purpose, we make miracles happen.
By Baraka Strato Mosha