The annual Sauti za Busara festival is known for its presentation of off the track musicians and this year they did not disappoint.
The theme for this year’s festival was “Love live music’’ and it was more of a political statement to the music industry in the region, and in Tanzania in particular, where mainstream radio and TV hardly features the music of musicians featured in this festival.
One such artiste is Emmanuel Mopao of Mopao Swahili Jazz. He was visibly excited to have been invited and said “It is my first time performing as a solo artiste at this festival, and I have always wanted to have my music played here. This is a platform with international networks and live music is played to international standards.”
Emmanuel has over 13 years experience playing the live music circuit in Tanzania and last year he launched his album titled Taswira. His music features the harmonica, a typical jazz music instrument combined with the ‘sebene’ and ngoma rhythms.
The audience was simply hypnotised by the music.
Festival master of ceremony for the past seven years Carola Kinasha, a musician too, said at a pre-concert briefing that there were currently over 25 music instruments in Tanzania which are either not being played anymore or unknown in mainstream music platforms.
Ms Kinasha (and other independent musicians) found this when she was involved in a research back in 1987 to 1989, in a project called ‘Watafiti’ sponsored by the Netherlands embassy.
“When Mori Kante’s ‘Yeke Yeke’ came out, it was an instant hit despite using the Kora. It became an international hit. This was the era of Miriam Makeba and Manou Gallo and Tanzanian musicians had few options then. We either played the tourist hotel circuit or joined the dance music circuit. But these music icons inspired us to find options,” Ms Kinasha added.
The Watafiti project took them to most regions of Tanzania and found music instruments unique to communities there and some have since stopped being made.
For example she said: “In Kigoma region we were told of a very heavy drum used to summon villagers for community gatherings, but it is no longer being made. We also travelled to Zimbabwe where we met Oliver Mtukudzi making unique music before he became famous.”
The Watafiti project is credited with building the profile and success of legendary bands in Tanzania like the TatuNane and concluded that Dodoma had enough unique instruments to rendition orchestra music without modern instruments.
At the Busara festival, Sinaubi Zawose and the Spirit Group showcased this when the only modern instrument they had was the drum-set.
The rest of the instruments were traditional such as the Zeze Kubwa, a Kora-like instrument native to East Africa. They got everyone on their feet dancing.
From West Africa with their traditional instruments were Mamy Kanoute, a seasoned musician from Senegal (her music featured in the movie Black Panther’s soundtrack together with Baaba Maal) with whom she has toured with for many years. She has also performed with Youssou N’dour.
“I have been singing since I was six years old, being from a large griot family. I never learned music, I was born into it, it’s in my blood.”
Her performance was lilting, her sound a West African signature with powerful vocals.
“In Senegal musicians are respected for playing traditional music; I would advise other African musicians to stay true to their roots. You can make some fusion but remember where you’re from. I look up to musicians like Youssou N’dour, Cheikh Lô, Salif Keita who are making traditional music modern.”
At a pre-concert performance in Dar es Salaam, Thaïs Diarra and Noumoucounda (Mamy Kanoute’s uncle) held a workshop for Tanzanian artistes working with traditional music instruments.
Noumoucounda’s prowess with the Kora is special. He blended the instrument with Afro-Pop, Afro-Reggae and Afro Soul with such ease.
Although they share Senegalese roots, Thaïs is from Mali.
From Kenya, Ambassa Mandela and the Last Tribe wowed the audience with their stage presence and refreshing Afro-Rock beat.
Chudo, a percussionist with Ze Spirit Band of Bagamoyo performed with Mopao Jazz and Mamy Kanoute, bringing his Djembe sound accompanied by the Mtonya drum from southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
Festival director Yusuf Mahmoud said traditional instruments and sound are not given a fair hearing.
“The reason why this year we had the theme of ‘love live music’ is because the problem is not just in Tanzania but across the continent. The music that is on most platforms in Tanzania is so narrow in scope. And stakeholders here will claim to be giving people what they want. Well Sauti za Busara is showing that actually they are not. They are not representing what people want, just maintaining the status quo.’’
He said this makes Sauti unique and that despite the lack of a big-name headlining artiste this year, attendance proved there was sufficient interest in traditional sounds, thanks to the location and hospitality of the Zanzibaris.
“The visitors may not have heard of many of the artistes in the line-up, but got to hear real great musical gems.”
True enough, a new generation of contemporary East African musicians like Siti and The Band, Apio Moro, Wakazi, Mapanya Band have an inspiring body of work.