Sauti za Busara Music Festival in
Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Photograph by Peter Stanley
Staged inside the sultan of Oman’s 17-century Old Fort, Sauti za Busara (Kiswahili for “Sounds of Wisdom”) is a preeminent African music festival with a purpose. In addition to celebrating the continent’s diverse sounds—from Arabic-influenced taarab to emerging East African electronica—the event serves as a platform for participants to speak out on issues like women’s empowerment, religious tolerance, and human rights. The schedule includes more than 30 main-stage performance groups plus an open-air African Music Film Program, carnival parade, and Busara Xtra fringe events like dhow races, jam sessions, and dance lessons.
When to Go: Sauti za Busara Music Festival, February 13-16
How to Get Around: Fast ferries and flights operate daily between Dar es Salaam and the island of Zanzibar. If arriving by air, take a shared taxi or private minibus from Zanzibar International Airport to Stone Town, or see if your hotel offers transportation. Arriving by the ferry is the more convenient option since the terminal is in Stone Town, a World Heritage site best explored on foot.
Where to Stay: Tucked within Stone Town’s web of alleyways, Emerson Spice is an intimate courtyard inn run by long-term expats Emerson Skeens and Lén Helen Hörlin. Restored by local craftsmen and opened in 2012, the 11-room urban oasis with rooftop teahouse includes multiple historic structures, including a 19th-century Swahili sultan’s palace. Each room is individually styled with antiques and luxurious textiles, and only one—Mimi—doesn’t have a private balcony.
Where to Eat: Join the queue at Lukmaan’s, where a few dollars can buy a heaping plate of Zanzibari favorites like pilau (a fragrant, one-pot seasoned rice mixture) and biryani (seasoned rice served with a portion of meat, seafood, or vegetables). At the festival and at street markets, look for vendors selling juisi ya miwa (sugar cane juice with a hint of lime and ginger); urojo, or “Zanzibar mix,” a spicy potato soup garnished with herbs, boiled egg, and chili sauce; and mishikaki (skewered meat kebabs).
What to Buy: At the festival marketplace inside the Old Fort and next door at the House of Wonders, shop for locally made handicrafts such as kanga, the traditional women’s wrap with poetic messages woven into the design, and hand-woven palm baskets, mats, and fans. For a one-of-a-kind Zanzibari-style shirt or dress, buy a piece of colorful kitenge fabric and bring it to a local tailor for a custom design.
What to Read Before You Go: Drawing from her life as Sayyida, Princess of Zanzibar, Emily Ruete’s autobiography Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar (Dover Publications, 2009) recounts 19th-century life on the island.
Cultural Tip: Focus on architectural details, not faces, when taking photographs in Stone Town. Residents typically prefer not to appear in other people's photos. If you want to take someone’s photo, ask first and respect his or her wishes if permission is declined.
Helpful Links: ZanzibarNet and Sauti za Busara 2014
Fun Fact: Freddy Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen, was born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town in 1946. At the time, Mercury’s father was working as an accountant for the British government in the House of Wonders, Stone Town’s largest building. The historic landmark, built in 1883 as a sultan’s ceremonial palace, is included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch list of at-risk cultural heritage sites.
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