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Sauti za Busara Festival: Sounds of Wisdom in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Sauti za Busara Festival (Sounds of Wisdom in Kiswahili – the national language of Tanzania) is an annual music festival on the tropical island of Zanzibar, featuring African artists, across 4 days and 3 stages. If the beaches of Zanzibar, Full Moon Party, or endless water activities have not already convinced you to visit this beautiful, historical island, let the sights and sounds of Sauti za Busara Festival entice you.

Sauti za Busara

Sauti za Busara brings people together to celebrate African music under African skies.

Sauti za Busara takes place at the historical Old Fort in Stone Town every year, usually in February. In 2020 it takes place from 14th to 16th. This year the festival has three stages, one free stage in Forodhani park and two within the Old Fort. My favourite is usually the atmospheric amphitheatre. Steeped in history, it was made for events like this.

How to get to Sauti za Busara

If you are coming from abroad, the easiest way to reach the festival is to fly directly to Zanzibar. Flights land from all over Africa and Europe daily. Cheap flights are also available from mainland Tanzania.

If you are coming from Dar es Salaam, I recommend taking the ferry. It takes just 2 hours with Azam Marine – book it advance and collect your tickets 2 hours before. It will sell out on the day. We took this option and just had to walk for 10 minutes from the port until we found outselves in the centre of the festival.

Festival tickets are available at the gate, with prices detailed here.

Where to stay

Sauti za Busara accomodation
The beautiful Balcony House

Accommodation can book up quickly. In 2018, we were lucky to find an Airbnb 10 minutes away from the festival. This made it easy to drop our bags and start exploring straight away. My favourite hotels in Stone Town include Ten to Ten Backapackers (hostel), Balcony House (budget) and Mizingani Seafront (mid-range).

Be careful with third party booking sites. In 2019, us and many of our friends found that hotels were not honouring these type of bookings, instead choosing to give away rooms to higher paying last-minute tourists. It’s always worth confirming directly and booking well in advance.

The music

Sauti za Busara boasts a wide range of acts, 400+ musicians, from all over Africa, across 3 stages in 4 days. On a normal weekend it is impossible to walk through Stone Town without hearing music playing but on festival weekend the music echoes throughout every corner of the city.

Sauti za Busara stage

On a normal day, the amphitheatre at the Old Fort is one of my favourite places to sit with a juice and catch up with friends.  At Sauti za Busara, I love seeing it full with people and being used for its original purpose. I also love the free stage at Forodhani Gardens. This makes the festival accessible even to those who couldn’t afford a ticket.

In 2018, I was all about Grace Matata’s chilled out set. 2019’s highlight was the charged-up feel-good energy that was South Africa’s BCUC. For 2020, I’m looking forward to Tanzania’s The Mafik and Kenya’s Blinky Bill, while Zanzibar’s Siti and the Band never disappoint.

The food

Food is easily available both inside and outside the festival. Outside the festival my favourite is the local food at Forodhani Gardens (be sure to ask the price before ordering!) Here you can try the famous Zanzibar Pizza, fresh sugarcane juice, shawarma, Zanzibar Mix and more.

Zanzibar Pizza… With a Nutella twist!

For a more upmarket meal, try 6 Degrees South for mouth-watering seafood and a beautiful sunset view. Tapería serves wonderful Spanish-inspired food. For local food in an indoor setting, Lukmaan is the place to be. Try the Passing Show for the best biryani.

Inside the festival, the food is reasonably-priced. Shawarma, grilled meats and chicken are widely available, along with snacks like crisps and popcorn.

The atmosphere

Now I’ve given you the lowdown, but I bet you’re wondering what it’s really like. I’ve experienced the festival both in a very small group and a very large group. Like most festivals, Sauti za Busara is best enjoyed with a big group of friends. The good thing about Zanzibar is that it doesn’t take too long to find friends. Even if you come alone, you will leave the festival with (at least Facebook) friends for life!

As I mentioned before, the setting is historical and atmospheric. What I love most is that there really is something for everybody. During times where I just wanted to chill out, I sat at the amphitheatre, often alone, just taking in whatever beautiful sounds were coming from the stage. I noticed that people have their favourites, and the atmosphere can go from chill to party then back to chill again in just one change of artist.

Sauti za Busara after party
Beach House is always great for an after party or sundowner!

Usually the music runs until around midnight. The after-festival parties are a great place to continue the night, and see even more live music! Last year my favourite after-parties were the live jam-sessions at Livingstone’s and the house music DJ at the Beach Club. To continue the night until the very last, Tatu stays open until late late late.

Outside Sauti za Busara – what to do during the day

Most of the music starts in the evening time, so that leaves the whole day to enjoy the surroundings. Usually I love gathering a group of friends together at Stone Town cafe for a late breakfast/brunch to dissect the night before. Then it’s off to one of the many picture-perfect beaches for a day of swimming and relaxation.

Breakfast at Stone Town Cafe is always worth it. Try the fresh Zanzibari coffee!

Last year, due to the above-mentioned accommodation mix-up, we ended up staying an hour away in Paje. It meant that our days consisted of cocktails on the beach, swimming in the pool and enjoying the island breeze. It did make it extremely difficult to drag ourselves back to Stone Town for the festival though, so this year I’ll definitely just be making it a day trip!

Are you going to Sauti za Busara this year? Which part are you most looking forward to?

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