Every year, Sauti za Busara brings thousands of visitors from all corners of the world to Zanzibar at a time of the year that used to be considered low season. Even conservative estimates suggest that since 2004, Sauti za Busara has generated US$ 70million in revenue for the island. BBC World Service hails it as one of “Africa’s best and most respected music events”, while it is also included in CNN’s “7 African music festivals you really have to see” and tops AfroTourism’s list of “Africa’s 8 Best Music Festivals”.
Now for the bad news: the huge contribution the festival makes to the local economy and the regional music industry is in real danger of being derailed due to a shortage of funding. The organisers of the festival, Busara Promotions, have announced that the 2016 edition of the festival may have to be cancelled. An official announcement is expected soon, following an emergency meeting on Thursday 13 August.
After 12 successful editions of the festival, Busara Promotions CEO Yusuf Mahmoud says: “This decision will not be taken lightly. The festival is very popular and ticket sales are expected to be as healthy as ever. But these only cover 30% of festival costs. Despite tireless efforts, we’ve always had zero financial support from the governments in Zanzibar and Tanzania, and support from donors, embassies and commercial sponsors has reached an all-time low.”
Mahmoud believes the festival is a victim of its own success. He bemoans local authorities’ lack of vision, accusing them of bleeding the festival dry in the short-term, instead of investing in an event that promotes Zanzibar globally, employs and builds skills for Tanzanians and could continue bringing in cultural tourism revenues for many years to come. “Local representatives from the international donor community tell us it’s clear that Sauti za Busara is run professionally, delivers on its promises and is enormously popular,” he says. “Ironically, their assumption is therefore that the festival ‘does not need support’. Meanwhile, each year our local government authorities demand ever-higher contributions from the festival in withholding taxes, licenses, work permits, policing and security, venue rental fees – even for putting posters on the streets.”
A critical factor in Sauti za Busara’s success is that it is a shared experience between visitors and locals. The festival has always remained accessible for local Tanzanians, who pay a discounted rate of 3000 Tanzanian Shillings (US$1.50) for day tickets, far cheaper than the $20 that international visitors have to pay for the same. Rather than hiking ticket prices so that Sauti za Busara becomes an event exclusively for tourists, Mahmoud explains: “The local population bring important ingredients to our magic formula, which strengthens civil society through bringing different artists and audiences together in celebration whilst building respect for diversity. At the same time, through the global media we show positive images of Africa as a continent that is vibrant and rich in its many cultures and expressions.”
Emergency meeting scheduled for 13 August
Mahmoud continues: “In the meantime, on the morning of Thursday 13 August, Busara Promotions will host an ‘emergency’ meeting with local government and business leaders to help save Sauti za Busara at Zanzibar’s Grand Palace Hotel. If we can get 10 to 20 pledges in the region of $10 000 to $20 000 then the 2016 festival will go ahead, with generous marketing benefits for all festival sponsors, large and small. At the same meeting, we’ll have to announce that if funds cannot be committed before 20 August, then (a) the 2016 edition will sadly be cancelled, and (b) by any means necessary, the festival will be back in Zanzibar, wiser and stronger, in February 2017.