Sauti za Busara means ‘Sounds of Wisdom’ in Ki-Swahili. The festival was in its 12th year, being held at the Old Fort, just in front of Forodhani Gardens which was just on the seawall separating the Indian Ocean from the island.
Tickets were $50 USD for tourists or $5 USD for locals and residents. We walked in at 15:00 to take advantage of the free entry until 16:00. At 17:00 the shows started.
The first were a Rwandan-Angola duo. Aline Frazão sang and played guitar while her partner played a beautiful red beast of a six-string. The songs were in Portuguese and the girl had a sultry voice that plucked the strings of your heart.
Their set was followed by a reggae band from Madagascar, which was then followed by another band from Madagascar, Mpamanga, also playing reggae. Both bands were awesome and had me doing a reggae dance despite my left knee still being out of whack. The power of music compelled me to dance.
Rwandan Liza Kamikazi and Band, led by a female singer with a smile that could make the sun blush hit the stage with a contemporary dancer dancing out the songs. You couldn’t help but not fixate your eyes on the male dancer. He was in it, in the moment like no dancer that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen some dancers).
Then a South African Zulu band, Ihhashi Elimhlophe, hit the stage and it was here that I had a realisation. That even though bands from the western world can fill up a stadium and rock out, none of them, at least, none of the ones I’ve seen, could ever convey the emotion that their music brings out in them as the performers.
African bands not only play the instruments but the members line up and choreograph some dance moves that have you wondering how they don’t miss a note. The Zulu band wasn’t short on dance moves in traditional Zulu attire of leopard pelts and loin clothes. Kicking up high as I had attempted when I visited Shakaland in South Africa, falling to their backs and all to the sounds of modern electric guitar, bass and drums.
The last band to perform were Sarabi from Kenya. All dressed in white they took to the stage as though it were a cloud and boy, did they rock it from the heavens. They danced, sang, told the story of their songs that seemed to reach in and grab me from within the deepest depths of my inner soul. I couldn’t stop dancing, and when I did stop I stood and stared, unbelieving that my eyes and ears were witnessing this incredible playing of music.
“I can’t believe I’m witnessing this,” I’d repeat over and over to Enya and anyone who was willing to listen. And even those that weren’t. The after party spilled out to Livingstone Beach Bar where Andy rocked the house.
I’m not one for electronic music. To me, the majority sounds the same. Especially when partaking in party favourites. But Andy played Deep House that simply destroyed my feet as I danced until about three.
“Let’s go to the local reggae club,” Bushman suggested.
We hiked up to Tatu (which means ‘three’ in Ki-Swahili). It had three levels of reggae. We headed straight up to the roof top where I made friends with a girl from Chile. As we chatted and danced, a local guy, built like a gum tree, whispered something in her ear. Her face went from being happy to upset.
I escorted her outside.
“He just called me a bitch and a prostitute,” she said, not believing that that was exactly what had happened. “He offered me a drink so I took it. Doesn’t mean I’m about to sleep with him.”
There goes that plan. I gist, of course. I offered to hug her, which she accepted and I tried to console her, taking her mind off the incident when the insulting guy came down the stairs. He continued to aggravate her until I told him to, “Back off, mate. She’s not interested and it ain’t cool of you to upset her.”
He turned to me. He had a psychotic smile as he said, “You want me to throw you down the stairs?”
“Why do you want to throw me down the stairs?” I asked as some rastas had gathered around, ready to intervene on my behalf.
“Because I’m stupid,” he said.
“And whose fault is that?” I know there are times that I should keep my mouth shut but I can’t help myself. He grabbed me by the throat and I calmly grabbed him by the wrist and twisted his hand until he let go. The rastas jumped in between us.
“Look man,” I said, “I don’t want any trouble. I’m simply asking you to stop hassling the girl. We can be rafikis (friends).”
“No,” he said, the psychotic smile still on his face. “We cannot be friends.”
The girl had escaped down the stairs and was waiting for me. “OK, how’s this, I’m gonna go down there. You’re not going to push me and maybe tomorrow we can make peace. Sauwa?”
He stepped aside and lit a cigarette as I headed down and gave the girl my contact details.
“Thank you,” she said shyly. “Are you hurt?”
“Hurt?” I grinned. “Nah, the guy’s drunk. He won’t remember.” We parted ways and Bushman, who had disappeared and reappeared took me to a local club where the girls propositioned themselves without shame. As the sun rose, Bushman and I finally headed back to his home in a dala-dala (local bus).
Joseph is from Mwanza, a friend of Bushman’s who came down for a holiday and was crashing with us at Bushman’s home. The routine was the same as the day before: enter the festival at three and chill out until the gigs started on the main stage.
Except that today, “I need to swim,” I told Bushman. “It’s time to get reacquainted with my old love, the Indian Ocean.”
We agreed to meet inside the Old Fort as I hit the warm waters of the very body of water I had spent five months traversing on a 47-foot sloop with two Frenchmen. Diving in I felt back at home as I skimmed the sandy bottom, going deeper to cooler waters for what must have been a minute. I’m no free-diver, but I can hold my breath and swim for a time that would have most lifeguards worried.
As soon as I got out of the water, my knee felt almost at the point of healed. It’s as though kicking in the water had some sort of physiotherapy effect. I headed over to the Old Fort and caught up with Bushman and Joseph, Tony, Curt and Enya.
Some of the groups that had performed the previous night repeated their gigs. The last band was another Kenyan outfit, Octopizzo and Band. It was a hip-hop outfit but I didn’t much care for their style. Especially as the lead rapper was all about his bling, with gold chains around his neck that would have impressed Mr T.
I then spied the fella who wanted to throw me down the stairs the previous night. I approached him.
“Hey, man,” I grinned. “Remember me?”
He eyed me, although smiling that same psycho smile, he couldn’t put it together as to who I was.
“You wanted to throw me down the stairs at Tatu,” I relayed the incident.
“Stop,” he said, leaning in for a hug. “I’m so sorry. I was drunk. That wasn’t me. I would never do that.”
“I know, kaka,” I bro-ed him. “That’s why I came to you so we could make peace.”
The night ended at Livingstone Beach Bar with Andy ripping up the dance floor until four am when the police came and shut down the place. We headed out to Tatu to see how it was. Surprisingly, for four am, the place was pumpin’. So we danced for a bit before heading back to Bushman’s place for a few hours of sleep.
It was the last day of the festival. I had, as up until now, no idea who was playing and I didn’t much care. I’ve discovered the less I know about the bands, the better the experience as I’ll have no expectations.
Expect nothing and you’ll always get something, right?
The first group that kicked things off at about 17:00 were Tunaweza Band from the southern region of Tanzania. Dressed in traditional clothing performing traditional songs.
They were followed by a group that could only be regarded as inspiring. Each member of the Mgodro Group had a disability from blindness to cleft feet to missing a limb and so on. And each member danced and sang and played an instrument regardless of their disability, proving that nothing is impossible.
It was Tcheka who grabbed my eyes and ears. A talented guitarist who played a classic six-string and sang in a hypnotic voice songs in Portuguese. He hails from Cape Verde up in the north-west of Africa. He had a beaming smile and stage presence of a king.
Other bands followed and then they hit the stage. An Algerian outfit that played traditional instruments alongside contemporary ones. Djmawi Africa played a beautiful, soulful, feet pumping reggae roots about unity not just in Africa but in the world. An 8-piece group with horns, strings and the rest of it.
The Brother Moves On, a group from South Africa had me perked at attention. They were a combination of thrash metal and Prodigy that seemed a little out of place in the laid back environment that the festival conveyed. Still, they were impressive as their songs told of the struggles of growing up in Johannesburg, perhaps one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
The last performance to close the festival was a hip hop rapper that answered to the name Blitz The Ambassador. Like with the other groups, I had no idea who this guy was or what to expect. The band came on stage wearing matching black suits with white shirts and black ties. They looked like Buddy Holly’s backup band.
Except that the bass player was a huge man with huge dreadlocks and a bass guitar that could rival Thor’s hammer. A trumpet and trombone player stood to stage-right and then the lights dimmed, an announcement was made in the style of an airline pilot. We were about to be taken on a journey to the great beyond, through classic hip-hop to modern.
And then the band ripped up the stage and came to life with some hectic dance moves. The horns blasted, the bass bassed and the guitar wailed as the drums rocked a beat and Blitz The Ambassador hit the stage.
Coming from Ghana, Blitz grew up in New York. His hip hop was fluid and all about social commentary rather than the bullshit most mainstream rappers rap about. The group has played many a festival around the world including some big stages on the European scene.
I kept shaking my head, unable to comprehend that I was witnessing this phenomena. This festival, this sound of wisdom, was one of the greatest live gigs I had ever seen. And I’ve seen some big acts in my life. The Rolling Stones in Boston, Roger Waters performing The Dark Side of the Moon in a chickpea field in Israel, AC\DC, The Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Wolfmother and The Cranberries in Melbourne. None of them had what any of the acts in this festival had. These guys had soul. They had energy. They gave something that I can’t even describe.
The night ended at Livingstone Beach Bar which the police shut down – again – due to noise complaints. After everyone had left Abedi shut the doors and we ended up jamming with Jasper from Denmark and a Norwegian guy who rocked the keyboards. We were the only ones in the bar apart from two Japanese guys. One who kept dancing to our beats and ended up ripping the keyboard a new one.
At sunrise, I hit the beach and passed the time waiting for Bushman to come and collect me so I could finally go to sleep.