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The Music of Tanzania

The music of Tanzania, especially along the coast and on the spice islands, has been influenced from within the African continent and also from the ancient Eastern trade routes. The Arabic and Indonesian cultures have had strong influences on the Zanzibar islands as well as the Swahili coast line of Tanzania.

The Arabic influence is especially seen in the singing and many of the stringed instruments – the cultural intercourse between Tanzania and the Arab world was mutually beneficial, as evidenced by the exportation of the leiwah dance to Bahrain.

Over the past few years in particular the Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom) music festival has become increasingly popular within Tanzania and overseas. And for many years now the Swahili Music Festival has firmly established itself as one of East Africa’s finest annual events. It takes place over five days and brings people together from different backgrounds and cultures all under the umbrella of music.

In past years the festival has been focused mainly on musicians from Zanzibar, the Tanzanian mainland, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi. However, in more recent years people have come from West Africa and even as far away as Swaziland and Europe. Tanzanians are a truly peaceloving and friendly people, and this music festival has been described as “the friendliest festival on Planet Earth”.

The quality of local music never fails to surprise visitors from Europe and America and many young musicians are making their mark on international audiences on this spiced island of Zanzibar. The international audiences who come for the festival are primarily interested in interacting with the culture and history of the island – we have tourism that is actually benefiting the community. This is responsible tourism making a difference to local people.

Sauti za Busara is held at the Old Fort in Stone Town over four nights and then moves to the beaches on Zanzibar’s north coast for a special grand finale celebration. Tanzanian food is not usually top of any tourist’s list; however, the Swahili cuisine is delicious and at its best on this island (and maybe also in Dar es Salaam).

This festival also offers an opportunity to visit historic Stone Town, village cultural projects, spice plantations, taarab rehearsals, beach trips, dhow cruises, game safaris, snorkelling, diving, and swimming with dolphins. If you organise excursion trips through the festival then you are ensuring you get the best deal, and profits go to the local communities and not an overseas middleman.

The past few festivals have had more than eleven thousand visitors and future festivals can only become more popular. It seems as if Zanzibar is using this festival as a new approach to market itself as an important cultural tourism destination. The event provides artists from the Swahili-speaking world with a rare opportunity to meet, exchange ideas, learn from each other and to be creative.

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