I’m back in Zanzibar, this time for the African music festival Sauti za Busara, an annual three-day event that features musicians from all over Africa. It attracts folks who love African music and who like to be at a fun event where everyone is running into everyone in Stonetown.
The festival is at night so days can be spent going to the beach, wandering the maze of streets, returning to an air conditioned hotel room to rest and cool off, and meeting friends for meals that are much tastier than on the mainland partly due to the plentiful fresh seafood.
Tonight is the last of three nights of music at the old fort and the headliner is the final artist, Cheikh Lo of Senegal (dreads to his knees), a protégé of Youssou N’Ddour, who is scheduled to go on at 12:15am but as the schedule seems to always be at least 30 minutes behind, it will probably be closer to 1am. We plan to show up to the fort around 10pm, hopefully rested, in the hopes that we can make it to 2am for those final, best artists.
I’m traveling with my friend John and yesterday, we visited the food and spice market in the morning and then took a tour of the old slave market, shut down in 1864. However, slave trading by the Arabs continued illegally elsewhere on the island into the 20th century. We saw an underground dungeon where slaves were stored and had to try and survive in their own waste – crushingly sad to imagine.
There is a memorial to the slaves there designed by Swedish artist, Clara Sornas, which is very moving.
Having grown up in Berkeley studying slavery in the US context, it is fascinating to see the history from the African perspective, although I find it difficult to keep the faith in humanity when thinking about what people did, and still do, to one another.
The heavily Muslim nature of this island is evident everywhere. The call to prayer over loudspeakers from the minarets, the madrasah schools on every corner with white scarved girls and white robed boys chanting and singing (“the sounds of brains being washed” as John noted), and women in full, black burkas with only their made up eyes and painted toenails showing, wandering around juxtaposed with white tourists, often scantily clad.
On Friday morning as we flew from Dar es Salaam, a group of Muslims in Dar stormed the police headquarters to protest their leader being jailed. So even in this country, proud and insistent of its religious and ethnic tolerance where I’m repeatedly told that everyone gets along, there is strife.
When we returned this late afternoon from the Zanzibar Beach Resort’s popular pool, where we had hung out at for the fee of Tsh 6,000 ($4) each plus a $5 taxi ride there and back, we walked by the waterfront on our way back to our hotel. Large numbers of boys and young men were flinging themselves off the boardwalk and into the ocean, competing to see who could do a crazier dive.
The sheer joy was fun to watch, despite the knowledge that they land in water that is also the recipient of raw sewage pouring into Stonetown harbor. It was fun to take photos but I won’t be joining them anytime soon!
I am publishing this now and then off to the festival to see the last three acts of the weekend. Wish me luck in staying awake until 2am!