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Rich Cultural Offerings: Annual Zanzibari Festivals

Rich Cultural Offerings: Annual Zanzibari Festivals

Picture of Stephanie Chang
Updated: 9 February 2017
Zanzibar is making a strong case for being the cultural capital of Africa. Thousands of foreign and local visitors travel to the island off the eastern coast of the country. Lured by the bazaars and alleyways of Stone Town where Persian, Indian, European and African architectural traditions meld. Now, they are also descending on this small semi-autonomous part of Tanzania for its rich cultural offerings. We highlight the annual festivals that celebrate its unique culture.


Sauti za Busara Music Festival

This festival, which means ‘Sounds of Wisdom’, kicks off the annual festival cycle with a sampling of music from all across eastern Africa. The 2015 programme features artists such as Blitz the Ambassador, Zanzibar’s Culture Musical Club, and traditional dance group Mwahiyerani. With a mix of dance, theatre, and music of all genres, Sauti za Busara shows local and international audiences the diversity and richness of East African music.

Zanzibar International Film Festival

Just as memory of the Sauti za Busara begins to fade, Zanzibaris prepare for the second round of festivities. Established in 1997 in Zanzibar, Tanzania will be hosting the International Film Festival, highlighting African films and local music, food, and culture. Films featured in the 2011 edition included films from around the world, such as full-length features A Handful of Dirt (Barbados), Rice Paddy/La Rizière (China/France) and short-films Black Hill (Uganda) and Child of Ramadhan (Tanzania), to name just a few. Since its inception, the festival has become the largest film and arts festival in East Africa, challenging the primacy of Burkina Faso’s FESPACO.

Jahazi Literary & Jazz Festival

Two international festivals is not enough for Zanzibaris, it seems. Zanzibar celebrated the first Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival from 2-4 September 2011, with an international panel of musicians, poets, artists, and writers. Events over the three days of the festival included a percussion workshop by French-born Danish-Malian musician/storyteller Moussa Diallo, an introduction to the history of jazz by American musician Al Campos, and talks by African-American writer/poet Jeffrey Renard Allen (Holding Pattern) and Welshi-Gujarati poet/dancer Tishani Doshi (The Pleasure Seekers). The inaugural festival also provided an interactive platform to showcase local Zanzibari foods and culture, as well as the works of local artists through the Jahazi Fringe Festival that ran parallel to the official programme.


By Stephanie Chang