Jen: Some of you know that Ben and I decided to save the crazy $1000 it would have cost to go gorilla trekking in Uganda. We decided to put some of that cash towards mixing things up a bit and taking a little excursion over to Zanzibar for an African Music Festival – Sauti Za Busara which had come highly recommended by some friends.
We took a very fast and efficient (very un-African!) catamaran over to the island and spent our days exploring the rambling maze that is Stone Town, massively different to anywhere else we have been in Tanzania with it’s Arabic and Indian influences. We also took a couple of trips, one out to Prison Island for some snorkelling and to check out some gigantic tortoises that live on the island. The other trip was organised courtesy of Bens mate Woody who happens to run a safari company – Wildthings here in Tanzania so knows the best places to go. We had a great day checking out the Jozani Forest and the nearby Zanzibar Butterfly Centre and Zala reptile park All are doing great things with the local community to conserve the forest and educate/ help them to earn sustainable incomes. We then went popped up to Paje, a huge expanse of Indian Ocean white beach and turquoise waters which comes alive each afternoon with hundreds of kite surfers. Kite surfing always looks pretty amazing and we both though that if it weren’t so cold at home it would be a fantastic place to learn a new hobby.
We made sure we were back in Stone Town by late afternoon ready to enjoy the music… over to Ben who wanted to do a little review of Sauti Za Busara
Zanzibar Music Festival – Butler’s verdict
The main festival runs over Fri/Sat/Sunday, well 3 evenings/nights really, kicking off at 5ish and running though to the early hours (Which is incredible really ‘cos the venue is the old fort right in the center of Stone Town, a pretty unique and intimate gig venue. We didn’t really know much of the artists playing before they came on stage, so an African Music Magical Mystery tour unrolled in front of us. Most memorable acts for me:
Khaira Arby – THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE SHOW FOR ME, NO QUESTION. Khaira is a Malian Blues singer, the “undisputed queen of Malian desert Soul” the program said. I assumed it was going to be quite traditional for some reason, I think because Khaira came onto the stage in a quite fantastic outfit of massive gold jewellery, and a shawl and nightdress, that made her look like a lovely granny. But boy can she rock. She was one of those people who arrives on stage saying “I’m here, watch this” and captivates the crowd. There was the biggest cheer between each song as she put her heart and soul into the performance. The look of sheer pleasure on her face when she stepped back to listen to her bands screaming bluesy wah-wah guitar solos was infectious. After her last song and a further huge ovation she left the stage, but not before retrieving her massive granny handbag from behind the bass amp, just brilliant!!
I struggled to find some footage on the net that did the whole thing justice, this isn’t good sound quality, but you’ll get the idea……..
Sousou & Maher Cissoko – THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE SHOW FOR JEN – Sousou is from Stockholm-Sweden, Maher isfrom Dakar-Senegal, and with their band they made some fantastic music, a very talented duo. Quite mellow and centered around the incredible Cora playing of Maher. Sousou occasionally played a second Cora, but mainly she accompanied on guitar and sang beautifully. Most songs came from their album “Stockholm to Daker”, an album about their Overland journey between the 2, as you can imagine, we liked that idea a lot. Favourite tune, “Jangfata” Which means “drive” apparently, listen to it here but beware it may get stuck in your head …
Comrade Fatso & Chabvondoka – A gang from Zimbabwe, famed in Zim for there political songs that speak out against, in Comrade Fatso’s words, “A country that is difficult to live in”. They are banned on Zim radio, so are also famed for getting round this by getting there CD’s in all the CD players of the buses around the country. I wasn’t expecting to like it much as the billing said “a blend of spoken word, rap, hiphop, reggae and more”, but the more was awesome. A full on band funking the fort, and not a drum machine in site, perfect. Fatso’s rapping tye thing is not usually my cup of tea, but he is good at what he does, and commands the stage, well nearly… For the whole gig Amara Brown guest starred in quite an interesting outfit, with some crazy dance moves and a brilliant voice that pulled the whole sound together nicely, I cant find any footage on the net that really compares to what we heard, no Amara Brown, and the non-live stuff has a different feel, but if you’re interested listen here…
Owiny Sigoma Band – I’m really torn on what to say here. They are a band formed of Londoners and Kenyans. They are signed on Giles Petersons record label, and (as I found from a quick search round on the net) they seem to have collaborated with Damon Albarn, so they obviously like them. On one hand I really liked the funky grooves they got into, and the Kenyan singer who joins the mix with a very traditional singing style (and a fantastic head-dress). But on the other hand the grooves never went anywhere at all, and they seemed to have forgotten their sound crew, meaning the keyboard & lead guitar were inaudible, so was the London boys vocal bits. They actually played twice, once on Friday, once on Saturday, and on Friday they finished the gig telling the crowd they were just warming up, and the next day would be “very different”. It wasn’t, they looked as disinterested the following day. All in all I wanted to like it, but was ultimately massively disappointed. I would however go and see them again in the hope that there sound team made it on the plane next time. A couple of tunes from the tinternet that sound way better than what we heard….
Atongo Zimba – A “cowboy” from Ghana. We missed his first appearance, solo with his 2 stringed African banjo on Friday, but he was back on Sunday, we’d heard he was good.
Between Friday & Sunday he’d put a band together from random members of other bands at the festival, practised for about 10 minutes, and gone for it. It was interesting! At first I didn’t know it was an ad-hoc jam, so was a little confused by the disarray…. The only coherent part seemed to be Atongo & his banjo, and that sounded great. The guy has a fairly impressive presence on the stage, he’s clearly a man who knows what he wants. He definitely let the guys on the sound desk next to the stage know, first by pointing and gesticulating a lot, then by telling them quite clearly between tunes. Both failed so the highlight of the show for me was watching him wander stage left with a huge African beaming smile before turning on the sound dudes and giving them an almighty bolloking (you could only see it, not hear it unfortunatly). This didn’t stop him playing both strings of the banjo perfectly though. The bolloking finished, the smile returned, and Atongo strode back to the mic and carried on. Wonderful. Despite the chaos of the Jam, you could tell Mr Zimba was good, I wish we’d seen him on his own on Friday.
See and hear some of the less caitic jam here, actual footage from the festival filmed by a guy about 3 rows in front of me on his massive iPad, I hope that doesn’t become a popular gig feature, you can barely see round the bloody thing!!
Mokoomba – A hugely energetic (and sweaty) band from Zimbabwe. A great band to get the party going, with some crazy dance moves, and plenty of stuff going on to keep you entertained. Here’s a little snippit for you from another gig….
Cheikh Lo – An “internationally acclaimed…… great maverick” from Senegal, he headlined the last night, and with good cause. Another set of fantastic outfits and music, Cheikh’s singing and guitar playing drove the band forward, and on some songs he sat and played drums and sang, and what a drummer too. The Festival was nicely wrapped up by them at about 2am. Listen to Cheikh here….
Jen: Before and after the music festival we’ve spent a few days in Dar Es Salaam. Woody has very kindly put us up in his lovely house in Mbezi beach, complete with a very refreshing swimming pool. A big thanks to Woody for making us feel so welcome and also Tanya who initially contacted us to tell us about the music festival and to invite us to stay. Ben and I have really appreciated having a proper house to stay in, as much as we love our tent it makes for a nice change.
Going back to the start of journey in Tanzania, after crossing the border we took a strange little detour up North as we needed to rectify the fact we’d driven all around Lake Victoria without actually seeing it. We spent a couple of days in Bukoba, camped up on the beach next to the lake listening to the waves breaking on the shore at night. Bukoba sees very few tourists and we enjoyed wandering around, checking out the local market and also eating quite a bit of local fish – Tilapia.
From Bukoba we headed south towards Tarangerie National Park. We had our first experience of the friendly (give me some cash) Tanzanian police…
Ben: Friendly!!! They drive you mad in Tanzania, you get stopped all the time for “checks” and stupid stuff. On this occasion they weren’t happy cos I’d (just) crossed “a solid white line” in the middle of the road to overtake a car stopping in front of me. I wasn’t in the mood for this at all. We “chatted” for a long time about how it wasn’t dangerous and how arbitrary the line painting and speed limit signage is on Tanzanian roads, and how Mzungo’s (Foreigners) seem to be stopped more than anyone else, and how dangerous the bus drivers are and how they should be looking out for them. Then the boss said that the 30,000 shilling fine I was being given could be “reduced” without a ticket (like they always do), and I was off the hook. I just ranted loudly about how corrupt the police are in Tanzania and how I needed the guys name and badge number, and miraculously I was told I should carry on my way!! I’ll be trying that one again. On our day trip in Zanzibar (which is an island 25 by 50km), we were stopped in the car Woody hired 6 times in one day. It must be a good way of reducing unemployment!!
Tarangerie NP had come recommended as a great park with lots of wildlife and beautiful scenery but without the extortionate price tag of the Serengeti. The park is full of massive Boab trees that are hundreds of years old. One used to be used as a hide by poachers and you can walk right inside. We saw lots of elephants and giraffes. We drove around following reports of leopards and lions but weren’t lucky enough to see either. The closest we got was seeing a cat was half an antelope that the leopard had dragged up a tree before disappearing as he was a bit shy. We later heard that a sneaky lion had popped up the tree and taken the leopards dinner.
We took a little excursion up to Marangu which is where hikes to Kilimanjaro start and finish and enjoyed walking around the local countryside. We got a couple of glimpses between the clouds of the snow capped mountain.
We then took the main road across the Masai plains before winding our way up 1000 metres to the fantastic Usambarra Mountains and a little farm near Lushoto. The farm is run by the local church and produce all sorts of delicious produce such as cheese, muesli and mango chutney. The profits are then used to fund a local orphanage and school for the blind. We also had a fantastic camping spot looking down at the beautiful forest and farmland below.
We then decided to head North, further into the Usumbarra mountains as our guide book said the little village of Mtae was spectacular with had 270 degrees views all around from the cliff tops. As we were leaving the farm the Manager Peter told us about a Eco lodge and said it was worth us stopping by. I had the job of sorting out Sally Sat Nav and forcing it down the roads we’d been advised to use… unfortunately something went a little wrong and we found ourselves on a tiny track, barely wide enough for a car with lots of branches and massive gullies where the rain had washed the road away… we persevered and finally got back onto the ‘main road’ (well the road the buses use at least).
We were heading for the small village of Mambo where the lodge was located. We then got into further difficulties with the Sat Nav (not my doing this time!) when it took us up a dead end road and we had a few slightly angry villages not best impressed that we were driving our big old 4×4 up the road! Finally we adopted the old fashioned approach – i.e get out and ask someone! and got ourselves on the little road up to Mambo View Eco Lodge. A truly stunning little place that has been built by a Dutch couple. The views from wherever you are in the lodge are just magnificent and the whole atmosphere of the lodge only adds to it’s appeal. There are some swanky cottages that you can stay in perched on the edge of the cliffs but we had our very own little overlanders campsite which also had amazing views. We spent a couple of days soaking up the surroundings and also walking around the local village.
It was fascinating to learn how a couple with a Telecommunications background had gone about building the lodge on top of a mountain and then setting up numerous projects in the local area. The projects assist in improving education and teaching the locals new skills that could bring them a sustainable income, with the long term aim of reducing poverty in the area. You could tell that they had definitely got the buy in of the local community as the villagers were very welcoming wherever we went.
From Mambo we took the less well travelled road down from the Mountains on the north side and made our way down towards Tanga. We went from being cold the night before to getting very hot and sticky next to banana trees and padi fields, it was quite a contrast in the space of a few hours. We continued onto a little beachside camp called Peponis. We had the luxury of a beautiful Indian ocean beach and the swimming pool. We also took a little dhow trip out to the nearby reef for our first snorkelling trip on our journey.
From Dar we plan to head South making our way to Malawi and then Mozambique. I’m quite looking forward to climbing to a bit higher altitude and everything cooling down slightly!