2 April 2015

Kenya: Discard the Pride, Kenya Can Learn a Lot From Zanzibar

opinion

This year's 16th Cape Town International Jazz festival was hosted last weekend. Although the festival still bears the 'jazz' tag, there is a big representation of jazz-related events; those that are not necessarily jazz but have hints of it.

It comes barely a month after the Sauti Za Busara festival in Zanzibar which has also continued to grow, drawing good attention to the spice island and sustaining the country's tourism.

The impetus that it created over a decade ago has made it one of the leading calendar events of its kind in this region.

While the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CIJF) banks on a strong music tradition in South Africa and the good support by a consortium of corporate sponsors and government agencies, Busara has survived on sheer good planning that has created a more distinctive music flavour from East Africa and the world.

Conceptually, a festival is much more than music and is mooted to define the character of the geographical location and the country against a background of evolving global culture. It is a platform for a unique music tourism that promotes cross-cultural interaction and harmony.

Unfortunately, festivals have not worked too well in Kenya and yet interestingly, the country has all the requisite facilities and the logistical advantage of international flight connections.

For venues, the KICC is perfect as it has the space, central location in the capital centre and large open grounds for a major festival. Moreover both Nairobi and Mombasa now have enough hotels to provide the required beds for large turnout.

Alternately, the two stadiums in Nairobi also expand the choice.

But so far, all we have has been a catalog of failures but this is no reason to give up and indeed does not indicate its futility.

Historically, the first ambitious festival in Kenya took rock music to Naivasha in the late 1970s with a concept of a then burgeoning rock music by the lake but as one of the organisers noted, many people instead found a reason to go elsewhere.

Several others have been tried out but none has gone beyond the inaugural event.

The Guinness Sunbeat reggae festival in 1998 modelled after the reggae Sunsplash festival of Jamaica had promise and big money, bringing a fine artiste lineup that set the menu for a great event. On stage, Maxi Priest and the late Lucky Dube lived up to their reputation as two of the best in the world at the time. From the home front, then budding reggae stars Jah'Key Marley and the late King Kong also made a good account of themselves.

There was also the bengamania event in the late 1990s that featured all the big names in the genre with the late DO Misiani, Princess Jully and others rocking thousands of their fans at Nyayo stadium.

But tragically, neither went beyond the inaugural stage and major music festivals have become few and far between.

The gaps between the big events have grown wider which has hampered the development of a live music culture in Kenya.

Sponsorships issues and lack of support for big events has been a perennial factor that has inhibited growth and sustenance of such festivals.

The common complaint is that sponsors tend to support individuals known to them rather than looking at the overall event and its merit.

Obviously, our government has also not understood how music works and this is a factor to this day. But the reality is that Kenya being a major tourism destination needs to package itself more seriously by taking into account the various products that are available.

It is inspiring to see Sauti Za Busara grow because it underlines the point that nothing is too small to be nurtured. Let us not be too proud to learn from our smaller neighbour.

Kenya

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