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Celebrating Culture: Festivals and Celebrations in Zanzibar

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

One of the best ways to experience the cultural richness of Zanzibar is by taking part in the various festivals and celebrations that grace the island throughout the year. From centuries-old traditions to contemporary cultural extravaganzas, here are some of the most captivating events in Zanzibar.

Sauti za Busara: Where Music and Culture Converge (February)

Sauti za Busara, which translates to "Sounds of Wisdom" in Swahili, is an annual music and cultural festival held in Zanzibar. Created in 2003 by a cultural NGO, it is a prominent and celebrated event that has gained recognition not only in East Africa but also on the international stage.
During a weekend of three days, the island celebrates music, theater, and dance highlighting African traditions. The festival typically takes place in February, attracting visitors and music enthusiasts from around the world. It showcases a diverse range of performing arts, combining both modern and traditional styles. The festival takes place in the historic Stone Town, with the main stage located inside the Old Fort (Ngome Kongwe). Concerts and performances are held in various venues, including outdoor stages, historic buildings, and open spaces, creating a vibrant atmosphere.
One of the highlights of the Sauti za Busara festival is the carnival-like street parade that kicks off the event on the first day. This colorful and lively procession through the streets of Stone Town is a sight to behold, featuring musicians, dancers, and performers from various cultures and regions, setting the tone for the vibrant festivities that follow.

Mwaka Kogwa Festival: Welcoming the New Year with Zanzibari Flavor (July)

Makunduchi, a village in the southern part of Zanzibar welcomes every year's, a four-day-long celebrationcalled Mwaka Kogwa. The celebration takes place around July 23rd or 24th. The origins of this holiday are Zoroastrian (a Persian religion older than Islam). It is a celebration of the Persian New Year and some of the events include huge bonfires and mock fights. These fights involve men using banana stems to engage in combat, symbolizing a way to release their built-up frustrations and tensions during the year. Meanwhile, women are walking in the village in their finest clothes, serenading the community with enchanting songs about family and happiness. The highlight of the festival is when the village's traditional healer lights a fire, interpreting the direction of the smoke as a way to predict the prosperity of the upcoming year. Mwaka Kogwa concludes with a grand feast, symbolizing happiness and abundance for all.

Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF): A Tapestry of Dhow Cultures (July)

For two weeks every July, Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) unfolds its cinematic treasures. This festival, known as the Festival of the Dhow Countries, celebrates the arts and cultures of Africa, the Gulf States, Iran, India, Pakistan, and the Indian Ocean islands. Its centerpiece is a captivating film program featuring both competition and non-competition screenings.
Fiction and documentary films from around the world explore themes that resonate with the Dhow countries. Beyond cinema, ZIFF offers a vibrant array of music, theater, dance performances, workshops, and exhibitions. Forodhani Gardens in Stone Town come alive with music, and numerous events are open to the public.
The festival includes film competitions, and selected films compete for prestigious awards, including the Golden Dhow and Silver Dhow Awards. These awards recognize outstanding contributions to the world of cinema and storytelling.

Eid El-Fitr: Grand Celebration of Generosity

Eid El-Fitr is the crowning jewel of Zanzibar's festive calendar. This grand festival arrives at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, reflection, and self-restraint. It exemplifies the essence of giving and charity.

The Islamic calendar dictates the ever-changing dates of Ramadan and Eid, typically shifting by approximately 11 days each year. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from activities like eating, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours. Some restaurants may close at this time, and obtaining food outside the main towns can be challenging during the day. However, once Eid arrives, the island bursts into celebration. Families and friends come together, exchanging gifts and visiting one another's homes.
Eid is a visual spectacle where new clothing purchased or made during Ramadan is showcased. As night falls, Taarab concerts and discos beckon revelers to dance the night away. Eid celebrations continue for four days, with festivities, offering a chance for visitors to join in the joyous revelry.

During your stay at Boutique Hotel Matlai, consider aligning your visit with one of these captivating festivals. Each event promises an unforgettable journey into the heart of Zanzibari culture.

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