Zein L’Abdin, from Mombasa, was one of the pivotal figures of the Mombasa taarab scene. He was born on the Island of Lamu where he grew up immersed in the many strands of music brought to the Swahili coast by seafaring traders from the Arab world, India and as far afield as Indonesia.
Taarab is a celebratory social music greatly enjoyed by East Africa’s Muslim and non-Muslim populations alike.
Sauti za Busara, the prestigious African music festival held in Zanzibar has announced the lineup for 2018. The festival, held in Zanzibar’s Stone Town, will take place over four days during February 8 – 11, 2018 with 44 performances live on three stages. Additional headliners will be announced in the next weeks.
Sauti za Busara Festival Line-up
Kasai Allstars (DRC), Zakes Bantwini (South Africa), Alsarah & the Nubatones (Sudan / USA), Msafiri Zawose (Tanzania), Ribab Fusion (Morocco), Kidum & the Boda Boda Band (Burundi / Kenya), Mlimani Park Orchestra (Tanzania), Afrikan Boy (Nigeria / UK), Mohamed Ilyas & Nyota Zameremeta (Zanzibar), Matona’s Cultural Band (Zanzibar /Tanzania), Makadem (Kenya), Mangwenya Diana Samkange (Zimbabwe), Fatma Zidan (Egypt / Denmark), Inganzo Ngari (Rwanda), Mzungu Kichaa (Tanzania / Denmark), Segere Original (Tanzania), Simangavole (Reunion), Jally Kebba Susso (Gambia), Maia & the Big Sky (Kenya), Kiltir (Reunion), El Dey (Algeria), Maulidi ya Homu ya Mtendeni (Zanzibar), Simbin Project (Switzerland), CAC Fusion (Tanzania), Mbanaye (Malawi), Ernest Ikwanga (Malawi), Isack Abeneko (Tanzania), Grace Matata (Tanzania), Safi Theatre (Tanzania), Siti & the Band (Zanzibar), Matona’s Afdhal Group (Zanzibar / Norway), Mapanya Band (Zanzibar / Norway), Zanzibar Taarab Ensemble (Zanzibar).
All Stars Kikundi cha Taifa (National Taarab Orchestra) of Zanzibar was founded many years ago having a flexible set up but always featuring the finest of taarab musicians from the Islands.
The group is presently under the artistic direction of two of Zanzibar’s taarab maestros Mr Iddi Suwedi of Culture Musical Club and Mr Mohamed Ilyas of Nadi Ikhwan Safaa (Malindi Taarab). Including lead singers and selected artists from the aforementioned orchestras, Kikundi cha Taifa also features musicians from East African Melody, KIKI Taarab Baladna and other groups from around Zanzibar and Pemba islands.
Numbering 42 artists in total the orchestra plays traditional taarab music using ud, violin, qanun, cello, bass, accordion and percussion.
Under government sponsorship the National Taarab Orchestra comes together specifically to perform for special events for example to mark Zanzibar’s Revolution Day every year on January 12th. Athough they have not yet recorded CDs, famous songs in their repertoire include Vya Kale Dhahabu (Old is Gold); Kanijia Kwenye Ndoto; Ombi Mahususi and Chozi la Huba.
Founded in 1950, the Nadi Ikhwani Safaa orchestra can probably trace its roots back further than any other orchestra in Africa. Every known musician from Zanzibar has at some point or other performed or played with “Malindi” (as they are also affectionately known) and recently they enjoyed a strong revival in popularity with the local population.
This gathering of hobby musicians from all walks of life plays taarab in its original beauty – delicate poetry outstanding vocal performances that reveal in their elaborate ornamentation the close connection to their Arabic roots and finely chiseled instrumentals.
Love, companionship, friendship, the enjoyment of music, the pains of sadness, all find expression in the moving performances and the sweet sounds of their orchestral arrangements. Maalim Iddi Farhan one of their oldest and most respected members summed it up: “…It goes to the mind and then to the heart and to the blood and you feel happy at the end.”
Established in Dar es Salaam during December 2006, Jahazi Modern Taarab group is currently the leading taarab group in Tanzania with more fans than any other. Their success story can be attributed to Mzee Yusuf the manager and owner who is also one of the pioneer musicians of the modern taarab style. Mzee teams up with his sister Khadija Yusuf another very popular taarab singer in Tanzania. Both artists built their reputations and international fame with Zanzibar Stars Modern Taarab.
Modern taarab is a style which gained popularity in the late 1990s by some taarab musicians who were trying to find a way of building a new generation of fans. Unlike in traditional taarab this modern version where most of the music comes from keyboards rather than real instruments allows fans to ‘get up and dance’. Most of the songs are about how one boasts of enjoying his or her love life. Modern taarab groups are often in the headlines and have attracted criticism for promoting hatred and jealousy especially among women.
‘To avoid being misunderstood we decided to write songs which speak about realities in love life like how to mend broken affairs as well as unifying and strengthening relationships’ claims Mzee Yusuf explaining that his modern taarab style does not promote hatred.
Culture Musical Club is not only the largest but also one of the most prolific and successful orchestras of Zanzibar and they present taarab music Swahili style at its best.
In addition to countless performances in Stonetown villages of Zanzibar and on the Tanzania mainland, this ensemble has toured internationally with outstanding success and has won over audiences in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, the Arab Emirates and Reunion with their lush songs and instrumental solos.
They perform new compositions on a regular basis and have developed a distinct and uniquely Swahili style. Their CD-releases have made the name Culture Musical Club known to audiences throughout the world so that rehearsals in their club house have become a tourist attraction.
Bi Kidude was an institution in Zanzibar, and East Africa’s greatest musical legend. The diva of Zanzibar taarab, she also played other musical styles including more ngoma-based unyago and msondo.
Her real name has been described as Fatma Baraka Khamis or Bi Fatuma Binti Baraka. She grew up in a family of seven in the Zanzibari village of Mfagimarigo. Her father was a coconut seller.
Bi Kidude’s exact date of birth was unknown, much of her life story was uncorroborated, giving her an almost mythical status. Kidude started out her musical career in the 192s, and learned many of her songs with Siti bint Saad. She performed in countries all around Europe, Middle East and Japan and finally recorded her first solo album (Zanzibar, Retroafric Recordings) in 1994, while in her mid-eighties. She also released a second locally-produced album (Machozi ya Huba, Heartbeat Records) with her traditional drums influencing the burgeoning Zenji Flava local hip-hop scene in one of the most remarkable juxtapositions of musical style in modern World Music.
Since fleeing a forced marriage at the age of 13 and escaping her homeland of Zanzibar, Bi Kidude led an extraordinary and varied career as a drummer, singer, henna artist and natural healer. Her first journey was to the mainland of Tanzania, where she walked the length and breadth of the country barefoot.
With renewed confidence and a new attitude to tradition (by now Kidude had thrown off her veil and shaved her head!) she returned, slowly to Zanzibar where she acquired a small clay house in the 194s and settled down to life grounded in the traditional roots of society.
Bi Kidude was part of the Unyago movement, which prepares young Swahili women for their transition through puberty and excelled at the art of henna designing for young brides, manufacturing her own wanja application from age old recipes fit ‘to make a rainbow shine.’ Bi Kidude performed traditional unyago music and was the island’s leading exponent of this ancient dance ritual, performed exclusively for teenage girls, which uses traditional rhythms to teach women to pleasure their husbands, while lecturing against the dangers of sexual abuse and oppression.
Her many talents were acknowledged by Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) at the second Festival of the Dhow Countries in 1999, when she was awarded Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to the Arts.
Bi Kidude’s is a remarkable story, one which challenges our perception of age, and of the role of women in Islam. She never conformed to the media stereotype of a Muslim woman ever since she removed her veil. To see a ninety-something year old Muslim woman drink, smoke, flirt, dance and drum was a unique experience. To witness the transformation as she reversed the aging process and changes from a wrinkled granny into a vital shining star was nothing short of revolutionary.
In the summer of 2004 Bi Kidude toured Europe with Zanzibar’s illustrious Culture Musical Club taarab orchestra. Midway through this tour, the whole of Zanzibar was thrown into shock and disarray when a rumor spread fast through the island that Bi Kidude had died. From the narrow streets of Stone Town to the bazaars of N’gambo and throughout the villages this was the only topic of conversation as the island rapidly acquired the atmosphere of mourning. This rumor continued to spread even long after the offices of Busara Promotions had disseminated confirmation from Bi Kidude’s European promoters that on the contrary, she was alive and very well. She was surprised to hear that people in Zanzibar think that she has died:
“Sijafa bado. Labda sababu watu hawajaonana nami sasa karibu mwezi. Lakini bado tunaendelea na safari na bado safari ndefu ya miezi miwili. Lakini sijambo, sina wasiwasi miye. Kuimba naimba na nguvu zote ambazo ninazo ili watu wafurahi.”
“I haven’t died yet. Maybe people are saying that because they haven’t seen me around for almost a month. But we are still continuing our tour which lasts for two more months. Me, I’m well, I have no problem. Me I sing with all my strength and continue to make people happy.”
In 2006, ScreenStation Productions with Busara Promotions produced a 66-minute video documentary titled As Old As My Tongue: the Myth and Life of Bi Kidude.
“Over the last three years we have filmed with Bi Kidude and her extended entourage,” said director Andy Jones. “From her humble home in a township on the edge of historic Stone Town to the grandeur of the Theatre de la Ville in Paris we have captured moments of love, jealousy, protection and exploitation of a witty and humble woman. Musical moments combined with highly personal observation form the trunk of our story. The music is extraordinary. From the seemingly poetic but really biting satire of the grand Taarab orchestras to the telling rhythms of primal sexuality expressed in her x-rated Unyago the film is punctuated with sensational live footage.”
In 2005, Bi Kidude bint Baraka was presented with the WOMEX 2005 Award for her lifetime achievements and contributions to world music.
This intriguing and inspiring woman was a repository and leading exponent of Swahili culture. (Bi Kidude) herself said, “How can I stop singing? When I sing I feel like a 14-year old girl again.”
Zanzibar’s all-female Tausi Taarab orchestra was formed in 2009 and presents classical style music in the tradition of some of Zanzibar’s strongest women. Dating back to the 1920s when Siti Bint Saad who is widely recognized as the ‘mother of taarab’ recorded a large catalog of Swahili songs, many talented women composers and singers have contributed to the development of Zanzibar’s most famous music style.
Over time, other women’s taarab groups existed (such as Nadi lkhwati Safaa, Nuru el Ayoun, Sahib el Ary, Royal Air Force and Navy groups) that were especially strong during the 1960s. However, in those days even in the “women’s groups”, it was always the men who played the instruments.
Tausi Taarab presents an innovation and inspiration in a very traditional genre: an all female orchestra where all instruments are played by women, accompanying women singers and performing songs composed by women.
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