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Music and Culture










Taarab is music that is now synonymous with Zanzibar. It is a form of local music that is a mix of sounds and styles from India, Arabia, and Africa. Taarab shows are as much about audience participation as they are about music. Although the music may be a bit harsh for Western ears, the show itself is great theatrer. Part of the tradition is for women to give money to the singer during the performance. This involves a very showy ascent to the stage and an exhibition of the night's eveningwear, a slow approach to the singer and maybe a tease before giving over the 'tip'. The audience howls at the antics of the other audience members and the Taarab singer carries on with the back up of a forty-piece band that includes horns, strings, and drums. Especially impressive is the horn-blower with a white cloth. Your hotel can check at the Old Fort for performances and to see if shows have been announced on the radio.

Ngoma is the name given to an African dance – its is more about meeting together to take part and witness this dance, which is African in origin, accompanied by very fast rhythmic drumming and local instruments. Originally an ngoma was performed at ceremonies and celebrations such as weddings, circumsion, harvest festivals and so forth. Some hotels and restaurants feature Ngomas on certain nights and there may be performances at the Old Fort.

Freddie Mercury of Queen became one of, if not the most famous Asian pop star in the UK and America. He was born Farok Bulsara on 5th September 1946 in Zanzibar, to Parsee parents (Zoroastrian religion originating in Iran). Many Parsees immigrated to India during and after the Arab conquest of Iran, resulting in a sizable Parsee population in India of which the Bulsaras are descendents. They moved from Gujarat to Zanzibar before Freddie's birth. Freddie's father worked as a civil servant in the Zanzibar British Protectorate and his mother worked as a cashier at Zanzibar's High Court, so they were comfortably well off. At the age of seven Freddie was sent to boarding school in India where he attended a private school called St. Peter's just outside Bombay. It was here, in this English school, that Freddie adopted his English name and stopped using the name Farok (meaning "lucky" in Parsee) and started his own music group: "The Hectics".

In 1964 the Bulsaras moved to the UK to avoid a pending revolution in Zanzibar, and although his parents would have liked to see him become a doctor or lawyer, he pursued a career in the arts and attended Ealing College of Art. At College he reportedly met the other members of Queen and the rest is rock 'n' roll history. A trace of Freddie's Zanzibari roots can be heard in one of the most famous of Queen's songs, "Bohemian Rhapsody" which contains the Arabic word "Bismallah". This word had special political significance in Zanzibar for a brief period for a group who used it to express discontent. The word itself is used all the time at the commencement of something. Queen's use of 'Bismallah' was most likely unrelated to the political usage in Zanzibar.

Queen had numerous hits from the 1970's through the 1980's ('We are the Champions', 'Another One Bites the Dust'), and Freddie worked with other famous pop artists including David Bowie ('Under Pressure') and shared the stage with many others during the Live Aid concert in 1985. Queen had a reputation for bright lights, big sounds, and concerts that rocked. Freddie had an onstage persona that lit up TV screens and kept women screaming. Even into the late 1980's and early 1990's when he took on a post-Village People gay look complete with moustache, the women still screamed for him. His fans came from all genders, age groups, and nationalities. He kept in touch with his family including weekly visits to his parents. On November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury died in London of bronchial pneumonia brought on by AIDS. He was cremated in the Zoroastrian tradition and left his parents, Jer and Bomi, his sister Kashmira, and his boyfriend, Jim Hutton.


Jan. 14, 2006
Kenya Times

The third edition of Sauti za Busara (Sounds of Wisdom) takes place from 9th - 14th February 2006. This five-day extravaganza of diverse and top-quality music, theatre and dance brings together people of all ages and backgrounds in celebrating the wealth and variety of Swahili music.

The venue will be at the Old Fort in Stone Town for four nights and then it decamps to Kendwa beach on Zanzibar’s north coast for a special grand finale featuring international DJs.

Organised by Busara Promotions, a non-governmental, non-political, non-profit cultural organisation based in Zanzibar, the 2006 Festival showcases a rich and dynamic programme including ngoma traditional music, taarab, kidumbak, rumba, muziki wa dansi, mchiriku, Swahili hiphop bongo flava, Afropop fusions, mystic and religious music, theatre, comedy, acrobatics and dance.

Of the 40 groups participating, most are from the Swahili-speaking nations: Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi, with six or seven specially selected groups from Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Europe.

According to Busara Promotions Director, Yusuf Mahmoud, among confirmed artists include Ferooz (Bongo Flava megastar), Mchinga Sound (Muziki wa Dansi), Jagwa Music (Mchiriku from Dar es Salaam - favourites at WOMEX UK 2005), Lady Jaydee is also expected to show up with a live band, Culture Musical Club (Zanzibar taarab), Amina (Mombasa taarab), Sinachuki Kidumbak, Bi Kidude Msondo group, Black Roots (Zanzibar), Mkalimala Culture Group (traditional music from Mtwara), Taffetas (Kora fusion from Mali, Guinea-Bissau and Europe), Fanaza (Swaziland), Ukoo Flani MauMau (Nairobi hiphop), New Sound Band (Burundi), Atongo Zimba (Ghana) and The Shrine Synchrosystem featuring DJs Rita and Max from London, performing live with musicians and rappers from West and East Africa. Other artists are yet to confirm.

The extravaganza aims at encouraging audiences to celebrate pluralism of cultural and religious diversity; to promote and develop opportunities for musicians and performing artists along the Swahili coast and islands to connect, learn and perform together; and to develop regional artistic cooperation, for the social, cultural and economic growth of East Africa and the Swahili region.

In October 2005, 93-year old Zanzibari legend Bi Kidude bint Baraka was presented with the World Music Expo (WOMEX) lifetime achievement award and Busara Promotions made it possible for her to travel to the UK.

WOMEX is the world’s premier networking event exclusively dedicated to international music of all kinds. Attending were more than 2,000 international professionals, 500 musicians, 300 exhibitors representing record companies, festival and concert promoters, agents, cultural institutions, the media and other sectors gathered from more than 84 countries.

A moving tribute to Bi Kidude was delivered in recognition of her more than 80 years of singing and serving as a cultural mediator and advisor of the younger generations, on matters of sex and marriage - a proper symbol of World Music’s emancipatory, liberating and strengthening power.

As Bi Kidude walked on stage to accept her reward, the two thousand WOMEX delegates gave her a five-minute standing ovation. A proud day it was indeed for Africa.

The past festivals have attracted more than 12,000 people and interest for the next edition indicates that more will be in attendance.In three short years, Sauti za Busara (Swahili Music) Festival has firmly established itself as one of East Africa’s finest annual events.

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