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Volume 34
Issue 42
 
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The Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar visits Seattle on its first North American tour
The Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar visits Seattle on its first North American tour
by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

The Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar brought its lush, sensual and evocative music to Town Hall on September 24th as part of a three day performance stay in Seattle, the only city on the West Coast they visited on their first ever North American tour. Their schedule included playing for 1500 Seattle Public School children at Town Hall and other performances around the community. The traveling orchestra is made up of thirteen musicians and singer/dancers, but is twice as large at home. It is based in Stone Town, a historic town that was recently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The group was originally formed in 1958 as part of Zanzibar's independence movement from the British and is Zanzibar's most famous exponent of Taarab music, which blends the sounds of East Africa with the musical influences of the Arab world. Taarab was first introduced to Zanzibar in 1870 by its then reigning Sultan, who brought a group of Egyptian musicians to his court. The sounds of Culture Musical Club definitely reminds one of Egyptian orchestras and of a lot of music in Egypt from the early and mid 20th century in films and popular recordings, including those of the legendary Egyptian singer, Umm Kulthum.

The touring Taarab orchestra includes three violins, qanun, ud, accordion, double bass, dumbak (handheld drum), bongos and rika (tambourine), plus featured solo singers and a female chorus. I thought that the accordion and double bass also gives the orchestra a European feel. While Taarab musical lyrics have been traditionally sung in Arabic, this group sings predominantly in Swahili, the most common language spoken on the island of Zanzibar. The orchestra is traveling with a guest artist, Amina, a rising vocal star of Taarab, from Kenya, who's voice and ornamental vocal style blended well with the group. Two other fine female singers and a male singer took turns as featured soloists. Some of the music had elements of hypnotic cha-cha and rumba rhythms.

The orchestra was received warmly by its Seattle audience and the orchestra's members reciprocated with open hearts, joyful smiles and elegant playing. In the second set, the orchestra let loose, switching to a lively, more African influenced dance music called Kidumbak, usually played at weddings and other social gatherings, with lyrics full of social commentary and inspiring," hip-twirling" rhythms. The orchestra for Kidumbak is scaled down, with a more pronounced percussion influence and is composed of three violins, Kidumbak drums, sanduku (box bass), cherewa (maracas), mkwasa (claves), female chorus and dancers. The dancers performed their hip-twirling dance with amazing dexterity, fluidity and enjoyment, inviting the audience to join in dancing to the infectious and powerfully rhythmical and happy music. Who could resist? Audience members jumped up and danced in front of the stage, interacting with great fun with the musicians and dancers. It was a lovely evening for all involved as the audience and orchestra each were discovering a whole new world.

For your information, according to the program notes: Zanzibar is a tropical island in the Indian Ocean about 25 miles off the east coast of Africa. It is 631 square miles in size, about seven times bigger than the city of Seattle and has a population of 1.1 million people. It is actually a number of islands, the two largest are Zanzibar- also called Unguja, and Pemba. Ninety-seven percent of the people in Zanzibar are Muslim, and most speak Swahili, spoken in many parts of East Africa near the Indian Ocean and said to be a blend of African and Arabic languages, with some Persian and Indian influences.

Zanzibar was settled about 1000 BCE by groups from east Africa and was often visited by traders from India, Persia and Arabia, who intermarried with the locals. It was ruled by the Portuguese in the 16th and 17th centuries, fell under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Oman until the late-19th century, becoming a protectorate of the British. Zanzibar became fully independent in 1963 and in 1964 merged with Tanganyika, a former east African British colony, to form the current country of Tanzania.

To learn more about the Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar visit: www.zanzibarmusic.org.

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