Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In review--The Taarab of Tanzania

Culture Musical Club
World Village

Although Tanzanian taarab music is not completely new to my ears, I had to give Culture Musical Club’s Shime a few listens before reviewing it. So far the recording has captured the hearts of international music reviewers, including writers with New York Times, Chicago Tribune and the English music publication, Songlines. The music itself resembles Egyptian cinematic music with its Arabic modes, scales and rhythms. The instrumentation proves intriguing by combining North African-Arabic percussion, zither, double bass, oud, violin, and driving accordion, topped off with hearty vocals—both male and female.

It’s ironic that during this post 911 era world music audiences and even a broader audience have been exposed to music with Arabic roots and Muslim cultural influences. Usually as peace and cultural exchange efforts, labels and concert promoters have brought music of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other Muslim dominant countries to our awareness. And while I am reviewing this recording, I am also reading Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin’s Three Cups of Tea—a chronicle of a humanitarian American bringing educational opportunities to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Education and music are the best means of ridding the world of ignorance and hatred. Musicians have a way of reaching straight into our minds and hearts, while also getting our feet to tap or our bodies to dance.

I do not know about any healing effects of Arabic polyrhythms and instrumentation. But as a culture exchange effort, Culture Music Club educates its listeners about taarab music and the culture that surrounds it. The musicianship and poetry on the recording also prove worthy of noting. The liner notes delve into the history of this musical club, which dates back to 1958 when it was founded on the spice island of Zanzibar.

With so many glowing reviews in the wake of its release, Culture Musical Club’s Shime acts an excellent introduction to taarab music and to multicultural Zanzibar. And those of you reading this blog that enjoy Egyptian and Arabic music in general will no doubt be pleased with this recording. It will get you up on your feet dancing.


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