Zanzibar is famed for its nightlife which is centered around the sundowner tradition.
On a sweaty evening in the dog days of our African summer, I walk through the narrow winding alleyways of Stone Town. There is a hubbub of activities; people hawking peeled oranges on the narrow winding streets, men deeply engaged in the game of mancala, and women share in the latest gossip in town. People haggle for my attention to book a trip, “Tomorrow, unataka kwenda prison island or spice tour, bei mzuri”. I cross the busy street and I am met with the intoxicating smell of spices still lingering in the air as Forodhani Gardens comes to life as a street food market.
Close to the shores of Majestic Stone Town port, lies the iconic Dhow Music Academy; a school that has over the years strived to keep the sound of Taarab music alive. The three-story building has played host to more than 1,000 students have studied at the academy, a huge percentage of them concentrating on Taarab music. Majority of students who have passed through the DCMA’s doors have gone to play at major concerts, festivals within Zanzibar, the mainland of Tanzania and oversees.
Inside the academy, in a tiny packed room, are music enthusiasts’ waiting to listen to the Tarajazz band, one of the weekly concerts held at the academy. The TaraJazz group are a talented ensemble, but the real value is with their enthralling take of modern Taarab and command of rhythmic subtlety which was quite appealing to the audience.
Celebrated and distinctive musicians in their own right, together they raised the art of mutual interplay and rapport to the very highest level. Their instrumental control, was a joy to hear. The band comprised of; Suleiman Makame The founder, pianist and composer , Hassan Mahenge on sax, Chocholi on drums, Sam Groove on Percussion, Felicia on Violin and Regina Juma on vocals.
In a short speech between song, the saxophonist, shared heartfelt stories of the music, providing us with context to the choice of titling for some songs. The night featured all original compositions such as Kasha to Kondoro their music nicely varied and stimulating with some pleasant taarab touches.
In addition, TaaraJazz has an incredible touch and taste to their music. They had some pleasant melody and a blend of rhythmic panache that can make you move and snap your fingers. Moreover, their music showcased their awareness of their folk roots, embracing both western jazz and the sonorous sounds from East Africa.
The event stood out because of the crowd’s overwhelming positivity, almost every track was met with unbridled enthusiasm. We were eventually treated to encore.
If you find yourself in Stonetown, head over to Dhow Academy and listen to Tarajazz. They play regularly on Tuesday.