A stunning example of the mix of East African, Arabic, Persian and South Asian influences found in Eastern Africa is Zanzibar’s taarab, which is dramatic Swahili orchestral music which features instruments from several continents: Middle Eastern oud and dumbek, Indian tabla, western electric keyboards, and the “Japanese taishokoto, described here as “a banjo/typewriter key hybrid. According to Zanzibar.net, “taarab rhythms reflect traditional dances like chakacha, Indian film scores, Cuban rumba, and various Zairean and East African dance musics. Perhaps most importantly, the genre’s lyrics radiate with the allusive intricacies of Swahili poetry and showcase the beauty of this long, literary tradition.” Zanzibari music isn’t all taarab, though that’s rightfully where most overviews of Zanzibar’s music start. For a one shot overview of Zanzibar’s music, take a look at this YouTube video called “Zanzibar: Taarab — an Ocean of Melodies.” It does start with a taarab performance, featuring orchestral arrangements including an oud, but then it moves on to some East African ngoma drumming (at 4:14), some dance and drumming with more of an Asian feel (5:22), some hip-shaking African dance (5:55) and back to a great multi-influenced melody, featuring floor patting and clapping worthy of any “All Around This World” music class (starts at 8:01).

For more information:

Wikipedia: the Music of Tanzania | More info | Zanzibari Ngoma drumming | Kidumbak: “a diminutive kind of taarab” | The Dhow Countries Musical Academy: “Music for Education. Music for Employment. Music for Enjoyment.”

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