Saturday, January 09, 2010

Spirit of Africa at the Fez Festival 2010

Fes Festival of World Sacred Music concerts on Sunday 6 June will feature artists from Tanzania, Zanzibar and Burundi.

Rajab Suleiman plays the qanun

First up is the Rajab Suleiman Trio with vocalist Shakila Saidi at the Batha Museum. Hailing from Tanzania, these artists will perform taraab in the Swahili tradition. Taraab is an intoxicating Afro-Arab-Indian tradition from the east African coast, particularly Tanga in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya. The women vocalists sing in Swahili about the problems and joys of everyday life - the Arabic tarabun means joy, pleasure, rapture, entertainment and music. Songs are often commentaries on class, gender and social relations, and can be protests against or affirmation of social behaviours. But they are also expressions of joy and elation.

Shakila Saida record cover, 1989

Shakila Saida is a well-known and well-loved performer of taraab. She and her husband performed in the Black Star Musical Club in Tanga, then left to form the Lucky Star Musical Club in the early 70s. The amalgamation of traditional taraab with dance music such as samba and rumba, and the addition of guitar and bass guitar, was introduced by Black Star and became a more modern interpretation of taraab.

The Sunday evening concert at Bab al Makina will feature the Sufi Ensemble Mtendeni Maulid from Zanzibar, and les Maitres Tambours from Burundi in a rendition of Sufi ritual and sacred rhythm. And a spectacular evening it should prove to be.

Zanzibaris Mtendeni Maulid

The Mtendeni Maulid provide a visually spectacular and spiritually uplifting experience. There are only three remaining groups in the world still practising this religious artform – all based in Zanzibar. The Maulid comes from a centuries-old tradition with roots in the Arab World. Ustadh Majid Said Mansour founded the group in the mid-1960s after learning the traditions from his grandfather. The people of Zanzibar clearly hold this tradition close to their hearts and turn out in thousands to witness the shows when they perform at Islamic religious festivals.

The musicians play percussion instruments only. They are arranged on the floor with the dancers who are kneeling in one line. Starting very softly and almost motionless, the music and singing slowly unfolds and encapsulates, weaving its spell among both artists and audience. Slowly the rhythm and music build in intensity, until the right moment, when the musicians seem to move to another, completely higher, level.

Joining them will be the athletic drummers from Burundi.

Les Maitres Tambours from Burundi

The drummers work themselves into a trance-like state with great exuberance and joy. In Burundi, they signify ingoma, meaning both 'drum' and 'kingdom'.

The Festival's day devoted to African artists promises to be spiritually charged and spectacular.

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