Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zanzibar's Culture Musical Club

Culture Musical Club
World Village (

The opening drumbeats sound like the heart of Africa, but soon an accordion, oud and qanun are adding an Arabic grace. Strings, a chorus of female voices and subtle shifts in rhythm emerge, hovering somewhere between Nubia and the Indian Ocean. Such is the beauty of taarab music, which originated on the spice island of Zanzibar, located just off the coast of Tanzania, and draws from every direction that such a cross-culturally opportune spot would suggest. Culture Musical Club isn't the oldest taarab outfit (they've been around a mere fifty years; the similarly venerated Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club was established a century ago), but they're the best known outside their homeland and, as their new release Shime! ("Keep it Up") shows, they cover the most ground stylistically. There's a clear link to Egyptian orchestral music in the combination of slow-building intensity and melancholy beauty, especially evident when the accordion takes on a mournful tone during the instrumental stretches. It's not sad stuff, though. Percussion and bass often kick the songs into a mid-point tempo increase that clears the way for male and female vocals to take a similar jump from blues-tinged to almost jazzy. And despite an ability to sound highly polished and sophisticated when they see fit, the group retains a certain rawness at the core, touching upon the sparser, drum-driven kidumbak style and ending the CD with a two-song suite that puts aside the full ensemble in favor of violins, percussion and the weathered voice of principal male singer Makame Faki. So whether taarab is new to you or you're already hooked, you will want to hear this music by one of its finest collectives. - Tom Orr

Listen: Kidumbaki:

CD available from cdRoots

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