Note: This post was updated on September 20, 2008, to incorporate comments by reader/listener Iman.
In response a to a request from reader/listener Mike K., I'm happy to post more taarab music from the Indian Ocean coast. The selections here are taken from two cassettes, Pendo Kazi Yetu by the Jasmin Musical Club (FLATIM/Ahadi AHD (MC) 023) and Pendo La Dharau by the Shani Musical Club (FLATIM/Ahadi AHD (MC) 035). While a friend brought these back for me from Nairobi some years ago, I've never really listened to them until now. They're quite nice, though, despite the dodgy audio quality. As FLATIM/Ahadi productions, the packaging is similarly lacking in style:
Doug Paterson writes, at Musikifan:
". . . Badly mastered? Surely you jest? The cassettes have gone through a rigorous controlled process starting with duplication of the original one track tape from Radio Tanzania, the creation of a cassette master at the Nairobi's Valley Road Pentecostal Church (an actual studio), and then home duplication on Livingstone Amaumo's comsumer grade cassette recorder on blanks from no-name Asian manufacturers. At least that was the process back in 1988.I've always thought the crew at FLATIM deserved major kudos for keeping this music in circulation throughout the eighties and nineties, despite the technical limitations of their work. They put out some amazing stuff, a complete listing of which you can read here.
"Since then Livingstone actually uses professional tape duplicators who aren't too bad. The quarter inch tape masters (duplicates) were always a bit dicey but the rest of the process really took its toll.
In another message, Doug explains the acronym: "FLATIM stands for (the late) Franklin Livingstone Amaumo and Tido Dunstan Mhando. Tido, former head of the BBC Swahili Service and now head of TUT (Tanzania's state-owned radio and television services), was once Livingstone's Tanzanian partner in FLATIM."
I've been unable to find out anything about the Shani Musical Club or Jasmin Musical Club. I suspect they are from the Tanga area in mainland Tanzania, as are the Black Star Musical Club. At least their style is quite similar. But that's pure conjecture on my part. Iman writes:
I really can't tell where these bands are from, you are probably correct in your conjecture. They are using words that are beyond my vocabulary and this is not surprising seeing as that us Nairobians are often ridiculed for our poor grammar - it could also be just me. In any case, I have translated the titles as you have posted them and gone a little further with some of them.Here's a heaping helping of nimble guitar work, funky Farfisa organs, and passionate Islamic vocals from the land of the Swahili! In regards to our first song, "Mjamili," Iman writes, "I have no idea what this word means. When I listen to it, it sounds more like 'Mjamali' which I also don't understand! I asked a friend though and he is trying to figure it out. But from the few lyrics I could pick up, he seems to be sad about something. One of the lines I picked up: My heart is burning and you are the firewood."
Jasmin Musical Club - Mjamili
"'Mama wa Kambo' = 'Stepmother'"
Jasmin Musical Club - Mama wa Kambo
"'Pendo Limetakasika' = 'This Love Has Gone Bad'"
Jasmin Musical Club - Pendo Limetakasika
"'Nakonda Kwa Huba': Literally 'I am losing weight over love.' This one is actually kinda funny and sad at the same time! My favorite of the bunch. He is basically saying: 'All the wrongs you have done me make me laugh and really shock me. Remember how good our love used to be? I believed you when you said you loved me and now it seems like you have grown tired of me. Have you no God? How can you harass me this way? I am a fool for your love. I am hungry for your love.'"
Shani Musical Club - Nakonda Kwa Huba
"'Ewe Wangu Nateseka': 'My Love, I am Suffering.' Her lover has left and she is asking him to return soon.
Shani Musical Club - Ewe Wangu Natiseka
"'Moyo Hukipenda Hula': 'The Heart Wants What it Wants' (even if it is bad). Something close to 'I can't help what I love.'"
Shani Musical Club - Moyo Hukipenda Hula
The artwork at the top of this post is from the website Zanzibar Henna Art. The site is a bit rudimentary now, but hopefully it will be updated soon. Browse the site, read about the artists, and consider buying the set of postcards that is available.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Taarab, the intoxicating Afro-Arab-Indian music from the East African coast, has been surprisingly available lately, if you know where to look. John Storm Roberts opened our ears about 25 years ago with his Songs the Swahili Sing (Original Music OMCD 024), and then Globestyle Records in the '80s kept things moving with a series of fascinating releases documenting the styles of Zanzibar and the Mombasa coast. These recordings may still be found with an assiduous search. Recently Buda Musique has launched the ambitious Zanzibara series, which promises new revelations.
With everything else I've had going on, I'm just getting around to posting some of this music. I just finished digitizing about 24 hours worth of East African 45s that I've had stashed away on 10" tape reels, including a couple of taarabs. They were dubbed for me by Ron Sakolsky many years ago, and they're primo examples of the style.
The Black Star Musical Club, from Tanga, Tanzania, was founded in the 1950s, and played a crucial role in establishing the modern taarab sound. Werner Graebner writes in the liner notes of Nyota: Classic Taarab Recordings from Tanga (Globestyle ORBCD 044, 1989):
. . . It was the strong cross-fertilization between taarab and dance music, the interchange of musicians and instruments, which produced the excitement of the new style and made it acceptable to the broader public. the Black Star Musical Club introduced guitar and bass guitar into taarab, the guitar often being played in the style well-known through Tanzanian and Zaïrean dance music. The normal line-up of the group featured the following instruments: 2 guitars, accordion, organ, taishokoto, bass guitar, rika and manyanga. Influences on the rhythms came from dance music (samba and rumba) as well as from local ngoma (dances of the different ethnic groups resident in Tanga and the vicinity). . .Werner credits Black Star vocalist Shakila (née Tatu Saïdi) with establishing a new vocal style shorn of the melisima and vibrato characteristic of classical taarab. Shakila and her husband left Black Star in 1971/72 to establish a new group, Lucky Star Musical Club, which is featured along with Black Star on Nyota.
Here are two recordings from 1973 by Black Star Musical Club, sides A & B of Melodica 7-6247. I don't know who sings lead on "Mno Nasubini," but I suspect the vocals on "Alpenzi Na Kiumbe" are by Sharmila (Jalala Rashid, above), who took Shakila's place in the band:
Black Star Musical Club - Mno Nasubini
Black Star Musical Club - Alpenzi na Kiumbe
Tupendane S. Club represents an older tradition in taarab, that of the big orchestras. I know nothing about the group or the lead vocalist, Mohamed Juma, but Ron Sakolsky suspects they are from Zanzibar. This tune is Sides 1 & 2 of the 45 Zombe ZM 4:
Mohamed Juma & Tupendane S. Club - Pendo ni Pepo ya Dunia Pts. 1 & 2
More taarab can be found at Sterns or on Amazon.