Zanzibar’s music academy promotes culture, talent

IN Zanzibar, one of the poorest places in Africa, it’s now common to find young people earning a living through music. And that is because of the resurgence of the Island’s unique music styles. 
Hands on the instruments. Students in class learning Taarab music.
Hands on the instruments. Students in class learning Taarab music.

IN Zanzibar, one of the poorest places in Africa, it’s now common to find young people earning a living through music. And that is because of the resurgence of the Island’s unique music styles. 

At the heart of this growth is the Dhow Countries Music Academy (DCMA), located in Stone Town. Its location, overlooking the Indian Ocean, epitomizes the revival of a rich heritage. With no music lessons in the Island’s formal education curricula, the DCMA is a fortress of musical culture.

Bakari Mtulia Mbwana, a third year DCMA student told The New Times: “With the professional skills I have acquired from the school, I will make music my professional career.”

Hildegard Kiel, the CEO of DCMA, formed said: “The main idea is to teach traditional music from the Swahili coast. We focus on music styles from the region: Taarab, Kidumbak, Ngoma… The idea was to provide teachers and instruments and rooms – on a rather informal level, at a grassroots level – to young people who might want to study this kind of music.”

The school has an average of 100 students per semester, and 250 in its Village outreach programme. Most students register and pay for a three-year programme course,”  “This is not an elitist course, it is totally for beginners, for people with no music,” Kiel stated.

The school has been instrumental in “keeping music alive.”

Today the large-scale orchestra is the signature of Zanzibar Taarab, full of students from the Island and local teachers.

“It’s a success to keep it going for this long and to churn out such kind of graduates. “I think it has inspired a lot of people to imitate (the success),” Kiel said.

In the nine years of its existence, the academy has produced a number of good musicians, including Issa Hay Mabana, Malisi Basalama (on Qanun) and Rajab Suleiman.

“Some of these students now play in the Taarab Orchestras, while others have taken their music into a new direction,” Kiel explained.

 “Fees for the locals are minimal and scholarships are given to support talented students in the DCMA certificate programme, with special consideration for underprivileged women and children,” she added.

Razak Abubakar Abdul, who enrolled at DCMA in 2009, has an ambition of becoming a great Taarab artiste. “We are only taught traditional Zanzibar music styles, including Taarab, Beni, Kidumbak, Ensemble, Ngoma dancing and Beni ensemble,” Abdul said, “And students choose what instruments they want to learn.”

The instruments include: Oud, qanun, violin, accordion, cello, bass, drums, Arabic percussion, piano and keyboard. Others are guitar, trumpet, trombone and zumari.

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