With myriad of cultural influences Zanzibar is a tapestry of many cultures. As a maritime cross road for centuries it has seen dhows and ships with people and goods and culture across the Indian ocean. You can sense it ways of life of the island: see it in the architecture and the dressing, the taste in the food. You can hear it in the sounds of music of the island.
While the culture of the island reflects many influences, it is uniquely Zanzibar's. The hand of time has and still ticks and turns forwards and churns in its belly all of what each of the inhabitants, since the days beyond recall, brought to the island. In the end the resulting culture is more that the sum of its ingredients. It is of this place; this island of spices and dhows, tourism, taarab, and intangible remnants of inhabitants far in time past.
Take taarab for example, a music genre having influences from across the indian ocean, music of the sultan's court, performed initially exclusive by men, usually in large ensemble. Taarab today has, by chance, necessity, or design, bears a lot of elements that were not there is in the beginning. New context of performance has emerge in hotels and festival stages, brought about recently by tourism and annual festivals in the island. The school of music, Dhow Countries of Music, here in Stone Town offers an opportunity for people to learn of music tradition. Today the genre is not exclusive to male performers. Women are part of the ensemble, albeit mainly as singers. But that is changing, a new generation of young men and women are learning and singing of longing, hopes and love, and loss day in day out, shaping and carrying the passion and the sound that is taarab.
Women are increasingly learning instruments. Maybe that is the new face of change.
The belly of time works in churning all these influences and creating something that is more than the sum of its parts. This series of images is but simple glimpse of what is perhaps a seed for a new face of Taarab performance. One in which gender role in playing of instruments and singing is an identifying aspect of the time long gone. For me this is a metaphor for the process change; a defining aspect of life. Not obvious in our short span of existence but obvious if we take a long gaze at history, at the history of the island.
Everything is changing. Through empires, the meeting of strangers, trade and the sound of music in spice-filled dhows driven aloft by the monsoon winds, in due time all that was was bound to change to something else. Even now what is is only but a memory to those that will be here after we are not more. About time, through a change in taarab performances, is only a glimpse, a metaphor, for a process of change.