Thursday, June 11, 2015

50 Music Scholars Convene in Zanzibar

FIFTY international music scholars will be in Zanzibar from tomorrow to discuss the music o
f Africa. The four-day discussion will take place at the Dhow Countries Music Academy's (DCMA) premises situated within the Stone Town.
According to Academic Director, Professor Mitchel Strumpf, this will be the largest gathering of international scholars in the study of the continent's music ever to be held in the country.
"This conference will bring together scholars from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Germany, the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom and France, to team up with their local counterparts and hear 40 academic papers on studies of African music," he said yesterday.
He also confirmed that the meeting, entitled "Memory, Power and Knowledge in African Music and Beyond," has been organized by the World Music Programme of Hildesheim University, in Germany.
The Volkswagen Corporation is sponsoring this conference. Two major keynote presentations will be part of the conference, of which one piece entitled "Song, Memory, Power and the South African Archive", will be presented by Professor Christopher Ballantine of the University of Kwa- Zulu-Natal in South Africa.
The other keynote presentation will be by Professor Philip Bohlman of the University of Chicago in the USA. It comes under the title "Africa Aporio: Ethnomusicology in Search of Lost Time".
Both scholars have papers that are widely published and are well noted in the field of Ethnomusicology. It is for this reason that the DCMA "is honoured to have been selected to host this extremely high-level gathering" where scholars in the field of African music can meet.
The DCMA Taarab-Kidumbak Ensemble, who have just returned from the International Africa Festival in German

Monday, April 13, 2015

Jazz workshop, performance and improvised 'jam' rocks the DCMA

The DCMA's Siti Binti Said Hall rocked as 4 guest musicians from Denmark and Poland involved all DCMA students, teachers and visitors in a thrilling and multi layered improvised musical 'jam' session.
The visiting musicians: Carl Winther on keyboard, Martin Ruhl on double bass, Radek Wosko on drums and Tomas Ulak on tenor sax had been invited to perform in Zanzibar and took the time to come to the DCMA to offer a workshop, performance and jam session for musicians, students and visitors on the island.
These highly accomplished musicians treated us to some of their own compositions - contemporary Jazz at it's finest, and interspersed the performance with explanations and detailed demonstrations to show the Zanzibar musicians how Jazz is composed and how improvisation weaves in and around the central melody and theme of a composition.
The audience asked many questions which were generously and thoroughly answered, and these answers were followed by musical demonstrations, enabled the Zanzibar musicians to gain a clear understanding of the complexity of layers which form a jazz composition.
The audience were clearly pleased and satisfied with the whole event and delighted to be involved in a wonderful and rousing improvised jazz session. Thanks go to Carl, Tomas, Radek and Martin for an electrifying and educational couple of hours of wonderful music.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Taarab to reach Zimbabwe

For the first time in history taarab music will make its way into Zimbabwe later this month.
The Taarab-Kidumbak Ensemble from the Dhow Countries Music Academy (DCMA) in Zanzibar is scheduled to perform in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, for six days, starting from April 28 to May 3.
DCMA Academic Director Professor Mitchel Strumpf, told the ‘Daily News’ that while taarab music has been successfully performed in India from 1928 with recording performances by the late singer Siti Bint Saad, together with numerous performances in Europe by the late Bi Kidude and instrumentalist Mohamed Issa Matona and others, this will be the first time this genre is making its way into the interior of Africa, as far south-west as Zimbabwe.
“Intra-African streams of music influence have had significant influence on the spreading of music traditions within Africa,” he said. “Examples are the spread of musical bow traditions that travelled with the Ngoni migration over one hundred years ago bringing these traditions from the South African coast to northern Malawi and southern section of this country,” he added.
Prof Strumpf also talked about the yodel-singing traditions of the short-statured people of the Congo spreading southward through sections of Central Africa, all the way to the Cape and even within Tanzania with Massai song traditions greatly influencing Wagogo vocal music.
“While these north-south musical migrations took place many years ago, there have been little similar east-west musical migrations,” the don said. This is why the historical concert tour by the Taarab-Kidumba Ensemble of the DCMA is so significant to their students and staff.
While Zanzibar music has been greatly affected by the music of the Portuguese from the 1500s to the 1700s, the Arab traditions from the 1700s to the 1900s and the European/American traditions (German, British and the United States) since 1900, the music of Zanzibar had little opportunity to influence other music traditions.
They are excited that now the taarab music of Zanzibar, which is greatly influenced by the café music of Egypt 150 years ago, will be brought to Zimbabwe for performances at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).
“To the best of our knowledge, this will be the first time taarab and kidumbak traditions of Zanzibar will be performed this far west of the East African coastline.
Ten musicians from here (DCMA) will make this historic safari and will offer four performances in Harare,” Prof Strumpf said.
The four performances will consist of two major concerts, a street show in the middle of Harare and a school workshop in taarab drumming, dance and song.
Further, the historic tour will be well documented. The DCMA hopes the concerts will help other people from Zimbabwe and elsewhere to learn more about their centre and the ‘greatness’ of the taarab-kidumbak traditions.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Said Bhai young Zanzibari carpenter and musician

Zanzibari qanun maker, Said Bhai
Zanzibari qanun maker, Said Bhai
At only 24 years of age, Said Bhai is considered one of the best builders of the qanun in Tanzania. The qanun, a stringed instrument of the zither family that is native to Egypt and Turkey, is a complicated musical instrument that is very difficult to make, which makes Said a rare breed.

 Said, who was born in a small village called Uzi Ng’ambwa on the island of Zanzibar, is a carpenter by profession and also a taarab musician – a local genre not typically associated with the instrument. His workshop is located in Meya village in the Jang’ombe area of the island. He started learning the craft aged just 9 and by now he considers himself a fairly fine carpenter.

 Said started experimenting with making musical instruments in 2010 out of curiosity for how they were made. Although he was able to make other instruments, it took him a while before he could make his first perfect qanun, which he accomplished in 2014. “When I looked at the qanun, I realized it was made of wood and that it looks like a piece of furniture. So I decided to try my hand at it. I am happy that I tried and eventually got it right,” he told Music In Africa in an interview at the island’s Forodhani Gardens near the imposing Old Fort, the venue of the recently concluded 2015 edition of the Sauti za Busara festival.

 The parts of a qanun are delicate and have to be finely crafted in order for it to sound right. Making a perfect-sounding qanun requires special wood that can withstand both hot and cold weather. Zanzibar is fairly warm throughout the year and Said knows that the weather could be favourable to the instrument if made from local timber. However, if the instrument were to be exported to cooler climates by a client, it might develop defects and may not work perfectly.

 The best wood for this instrument that grows on the island comes from the mdoriani tree, while there is another wood not native to the island that is equally suitable: gelvelia. Gelvelia comes from mainland Tanzania and has to be shipped in, which makes it relatively expensive.

 Making a qanun is painstaking work that requires patience and keen attention to detail. Said spends up to one month working on just one qanun. Part of the reason for this is that he doesn’t own the right tools for the job and has to improvise using the ordinary carpentry tools that he has. According to Said, the easiest part of the job is making the narrow trapezoidal soundboard, which takes him a week to complete. It is the frets and the tuning pegs that are the most difficult and take him the remainder of the month to complete. These have to be done perfectly, otherwise the qanun will never sound right.

 There are two types of qanun that Said can make: Egyptian and Turkish. Although they are essentially the same, they have marked differences both in the way they are made and the way they sound. According to Said, the Turkish qanun is more complex and has a richer sound than the Egyptian one. Egyptian (and European) qanuns employ half-tones, while the Turkish (or Arab) qanuns employ quarter tones.

 “The Turkish one is more interesting to me because of its design,” explains Said. “It has more frets than the Egyptian one, meaning it has more chords. While the Egyptian one has a quarter, half, three-quarters and a full chord, the Turkish one has an eighth, a quarter, a half, three-eighths, three-quarters and a full chord. This means that even if someone can’t sing well, you can still strike a chord for him on the Turkish qanun!”

The other marked difference is that the Turkish qanun has 215 frets, while the Egyptian has 105. There are marked differences in design as well: the Egyptian is bigger in size than the Turkish one, which is smaller and more finely crafted.

 The qanun is played by plucking the strings with two tortoise-shell picks, one in each hand, or by the fingernails. It has a range of three octaves, from A2 to E6. According to Said, the fewest strings a qanun can have is 78, meaning the corresponding tuning pegs have to be equal in number. The typical Turkish qanun has 26 courses of strings, with three strings per course. To change the pitch while playing, the musician uses special latches on each course called mandals.

 Although the instrument is yet to gain popularity with the island’s taarab musicians, it is slowly making headway. A modern taarab band recently contracted Said to incorporate it in their recording. Bands who have so far used the instrument include Malindi Taarab Club, Culture Music Club and various taarab groups at the Dhow Countries Music Academy, a local centre situated a stone’s throw from the Old Fort that offers music training to upcoming musicians. As for mainland Tanzania, there are currently no qanun players that Said knows of. Whenever mainland musicians want to incorporate the qanun into their compositions, they have to source both the instrument and the player from Zanzibar.

 Although the qanun works with other forms of music, Said feels it is more suitable for traditional taarab – the so-called “cultural” taarab. According to him, no proper cultural ensemble is complete without the qanun. However, the instrument is not only restricted to taarab. “People are slowly realizing what the qanun is and increasingly they invite us to incorporate it into their music,” explains Said. “We have added its flavour to hip-hop music, popularly called Bongo Flava. We are trying to make people realize that this instrument is not just for use in taarab music.”

 Although Said is currently the sole maker of this unique instrument in Zanzibar, he is not the first to try. He claims that another local carpenter attempted to make one a while back, but abandoned it half-way when it proved too complicated. Given the lack of competition, one might assume that Said is able to make a good living from his craft. Actually the opposite is true - he says he is struggling to make ends meet. “The qanuns I make fetch Tsh. 2 800 000 (about US$1500) in Turkey. But here in Zanzibar, I sell them at about Tsh 1 000 000 (US$530), which is not even half of its worth. But I still do it to help musicians and to advertise my trade.

 “Had I been working in a proper environment, I could make up to 40 or 50 quality qanuns a month,” he continues. “At the rate I am selling them here, I can’t really sustain all my needs. But I have to hang in there. The irony of living in Zanzibar is that if I were to brand my qanuns ‘Made in Turkey’, then they would fetch three times more! People here value something according to where it is coming from.”
Source: Music in Africa Website

Monday, February 2, 2015

Meet Teacher Thabit Omar - Assistant Head Teacher & Teacher of Music Theory

32 years as Assistant Leader of the POLICE BRASS BAND, 8 years as Band Leader, student in Korea at Kong Kin Music Academy the DCMA is VERY lucky to have teacher Thabit Omar as teacher of Music Theory in the school.
Teacher Thabit has had an illustrious career mostly in the Police Force which he joined at the age of 16 in 1965. Once in the Zanzibar Police Force, Thabit studied Music Theory followed by trombone and in 1972 moved from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam to join the Police Brass Band and to study composing, arranging and notating music. He briefly returned to Zanzibar only to be recalled to Dar es Salaam by the Leader of the Brass Band. Once there he learned to play the piano at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Between 1978 and 1980 Teacher Thabit Omar was the leader and one of 10 very fortunate musicians to be chosen from the whole of Tanzania to attend Kong Gon Military Academy, Korea to study composing and conducting.
On his return to Zanzibar, Thabit Omar played piano and trombone for the Police Band until he retired in 2002. Following his retirement he was quickly "snapped up" by the prison service where he worked as Master of the Brass Band until 2013, dividing his time between the DCMA in the afternoons and the Prison Band in the mornings.
Teacher Thabit Omar has been with the DCMA since its beginnings in 2001/2002. He has taught Music Theory since that time to a large number of very fortunate students and has recently achieved a huge success in 2014 with his Certificate Program students' results in the grade 2, 3 and 4 exams.
Thanks go to teacher Thabit for his dedicated and essential work at the school not only for his skills in teaching Music but also for lending

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Andrew Scrievener Scholarships Awarded

Andrew Scrievener Scolarship Awarded
Andrew Scrivener winners Rahma Ameir (Left), Said Bhai (Center) & Amina Omar (Right)
Since 2006 DCMA has been receiving grants from the Andrew Scrivener family for the purpose of supporting students of DCMA
The Andrew Scrivener Fund (UK) was established in memory of the late BBC Philharmonic Orchestra violinist to sustain the Music studies of young and talented students from all over Tanzania. Over the years, DCMA has had four intakes of students supported by the Andrew Scrivener Scholarship to study different instruments. This year three DCMA students will receive support from the Fund.
The students receiving scholarship assis
tance are Rahma Ameir for her study of the violin, Amina Omar for her study of the oud and Said Bhai Said for his study of the qanun.
The Andrew Scrivener Scholarship Fund covers the students' course fees, costs for all study materials, purchase of the student's instrument of specialization and a weekly transport allowance for each of the students.
This Scholarship has been greatly sought after, with many students applying and seeking the assistance of the award. The expressed criteria for receiving the award is the student's level of need and talent, gender equity and promotion of assisting individuals on learning some specific instruments.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The DCMA is sad to announce the death of a friend and fellow musician, Mr. Ali Kassim.

Ali Kassim ( R.I.P ) 27th Jan, 1969 - 24th Nov, 2014
Ali Kassim was a talented musician who taught himself to play violin and trumpet and in spite of a highly regarded career and artistic fame he came to the DCMA in 11th June, 2008 to develop his skills and receive a formal music education.
During his time at the DCMA his support for the school was 100%. He participated fully in the culture and life of the school, amongst other things leading the DCMA Beni Band and traveling with DCMA musicians and artists to UMOJA events (Norwegian sponsored Flying Culture Carpet) where he was a popular and inspiring member of the international group. Ali Kassim performed locally and internationally – in Ethiopia with UMOJA and traveled to Shanghai, China where he presented the DCMA student group.
Ali Kassim loved music. He was a member of the Culture Music Club and whilst at the DCMA he enthusiastically and generously shared his talents training students to play violin and trumpet and we had hopes that one day he would join the school as a violin teacher.
Ali Kassim will be remembered as a man who was admired and respected by all who knew him, not only for his musical abilities and skills but also as a man who loved peace, who never quarreled and who gave whole-heartedly his love of music both in performance and in teaching fellow musicians. 
We at the DCMA are privileged to have known and worked with him and he will be sadly missed.