Tag Archives: Taarab

Taarab and the Kiswahili language

Immediately after World War II, taarab orchestras and music clubs proliferated in coastal Kenya and Tanganyika, and on Zanzibar. They were formed by Waswahili, residents of the region who spoke the Kiswahili (Swahili) language. Through taarab music clubs, the Swahili people developed and paid homage to their language and traditions, providing the cultural basis from which political nationalism might operate.

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”. In the popular genre taarabmpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications–often competitive and antagonistic in nature–through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance.

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa, ed. by Frank D. Gunderson, Gregory F. Barz, and Terence O. Ranger (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-8778) and “Taarab clubs and Swahili music culture” by Henry Douglas Daniels (Social identities 2/3 [1996] 413–438; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-39500).

July 7 is international Kiswahili Language Day! Below is a performance of taarab music by the group Bi Kidude Zanzibar.

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Taarab and mpasho

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”.

In the popular genre taarab, mpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications—often competetive and antagonistic in nature—through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance. The phenomenon arose among women singers, most notably Siti binti Saad (above).

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53). Below, Siti binti Saad’s Wewe paka (You are a cat, 1930) sends a message about unwanted sexual advances that would resonate with today’s #MeToo movement.

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Taarab redux

 

Taarab’s performers and audiences consider the genre to be a link to Egypt as another powerful place of coastal imagination, but it demonstrably owes more to centuries of exchange across the Indian ocean.

Despite the political agendas that engulfed Zanzibar in the mid-20th century, Swahili musical and urban sensibilities prevailed, and taarab continues to flourish. However, the older style of song text, which thrived on social commentary and improvisation, gave way in the 1950s to songs about the human condition, particularly romantic love songs.

This according to “Between mainland and sea: The taarab music of Zanzibar” by Werner Graebner, an essay included in Island musics (Oxford: Berg, 2004).

Below, Culture Musical Club performs old-style taarab with the legendary Bi Kidude (also above).

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