Week 3 - Taarab
Monday 9th June.
Monday evening I dutifully went along to the Taarab evening. Mohammed had invited me and I was delighted to please him. I arrived on time (unlike me?) at 9:30pm at the Haile Selassie secondary school where a smartly dressed lady on the door was collecting the invitation cards from finely dressed local Muslim women as they arrived in 4WDs and taxis… tottering on their heels towards the sound system bellowing out from the school entrance.
After checking with the organiser the lady on the door decided to let me in with a sort of "if you really must" and in an inner courtyard I found over 100 women dancing in front of the Taarab band in the far corner. Elsewhere in the courtyard was a stage, covered in satin, and upon it a sort of throne for two people – this was, after all, a wedding celebration. Around the opposite sides were arranged several hundred of those plastic chairs that you can buy in DIY centres for the garden. There was no sign of the "happy couple" and more worryingly no sign of any men. I went back outside and waited for Mohammed.
Many more vehicles arrived and many bringing glamorously dressed women. Eventually Mohammed arrived on the back of a scooter and together (with the scooter driver) we sat and talked for a good while; maybe 45 minutes. During this time Mohammed explained to me he was the first born to his father and through a succession of wives (no more than 4 at a time) the first of 16 sons and 12 daughters. The groom it turned out was in fact the son of one of Mohammed’s many brothers.
When we finally went in there were a few more men – keeping to the shadows – and the "girls" on their night out were in full swing – dancing round their handbags (almost literally).
Taarab music is local to the Zanzibar islands and much revered. It sounds like a cross between what you hear in Indian restaurants and what? I don’t know Ethiopian maybe if that’s any help? It’s slow, dreamy and soporific – not particularly danceable (200 ladies now proving me wrong) and not particularly – despite my enthusiasm for "world music" - to my taste. [A random page from Google says "Tarabu Music is a fusion of Swahili tunes sung in rhythmic poem spiced with Arabic or at times Indian melodies" – so now that’s clear.]
After a while the attention of the crowd and the three attendant TV-style cameras – each complete with cable assistant and a very bright light – turned to the doorway opposite the throne and the "happy couple" (who had only met days before) processed across the floor. Accompanied by cute looking bridesmaid and pageboy they took their positions on the stage and took up a fixed grin for the cameras that was to last for all of an hour. As with western wedding photos there was then a succession of group poses – you can imagine – bride’s family, groom’s family, friends etc. Eventually I was invited and honoured to join the stage along with Mohammed and the "sons of the grandfather’s first wife". Mohammed promised to get me a copy of the video as a "memory of the whole event" – I hoped he would forget.
At some stage "lunch boxes" in foil takeaway containers and cans of Tango were handed out (to all the women) and people started to leave. We soon did the same and I was whisked back into Stone Town on the back of the aforementioned scooter – bed by 1AM – not bad for a Monday.
Week 3 - Taarab