October 29, 2008

Taraab: World Music From All Over The World

Taraab.jpg“World music” is a notoriously lazy piece of nomenclature – a convenient catch-all that can be used to denote anything with exotic instrumentation or foreign-sounding vocals that might come from a place beyond our immediate musical neighbourhood. At the recent Australian Recording Industry Associations awards, its “laziness” reached new heights when Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, an indigenous singer who records in his native tongue, received the gong for best “world music” album...

(And BTW, if you haven't checked out his music, you really should. He is blessed with one of the most beautiful voices this country has ever produced.)

There are instances though when “world music” is probably the only term that really captures what a genre is all about. One of these instances is taraab...

Taraab, which comes from an Arabic word that means “joy with music”, first appeared in the East African sultanate of Zanzibar a century ago when the sultan of the day sent his court musicians to the Middle East to study that region's traditional musics. They returned with a solid grounding in the modes, scales and improvisational styles that were all the rage in Cairo and Istanbul, and quickly adapted them to local tastes. In time, this new Zanzibarian sound spread to Mombasa, Dar Es Salam and other important centres on the East African coast. In process, it was further hybridised and expanded to encompass musical influences from as far afield as India and Europe. (With the colonisation of the area by Germans towards the end of the 19th Century, even polkas entered the mix.)

Now, taraab has itself become a catch-all term for a diverse collection of East Tanzanian musics that are all sung in Swahili but which take their cues from a variety of “world music” styles.

In our own narrow little corner of the “world music” neighbourhood, the pre-eminent exponents of taraab are the New York ensemble, Sounds of Taraab. Here's one of their signature tracks:

Sounds of Taraab - Mahaba Wa Taka Nini

Posted by Warren at October 29, 2008 09:26 PM | World