Taarab Music in Zanzibar in the Twentieth Century: A Story of ‘Old is Gold’ and Flying Spirits, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Taarab Music in Zanzibar in the Twentieth Century

A Story of ‘Old is Gold’ and Flying Spirits, 1st Edition

By Janet Topp Fargion


250 pages

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Paperback: 9781138247246
pub: 2016-09-09
Hardback: 9780754655541
pub: 2014-02-26
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315611754
pub: 2016-04-01
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The musical genre of taarab is played for entertainment at weddings and other festive occasions all along the Swahili Coast in East Africa. Taarab contains all the features of a typical 'Indian Ocean' music, combining influences from Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, India and the West with local musical practices. In Taarab, Music in Zanzibar, Janet Topp Fargion traces the development of the genre in Zanzibar, from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth. Of special interest is the role of women. Although men play the main role in the composition and performance of the genre, Topp Fargion argues that the modernization of the genre owes a debt to the participation of women - as audiences and primary consumers, but also as poets and innovators of musical concepts. The book weaves together the historical, social, economic, religious and political dynamics involved in the development of the genre, and investigates how these are played out in the performance of taarab music on Zanzibar.


'Nearly all you need to know about that lush string sound … this book is a readable and comprehensive history of the music (and politics) of Zanzibar … she concludes with an excellent history of the recordings, the formation of the Dhow Cultures Music Academy and Sauti za Busara festival'. Songlines **** ’Una lettura imprescindibile per i cultori delle musiche del continente africano’. [’Essential reading for all lovers of the music of the African continent.’] Blogfoolk

Table of Contents

Contents: Part I Introductions: Approaches and people; Meanings and boundaries. Part II Entangled Histories and Parallel Strands: Orchestral taarab: old is gold; Kidumbak; Women’s taarab. Part III Flying Spirits: What Women Really Really Want: Women as drivers of change. Part IV Conclusions: The professionalisation of the taarab music complex; Women at the centre of a music complex; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Janet Topp Fargion is an ethnomusicologist with research interests in South Africa and the Swahili Coast. She graduated with a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1992. She joined the British Library in 1994 as Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

About the Series

SOAS Studies in Music Series

SOAS Musicology Series is today one of the world’s leading series in the discipline of ethnomusicology. Our core mission is to produce high-quality, ethnographically rich studies of music-making in the world’s diverse musical cultures. We publish monographs and edited volumes that explore musical repertories and performance practice, critical issues in ethnomusicology, sound studies, historical and analytical approaches to music across the globe. We recognize the value of applied, interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and our authors draw on current approaches in musicology and anthropology, psychology, media and gender studies. We welcome monographs that investigate global contemporary, classical and popular musics, the effects of digital mediation and transnational flows.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / Genres & Styles / Chamber
MUSIC / Ethnomusicology