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Mila na Utamaduni

Mila na Utamaduni / Spices of Zanzibar

Spices of Zanzibar

The island of Zanzibar, steeped in legend, conjures up endless images of oriental mystery. For more than a thousand years, it has been an important waystation on international trading routes and a meltingpot of African, Asian and Oriental cultures. It is this rich cultural diversity that lends the unique and enthralling music of the taarab orchestras its fascination. The sound of these wonderful melodies taps a wellspring of yearning, transporting the listener to the rolling waves of the Indian ocean, where the triangular sail of a dhow glints white in the sunlight, like the crystalline notes of the kanun zither floating on the groundswell of violin, cello and double bass. The nai flute hovers over the violins like a warm tropical breeze. A distinctly African touch is added by the nightingale voices of the singers and the polyphonic women´s choir. Subtle rhythms on dumbak and bongos accompany the soli on oud lute and accordion.

"Mila na Utamaduni" is the island´s most popular taarab orchestra.

Mila na Utamaduni is one of the two leading ensembles that have made their distinctive mark on the sound of Zanzibar taarab music. Founded back in 1958, Mila na Utamaduni is the island´s most popular taarab orchestra today. The Network team -- Swahili music expert Werner Graebner, sound engineer Bernhard Ramroth (acclaimed for his Madagscar recordings "A World Out of Time") and Christian Scholze -- recorded this album in Zanzibar. The 35 musicians of Mila na Utamaduni went enthusiastically about developing new arrangements, from romantic ballads of lyrical poetry to instrumental improvisations and light-hearted wedding music (actually the single most important performance context for taarab), in which the African sound of the women´s choir enters into a dialogue with the strings and plucked instruments. This meeting of Arabia, Asia and Africa documents the vibrant sprectrum of a continent whose music still remains largely untapped in the west.

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