Taarab music has defined Zanzibar's aural landscape for over a century, renowned for its lush mix of Arabic and western instruments, diva-worthy vocalizations, and allusive Swahili lyrics. The venerable and syncretic form is ambitiously renewed by Rajab Suleiman & Kithara. This lean and nimble group has uncovered the form's essential origins and is creating new musical conversations with its East African neighbours, historic Arabic cultural partners, and allied Western forms.
In the form’s heyday, taarab orchestras could include 60 or more musicians: violinists, singers, qanun, accordion, and oud players. While during the last 20 years, synthesizers and drum machines displaced musicians, virtuosity - and audiences - were lost.
Band leader and qanun master Rajab Suleiman has streamlined Kithara ensemble’s sound and paired a few acoustic instruments qanun, accordion and ney, with a driving rhythm section of bass guitar, dumbak, bongos and other percussion. They capture the sonic specialties of acoustic taarab in an original, dynamic way.
Since 2012, Rajab Suleiman & Kithara have performed at many concerts and festivals in Europe. In 2016, they performed in North America for the first time. 2017 saw them in Australia. Another European tour is scheduled for May 2019.