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Drumming in Zanzibar: 2-16 August 2005
(news of Catherine and Dave's 2-week holiday)

While in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Dave and I decided to check out the Dhow Countries Music Academy, and ended up taking a class with the drumming ("ngoma") students. At our first class we were each put in front of 3 "leg drums" - which for me was mind-boggling, because I find it enough of a challenge playing just one drum! At the next two classes, we were taught to play a "msondo" drum, which is a tall cowhide drum shaped like a conga, also played with the hands. But it didn't make it any easier going back to playing one drum again, because we were taught a traditional Tanzanian dance which has 4 consecutive parts, all quite complicated! So it was certainly more difficult than simply learning a short rhythm that repeats itself like the Malian rhythms we've been playing at the drum circle!

   

A "ngoma" (drumming) class at the Dhow Countries Music Academy - learning to play the "leg drums"

A private lesson at the Dhow Countries Music Academy - playing the "msondo" drum

We also went to Nungwi, which is at the Northern tip of Zanzibar island, a beach village largely run by Rastas. After a bit of asking around, we found out where the local drummers gathered, and listened to local drumming almost every night. The main difference we found (compared to the West African tradition that we're more familiar with) was that the drumming was very repetitive and hypnotic, with no soloing except for the bass drummer, as well as the guy playing the bell part. If you're accustomed to reading my notation, the most popular rhythm went like this: < r . r . r l . l . l r . > It never happened without dancing - it was specifically intended as an accompaniment for dancing (which anybody was invited, even strongly encouraged, to join in on!)

   
Local ("non-tourist") drumming and dancing at the Pole Pole Bar in Nungwi


Because of the high humidity, the drums have to be heated about every 30 minutes at the fire - to keep the correct pitch.

   
Traditional dancing and drumming (a show for tourists) at the Fat Fish in Nungwi

               
 Catherine looking at antique Persian drums at Dave's favourite antique shop in Stone Town

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