Various Artists

Zanzibara, Vol. 2: Golden Years Of Mombara Taarab

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The second entry in Buda Musique's overview of the Tanzanian-centered music scene covers seven popular acts who recorded for the Mzuri label, run by M.J. Shah, who also recorded the bands in a simple but clear and effective one-microphone set-up in a warehouse behind the shop he owned in the major port of Mombasa. As the subtitle indicates, the range covers about ten years of time, with focus on a style called taarab, explained in detailed fashion in the liner notes, noting its origins as a mix of African vocal and rhythmic styles mixed with instruments from many locations, as well as other influences that notably include Indian movie musicals. Another Indian stringed instrument has a beautiful, key role on many of the songs -- the tashkota -- first known in Japan before gaining popularity in the subcontinent, then carried to Mombasa from there. Shah claimed to have electrified the tashkota when recording groups to better capture the haunting, delicate tones it produces, and on many songs throughout it has a well-deserved lead role, somewhere between a high-pitched sitar and a balalaika. Taarab songs have a slow, almost seductive feeling to them, and the elegant singing of such figures as Matano Juma and Ali Mkali (the latter's "Masikini Macho Yengu," or "My Poor Eyes," has a particularly sad beauty to it, appropriate to the lovelorn lyrics) match the music very well. Arrangements can be busy but are rarely high-speed or hyperactive; if anything, this feels like an equivalent of bossa nova for another coast, delicate and reflective rather than party-up songs. Accordion is another prominent instrument on many songs and, mixed with the distinctly Bollywood stylings audible throughout, the disc results in a captivating collage that well deserves a wide listen.

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