chapter  4
Kidumbak
Pages 20

In the theoretical framework section of this study I suggested that kidumbak was a ngoma style of the taarab music complex ‘that was developed by people of African descent as a result of their exclusion, by politics and economic limitation, from the orchestral version’. This plays up a conceptualisation of taarab characterised by ethnic, class and geographic divisions, where orchestral taarab, at its core, is largely Arab, affluent and concentrated in Stone Town. As the previous chapter has demonstrated, however, the lines are not necessarily so clearly drawn. Ikhwani Safaa had its origins in working-class Hadrami circles; the Culture Musical Club orchestra and other smaller orchestral taarab ensembles drew on Africandescended musicians, some of whom were originally members of Ikhwani Safaa or were taught by members of that club; Siti binti Saad was of African slave extraction but performed in the palace and was supported by Arab musicians. It may be useful to take Khamis’ lead and consider the rise of kidumbak as a result of ‘utilitarian demand’ for taarab (2005:143), or perhaps the pragmatic solution for the performance of taarab which, by the 1930s, was by all accounts a popular form of entertainment. Khamis also suggests that:

The shift from ideal taarab to kidumbak took place so as to modify the ideal taarab to purvey features conducive to an oral and performative context in which an active role of the audience was significant. Kidumbak is therefore a category of ‘dance’ taarab and not ‘listening’ taarab. It provides both the delight of melodies, live reproduction of taarab lyrics and dance mode. Also the reason why this music variety adopts thinning in instrumentation – one violin for melody, dumbak, cherewa (rattles) and mkwasa (sticks) for percussion effect and sanduku (tea-chest bass) for pitch, is not so much that one is poor or an African (though many Arabs were poor in pre-revolutionary Zanzibar), it is the fact that the emphasis is on the dance mode and not ‘significantly’ instrumental and vocal accompaniment. (ibid., emphasis and italics in original)

The conceptualisation is useful since it supports the notion that kidumbak has taarab as its origin and that it is a category of taarab; that it is for dancing and thus is more percussively orientated in its instrumentation; and that it is participatory. We shall see from the oral evidence drawn on in this section that kidumbak was geographically situated in Ng’ambo rather than in Stone Town; that there was some intention to imitate orchestral instrumentation; that audience participation is

crucial to the success of the kidumbak performance; and that economic status and ethnicity has played a role in the development of the style. Most analyses of taarab in Zanzibar focus on orchestral taarab and thus either relate or attempt to refute the received history of the genre as being an importation from Egypt. This study, by looking at taarab in all its manifestations, provides evidence of a multifaceted genre. In kidumbak, African characteristics are highlighted.