Zanzibar – island of spices, and meeting point of the trade winds: Imagine a stroll down Stone Town’s narrow alleys, mansions built of coral rag, intricately carved and brass-studded doors – witnesses of past glory – balconies high up to catch a tropical breeze, the aroma of spicy food, cloves, cardamom, pilipili, coconut-scented rice, the Muadhin’s calls for prayer at sunset. With all this you have got the visual and sensual equivalents to the leisurely sound of Swahili taarab, itself the result of hundreds of years of exchange of musical and poetic ideas across the Indian Ocean.
Culture Musical Club began life as part of the youth organization of the Afro Shirazi Party during Zanzibar's struggle for independence back in 1958. Today, Culture Musical Club is not only the largest, but also one of the most prolific and successful orchestras of Zanzibar as they present taarab music, Swahili style, at its best. They perform new compositions on a regular basis and have developed a distinct and uniquely Swahili style. The orchestra performs widely at concerts in Zanzibar town, but also frequently travels overland with a fold-up stage and an electricity generator to bring its music to the rural areas as well. The club has released hundreds of songs on the local market; their international CD releases have made the name Culture Musical Club known to audiences throughout the world, so much so that rehearsals in their clubhouse in the Vuga section of Zanzibar Stone Town have become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
For the past 15 years the orchestra has toured internationally with outstanding success and has won over audiences all over Europe, Japan and North America. They have performed at major world music festivals, like Heimatklänge (Berlin), Musiques Métisses (Angoulème), Sfinks (Antwerp), Stimmen (Lörrach), Womad (Reading), the Chicago World Music Festival, Mondial at Expo02, as well as major concert halls from Spain to Sweden, Seattle to New York, Vienna to Tokyo.
Besides taarab, many club members are also active in kidumbak groups, smaller ensembles that play a more down-home and dance-focused music. Both types of music are played on stage, contrasting the serene sound of orchestral taarab to the festive and sexually charged dance that is kidumbak.