Welcome to one of the world's best kept secrets from the Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar, Tanzania. The Maulidi ya Homu is a visually spectacular and spiritually uplifting experience. In the 21st Century there are only three remaining groups in the world practising this religious artform all based in Zanzibar. Maulidi ya Homu comes from a centuries-old tradition with roots in the Arab World though even the people who practise it do not know for sure about its exact origins.
From the Rifai tariqa of Islam, the Mtendeni Maulid Group is the oldest surviving group, led to date by Ustadh Majid Said Mansour, who founded the group in the mid-1960s after learning the traditions from his grandfather.
For the past few decades the group has only survived due to the perseverance of its leader and founder, as well as the fact that the people of Zanzibar clearly hold the tradition close to their hearts and turn out in thousands to witness the shows when they perform at Islamic religious festivals. At Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar, the group received audience choice as best performers.
For many years both women and men participated in Maulidi ya Homu performances, but these days it is mostly performed only by men, who make a spectacular sight on stage in their white kanzu and kofia (traditional Zanzibari Muslim dress). The songs are always played at night time and are mostly based around religious texts, praising Almighty God and His Prophet Mohammed. Other songs, played at weddings for example, encourage people to enjoy life and to be peaceful.
The musicians play only percussion instruments and are arranged on the floor with the dancers who are kneeling in a line. Starting very softly and almost motionless the music and singing slowly unfolds and encapsulates, weaving its spell among both artists and audience. Slowly the rhythm and music builds in intensity, until the right moment, when the musicians take everything to another completely higher level. Provoking new states of consciousness for themselves and all who are present, the show is spiritually charged and spectacular. As the mood builds, the men begin to sway and undulate. Those kneeling perform snaking, synchronized arm and hand gestures and rock back and forth, sometimes rising and leaning left and right, forward to the floor, and then all the way backward like waves of the ocean breaking in graceful, ever changing patterns. The impression given is of beauty and unity, completely unique, soul-stirring and visually arresting.
'It is rare that a religiously inspired display can convey such depth of feeling to outsiders. This group could do more than any politician or spokesman to communicate to Westerners the sweetness and elegance inherent in Islam'(Banning Eyre, www.afropop.org)
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