Friday, 4 February 2011


by Taj Mahal and The Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar

Howlin’ Wolf; Muddy Waters; Blind Somebody; Big Someone Else Entirely — that’s how the real bluesmen are named. Not Taj Mahal. Until a few years ago, I thought it to be too ridiculously ostentatious a name to give Mr Mahal a try. In fact, I still think it is ridiculously ostentatious. And I am glad that I’ve discovered his music.

Mkutano means “meeting” in Swahili. Simple as that. It is a meeting of friends, not a competition. Listen to Catfish Blues and hear for yourself: the taarab orchestra sounding as if it were the most natural accompaniment to Delta blues.

From this review, I learned something that was not in the album’s liner notes.

Some local heroes also took part. Female singer Bikidude is well into her nineties and a living legend — the most famous musical ambassador from Zanzibar. Next to her musical prowess, the myth of Bikidude is based on a number of real-life incidents. At the age of thirteen she fled from an enforced marriage into Tanzania, where she crossed the country barefoot. She left a second unhappy marriage and took a traditional dhow sailing-boat to Egypt. It was there she became a singer. She took off her veil and shaved her head. Thus, she created an alternative and somewhat provocative new role model for Islamic women in Zanzibar. Bikidude drank and smoked, she flirted and danced, she sang and played the drums. A major artist from Zanzibar still and singing on this album.
Enjoy the meeting.

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