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First Modern: Taarab Vibes from Mombasa & Tanga, 1970–1990


In the early 1970s a new taarab emerged in the East African coastal cities of Mombasa and Tanga: In Mombasa, Matano Juma’s Morning Star replaced strings with distorted organ sounds, amplified violin or clarinet; Zuhura Swaleh promoted an electrified tashkota as a major new sound in her band, digging deep in coastal ngoma rhythms and dances. Crossing the border from Kenya to Tanzania, in Tanga, Black Star Musical Club’s electric guitars and dance music rhythms paved the way for a broader audience reception of taarab away from the coastal Swahili towns. Mombasa was at the forefront of taarab production from the 1960s to the 1990s, thanks in no small measure to the enterprising Mzuri record label. They would not just record and promote Mombasa based artists, but also invite groups from Tanzania. In the course of the 1970s records were displaced by the cassette and the initiative moved to Mbwana Radio Service in Mombasa’s Old Town, soon the new center of taarab production and distribution. Taarab rose to new heights in the 1980s with the voices and hits by Malika and Golden Star’s Mwanahela. 


With the economic and political crisis in Kenya in the early 1990s and the concurrent rise of Dar es Salaam as the new center of music production in East Africa, Mombasa began to fade from its position as the prime taarab center. The early 1990s saw the rise of so-called modern taarab, a new style based on drum machine rhythm, powerful sound systems, and a novel fashion of inciting and insulting lyrics. Nevertheless, the musical innovations of Matano, Zuhura and Black Star opened up new vistas early on; and Malika’s and Golden Star’s lyrics paved the way for what was to come in the 1990s. In recognition of this, taarab from the Mombasa - Tanga era is now affectionately known as “First Modern”.

First modern is available on Buda Musique as double vinyl, CD (Volume 10 in the Zanzibara Series), digital download. 

R.I.P. Makame Faki



It is with sadness that we report the death of legendary taarab artist Makame Faki. Makame rose to fame in the 1970s as a singer for Zanzibar town’s venerable Culture Musical Club. He composed and sang many of the orchestra’s most memorable tunes; he also performed on a host of instruments (violin, cello and ‘ud). For decades Makame lead his Sina Chuki kidumbak ensemble performing widely at wedding celebrations throughout the Isles. He was a featured singer on all of Culture Musical Club’s international releases and worldwide tours between 1995 and 2010. In 2012 Makame joined Rajab Suleiman’s Kithara: Two of his latest songs are featured on the group’s first release (Zanzibara 8), he also performed with them on several international tours in Europe and North America. – Makame Faki was born in rural Unguja in 1943, he now died in Zanzibar town after a short illness. Munga akulaze pema! Rest in peace, Mzee Makame!

Video Makame: Makame Faki & Grand Orchestre “Salaam Aleikum”
YouTube ››

Salum Abdallah & Cuban Marimba Ngoma Tanzania


Sweet and joyful sounds from the first half of 1960’s Tanzania. Salum Abdallah and Cuban Marimba Band were at the forefront of “muziki wa dansi”, the emerging dance music scene influenced by Cuban 78’s, dance music crazes like the twist and cha cha cha, and the local sounds of their home country. Hailing from the smaller town of Morogoro, they rose to be stars across all of East Africa. Twelve songs recorded between 1961 and 1965 shine a bright light on Salum Abdallah, taken away from this earth all too early at the age of 37. Vinyl available from Domino Sound.

Zuhura Swaleh’s deep taarab masterpiece vinyl re-release


Zuhura Swaleh & Party initially rose to fame on the Mombasa scene in the 1970s with a new fast-paced taarab style led by the electrically amplified tashkota (actually a Japanese instrument correctly spelled as taishokoto), a sound that resembles a mix of electric guitar, slide guitar and sitar. Zuhura’s chakacha-styled taarab and stingy lyrics became popular up and down the coast, leading to invitations for performances all over Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Her no-nonsense way of speaking out openly and voicing women’s concerns helped pave the way for the new “modern taarab” sound that came to fore in the 1990s. “Singetema” was recorded in 1981 during a visit to Nairobi and was one of the few taarab LPs ever released. Available as part of the Zanzibara series via Buda Musique, Silène Records and Bandcamp.

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