Tanzanian and Algerian artists to take African sounds to the USA

Taarab music, regarded as the characteristic sound of Zanzibar, is coming to various cities across the USA when Tanzania's Rajab Suleiman and the Kithara Band make their debut tour of the country in September.

Rajab Suleiman & Kithara will be touring the USA. Photo: Werner Graebner / centerstageus.org
Rajab Suleiman & Kithara will be touring the USA. Photo: Werner Graebner / centerstageus.org

The band is among five ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania embarking on month-long tours as part of Center Stage, an exchange programme hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The residencies will also include workshops, discussions and community gatherings.

Zanzibari qanun player Rajab Suleiman is probably best known as a member and featured soloist of the Culture Musical Club, which together with Ikhwani Safaa established the legacy of the Islands’ large taarab orchestras and social clubs. During their heyday, taarab orchestras could include 60 or more musicians: violinists, singers, qanun, accordion, and oud players. During the last 20 years, synthesizers and drum machines have replaced musicians, leading to the decline in popularity. To revive the artform, Suleiman and a few younger players broke away from the Culture Musical Club in 2012 to form Kithara, a smaller orchestra capturing all the sonic specialties of acoustic taarab in an original, dynamic way.

In uniting older and younger generations, Kithara’s musicians engage with the music’s Arabic and Ottoman underpinnings, calling out influences from Cuba to India, and welcoming Zanzibar’s ngoma folk rhythms and stories. Instantly engaging and reflecting Zanzibar’s multi-layered heritage, Kithara speaks gracefully of what cultural dialogue and intermingling can do.

Confirmed dates and venues for Rajab Suleiman and Kithara's performances in the USA are as follows:

  • 6 September: Kennedy Centre Millenium Stage  - Washington DC
  • 9 September: Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell University - Lewisburg PA
  • 14 September:  Moss Arts Center - Blacksburg VA
  • 16 September: Madison World Music Festival - Madison WI
  • 23-24 September: Globalquerque - Albuquerque NM


Besides Rajab Suleiman and the Kithara Band, this year's Center Stage programme will also bring fellow Tanzanian musicians Jagwa Music and Msafiri Zawose, as well as theatre ensemble Istijmam, to the USA. From Algeria meanwhile, two bands - Democratoz and Ifrikya Spirit - will also be touring the US as part of the same programme, as will Sounds of Kolachi and Sanam Marvi from Pakistan.

Hailing from Oran, Algeria's cultural nexus, Democratoz is a hard-grooving reggae, rai and rock band. The group digs back into the city's best-loved pop music form: rai, and makes dancefloor-filling calls for social change.  


Ifrikya Spirit, on the other hand, bring a unique sound with messages of peace and inter-African solidarity, all rooted in the rituals of the diwan. Like many performers and composers before them, this six-piece band is spurring their Berber roots to yield new sounds and forms by opening the conversation between the Maghreb and West Africa, creating an innovative musical creole with diwan at its core.  


For more information visit the Center Stage website


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