African Swahili Music Lives On In Oman

Welcome to the New African Music Treasures

The Omani empire in the 18th and 19th century ruled much of East Africa’s coast and the islands of Zanzibar — today a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania — with sailors bringing back instruments, music, dance and the language. That is why in the nation hugging the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, musicians wearing traditional Omani long white robes and hand woven hats beat African rhythms on their drums, swaying to music more easily found on the African continent than in the Middle East. “The music runs deep in us and is embedded in our culture, passed on by our ancestors,” said Kareema Ismail, a singer and dancer. “The Swahili beats in our music is a long tradition from Zanzibar. It is not something that will be replaced by contemporary music.” The oldest independent state in the Arab world, Oman has been ruled by the al-Said family since 1744. Zanzibar became a major trade hub, a slave center and the economic engine for the Omani empire.
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The music of Mauritania, Part One.

I composed a piece called Malado, which is a womans name in Mali, but I adapted the name to refer to a powerful talisman that has the power to make the man I love but who is happy with another woman fall in love with me instead. The song and video represent my own particular style of fusing Malian and American music, ideas, and localities in an artistic, playful way. The footage is recorded in Charlottesville, Virginia (2010) and Bamako, Mali in 2000 when I lived there to research music for my doctorate thesis in ethnomusicology. I learned how to play that stringed instrument (kamalen ngoni) when I was in Bamako in 1999-2000 and before that when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali in 1989-1991; both times from the same player, Shiaka Sidibe. I recorded hundreds of lessons just like this one, in his home in Lafiyabougou, Bamako and live performances such as the one we were headed for in the back of this pickup truck shown below – a wedding celebration (1999). One of the best kamalen ngoni players today is Benogo Brehima Diakite. Benogo plays with Oumou Sangare.
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Hammadi ould Nana Jakwars ecstatic repetition is what first got me hooked on the music of the Moors. But the more I listened and learned about classical Moorish music the more I became addicted to the microtonal intricacies of slower styles; in particular to what I suppose you could call salon music. This is a style of classical music that reached its pinnacle with the 1980s recordings of Dimi mint Abba, and which have nothing to do with her internationally released recordings. These next two recordings feature the singers Nora mint Seymali ould Hamed Vall and Sidi ould Seymali ould Hamed Vall. They were both trained by their father Seymali ould Hamed Vall, who was the first Moorish musician to formally study music; he spent several years in Iraq studying at a music conservatory in Baghdad.
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