As I walked closer to Kiponda street festival on 9th February this year, I could hear voices of people cheering a live music performance from afar. The festival that gave an opportunity to locals and tourists to enjoy a free show was part of this year’s Busara festivities.
Upon my arrival at the place of merriment, I came across young talents showcasing their ability in music. Some were singing, one was playing a guitar while others were showcasing their skills on other musical instruments – all this was a recipe for a great performance.
These young talents displaying their skills are the artefact of Stone Town Records, also known as ‘Community studio’. The studio was formed four years ago in Zanzibar with the aim of grooming Zanzibar’s music and giving it a true identity to introduce Zanzibar to the rest of the World. Musicians recording under the studio get free access to record their work.
Siti & the Band are among the artistes who’ve benefited from the introduction of Community studio. Their first album titled ‘Fusing the Roots’ released last month was facilitated by the studio.
Speaking to The Beat, Community studio Director and manager of Siti & the band, Lorenz Herrmann, says Fusing the Roots is a recorded evidence of the timelessness of Zanzibar’s traditional and contemporary music.
The studio has 15 permanent members and other 20-30 members who are non-permanent.
The Director says Siti & the Band plays unique live performaces, fusing traditional Taarab instruments (Quanun, Oud and Violin), melodies and rhythms with western influences. They are looking forward to doing an album launch tour on March 6-10, 2018 in Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.
Formed in 2016, the band comprises of members of the Community studio who’ve been together for over a year now. Their album was recorded at the Wanene Entertainment in Dar es Salaam.
Herrmann says due to the size and functionality of Community studio, it necessitated them to contract the services of Wanene studios for the recording of the album under the craftsmanship of producer Humphrey from Zimbabwe and sound engineer Sartak Thale from India. However, Community studio arranged everything leading to the release of the album as an independent label.
Herrmann says the establishment of Community studio came as an idea from his friend called Kassim Omary ‘Mash’. Herrmann came with the studio set up and speakers from German with the aim of using them with some other friends who do music, but Mash suggested they form their own community studio that will bring together different musicians from Zanzibar and give them an opportunity to record there for free.
“The initial investment for the studio and the instruments came from communal effort from the founders of Stone Town records, the group comprised of four people at that time but now it’s only me and Mash who are left. At Sauti za Busara 2015 we sold cocktails and managed to make almost $2000 (roughly Sh4.1million) and that is how we bought the first equipments and managed to keep up and running of the studio and later invested in buying the best speakers and other studio instruments which were bought from German at a discount price,” says Herrmann.
Kassim Omary, a musician as well as founder of the Community studio, says the studio has impacted the youth by igniting their interest in music as a career. The studio helps youth come together and inspire one another in music.
Omary further says that, it’s not only musicians who are the members of the community studio, the studios is home to tailors, painters, Djs and are looking forward to having a youth centre that will in the future bring together other youths in the arts and music industry where they’ll be able to share their experiences.
“Zanzibar attracts a lot of tourists, something which contributes to generation of income. Managing to create a platform that will bring together the youth will contribute to a positive impact in our community and help showcase their skills,” says Omary.
According to the founder, Community studio has managed to get a music producer named Walid, who makes good music and musicians from Dar es Salaam come to record in Zanzibar due to his good work. Community studio managed to enlist six artistes as part of the performing acts at Sauti za Busara festival.
Commenting on the positive impact derived from the Community studio, Omary says a lot of improvement has been witnessed from members of the studio who went on to collaborate with other musicians. For example, he mentions the work between DJ Walid with H art the Band from Kenya and other artistes.
He however says that they have monthly festivals called Stone Town cypher where hip hop artistes meet to showcase their talent. During these programs they sell T-shirts and CDs as a way of generating income to boost music activities at the studio. So far they have done two editions and are getting ready for the third.
Issa Salehe, 26, is a hip hop artiste at the studio who goes by the stage name ‘Aison Mistari’. He has four released songs with two unreleased albums.
He says before the introduction of the studio he used to come to Dar es Salaam to look for music opportunities due to the lack of interest in his talent back in Zanzibar.
He elaborates that the studio has helped a lot of youth who used involved themselves in the use of drugs and other bad habits like drinking alcohol. He knows some members who quit drugs from the streets and are now doing music at the studio.
“I know people who were reformed by the studio,” says Salehe.
He says, currently after every performance he gets a lot of positive comments from people who praise his improvement. He is becoming a bigger and better artiste through Community studio push.
Song writer Mohammed Kawawa, 26, says at the studio his main role is to write songs. Before he came to the studio he had endured a lot of challenges in his personal life and music as well.
Through life hustles he met Mash who introduced him to the community studio. The studio is located at Kiponda Street in Zanzibar, in a very small room given to the founder by a friend. Since none of the musicians pay money to record, a friend of the founder volunteered a small space for the studio.
Youth with talent now have a place they can call home in Zanzibar.