When Neema Surrie,17, a form IV student at Nyuki Secondary School went on stage at the Emerson Spice Hotel, the audince was overwhelmed with curiousity, waiting to see what she had in store for them. Among the 9 participating musicians of the night, Neema was the youngest.
On a quiet Friday evening on the 9th of February this year, different stakeholders from different parts of the world gathered at the Secret Garden restaurant in Zanzibar ready to witness musicians’ assessment before the Emerson’s Zanzibar Foundation Music Award.
The award, being part of Busara, allows Zanzibar’s local community to own the festival and showcase the island’s hospitality to visitors. The activities are of cultural interest to Sauti za Busara audiences, outside of the main stage programme.
Holding her violin in her right hand, she stood in front of the microphone and confidently greeted the audience by the saying ‘As-salamu alaykum’. A greeting in Arabic that means ‘peace be upon you’. The greeting is a standard salutation among Muslims, whether socially or within worship and other contexts.
She played her violin audibly, none of her strings cracked. He face said it all about the concentration she used when performing. She could change the tone and make soothing violin sounds.
During her entire performance that lasted up to fifteen minutes, she seemed relaxed and comfortable, unlike some of the participants who feared the stage, taking almost 3 minutes to show up after their names were summoned.
Speaking soon after her performance, the young talented Neema says despite her young age, she has worked with Tausi Women Taarab group based in Zanzibar since 2011 as a violinist. With other violinists also part of the group, Neema remains the youngest member.
Tausi Taarab was formed in 2009 as a group that presents innovation and inspiration in a very traditional genre. It’s an all female orchestra where all instruments are played by women. The group accompanies women singers and also performs songs composed by other women.
Neema studied her violin course at the Dhow Countries Music Academy (DCMA) in Zanzibar for four years from 2010 to 2014 when she was just in grade III at St. Monica Primary School.
“My mother is a musician who plays Oud. Currently she is involved in another business in Dar es Salaam and not doing music anymore. She used to work with Tausi Women Taarab group. Seeing her playing Oud motivated me to start learning to play the violin,” says Neema.
Commenting on how she managed to balance her education at St. Monica while at the same time attending her violin classes at DCMA, Neema says she used to spend one hour practicing every day after class hours at St. Monica.
Since her mother had contacts with potential people in the music industry in Zanzibar, she looked for a sponsor to support Neema’s school fees at the DCMA. In just a year she settled well with her studies and even joined Tausi Women Taarab group.
Commenting on some of the challenges she faces in her career, Neema says being a young violinist, people tend to undermine her, thinking she knows nothing about the musical instrument.
“It is not easy to spend time proving to people that I am a professional violinist because of my age. It kills the passion in my career but I will keep fighting until I become successful,” says Neema.
Maryam Hamdan, Tausi Women Taarab group leader, commenting on Neema’s talent says, Neema has a special gift because she can only hear a song once and just like that it’s engrained in her brain. She can quickly play it using her violin.
She says since Neema is still at school, the group gives her flexible time to concentrate on her studies until she completes her current education. When she turns 18 years and is identified as an adult, the band will be able to perform with her fully.
“Neema will go far with her talent in the future. The sky is the limit. All she needs is to focus on her studies so that she gets a good job that will help her achieve her music ambitions. Making it in today’s world, one needs to have at least two professions. So Neema is on the right track,” says Mariam. Adding to that she says, “we don’t pay her a lot of money, we only give her a little cash as a way of motivating her. Once she turns 18 and becomes free to participate in every music activity we will see how we can start paying her as a professional.”