How far will Emerson’s vision take Z’bar music?

Friday February 23 2018

A group photo of some of the participants of EZFMA at a get-together to celebrate the music award. PHOTO | MARKUS MEISSL

At a time when music awards in Tanzania have taken a long-term hiatus, hearing of any award that targets musicians is something that’s greeted with both joy and a bit of uncertainty.   Recently in Zanzibar, a beacon of light was left gleaming as the Sauti za Busara festivities came to a close.

At the closing night of the 15th edition of the Busara festival on the 11 of February this year, Rahma Ameir, 28, a Violinist from Siti & The Band based in Zanzibar was named as the second recipient of the Emerson’s Zanzibar Foundation Music Award (EZFMA).

Rahma’s victory saw her take home a cash prize of $1000 (roughly Sh2.2million), a special trophy, a framed certificate, and the celebration was later followed by a post award event organised for her and other 8 participants who were also in the running for the award.

Inaugurated last year, the 2018 ceremony marked the second edition of Emerson’s Zanzibar Music Award. The award giving ceremony was held at the Amphitheatre inside Old Fort.

The music award was introduced with the aim to recognise the unique and significant nature of Zanzibar’s music genre, which was born and evolved on the cosmopolitan island of Zanzibar. The award also aims at supporting and celebrating creativity and innovation among up and coming Zanzibar artistes pushing the bounds of creative excellence in all forms and styles.

Inspiring and promoting Zanzibar’s traditional and modern artistes, who are pursuing their artistic vision in the archipelago, (without the financial support prevalent in Western Countries.), as well as celebrating and promoting the culture, and history of Zanzibar, is also why the awards were initiated.


EZFMA is under the Busara Xtra programme. Busara Xtra activities allows Zanzibar local community to own the festival and show the islands hospitality to visitors. The activities  are of cultural interest to Sauti za Busara audiences, outside of the main stage programme.

With this year’s award theme being ‘women united in music,’ it focused on women musicians in Zanzibar.

Speaking to The Beat, Said el-Gheithy, Chairperson of the foundation says the judges chose Rahma’s performance as the best out of 8 contestants due to professionalism, adherence to Zanzibar culture, poise and confidence, good preparation and delivery.

“Rahma is an accomplished violinist. A graduate in music education, she teaches at the Dhow Country Music Academy and also co-founded the Siti band,” says Said.

Commenting on the award, Rahma says she is happy that this time the award organizers chose to dedicate the award to women. “Often time, women are not given an opportunity to shine in such fields, making this edition special for women will motivate more women to seek participation in the future,” she says.

Rahma adds that she used the prize money she won to order for a modern violin microphone from outside the country. It cost her $600 and she will use the rest of the money to buy other working equipment.

“I thank the organizers for giving us an opportunity to showcase our talents. Being awarded for the hard work comes as a bonus. It is a good platform that will push our Zanzibar music further,” says Rahma.

She calls upon the organizers to put an age limit for an artiste to participate, encouraging more participation from young musicians who wish to progress in the art. 

The winner of the second edition of EZFMA has performed at various local and international concerts in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mayotte. She has also participated in an African Music Festival in Germany and Brav Festival in Poland.

Mohamed Gora, the first recipient of the award who specialises in playing the Quanun, was invited to raise the curtains at this year’s edition of the award. Sharing his experience on how the award has changed his life in as far as music is concerned; the artiste says the award has added a positive image on his curriculum vitae.

Through media coverage after his victory, he became a household name in Zanzibar. He used some of his victory money to buy music equipment, and shared the rest with his friends and fellow participants.

Mohamed, who has visited several countries including Germany, Poland, Ethiopia, Zimbabae, Kenya, Uganda, Commoro etc, says last year participation was seen from men and women, a total of seven artistes took part in the competition.

The night of the event at the second edition of EZFMA, performances started at around 7:00pm and Rahma was slotted to perform shortly after in front of the judges and the audience that included music stakeholders from different parts of the World who came together through Sauti za Busara festival.

Said congratulated all the participants for their outstanding performance. He said each performance was inspiring in its own way, which displayed great potential and talents from all the participants. He concluded by saying that each musician who took part will receive a certificate of participation, he added.

The other participants of this year’s award are Muharam Omary, Miriam Mathias, Neema Surrie, Rahma Suleiman, Siti Mwalimu, Pili Ameir, and Amina Juma.

Commenting on the process used to get the possible award recipients, Mohamed Ilyas, a Professor in music and a Taarab singer, who owns a band called Nyota Zameremeta says there is a need for the organizers to come up with a professional jury.

He says that with a professional jury, one with music acumen will be able to identify the right music techniques and at the end of the day justice will prevail when it comes to selecting a winner.

Asked if the jury in this edition wasn’t qualified to do the assessment job, the professor says, “I am not in a position to tell if the jury was qualified or not, but I am merely giving my suggestion that the kind of jury being used in any musical event has to be well informed about techniques.”

Imani Mani, one of the juries at EZFMA, says selecting a winner wasn’t an easy task. He says that all the contestants were talented. However, the jury considered the five criterias given by the organizers to get the right candidate.

The jury aired his view on the targeted participants for the award; “the award is still in its infancy, the more we progress, the better we will be able to discern between amateurs and professional musicians,” he said, adding; “As the years go by the competition will be filled with so many applications that will prompt the organisers to devise a better way of dealing with professional/amateur issues in the competition.”

The Emerson’s Zanzibar Foundation Music Award for best music presentation and best original composition is an important part of the ongoing legacy of the visionary Emerson Skeens, whose contributions to Zanzibari culture are incalculable.

Emerson was renowned in Zanzibar for founding and supporting a wide variety of creative innovations. He was a founder board member of Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar internationally renowned music festival. He also co-established the Dhow Country Music Academy.

Emerson’s Foundation also administers a Film Award at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) to support young talented Zanzibaris and others who have the creative ability to go beyond the ordinary. Award winners serve as inspirational leaders to Zanzibar and gain recognition and visibility regionally.