Zein l`Abdin
& Zein Musical Party
Januar 1999
Africa-Iwalewa Homepage
Konzert: 24.Januar 1999 bei AFRICA-Iwalewa´s Matinee Global
in 53797 Lohmar-Wahlscheid, Wilhelmshöhe 12, 02206-80375
Anmeldung und Kartenvorbestellung unbedingt erforderlich
Einlass 15 Uhr, Beginn 16 Uhr, Eintritt DM 10,--
Al Ustadh
Zein l`Abdin

Classical Swahili Songs and Instrumental Music from the Kenya Coast
Zein l'Abdin was born in 1939 on the Island of Lamu on the northern Kenya coast. His father was a weil-known patron of the arts, himself an accomplished player of the old Swahili lute called kibangala. Zein's father often hosted wealthy merchants arriving from Arabia with the monsoon trade winds. The young Zein witnessed sumptuous feasts and nights of music and dance, when the lute players and musicians accompanying the Arabic crews measured themselves with Ali Baskuta, Zein's maternal uncie, and Lamu's leading 'ud player of the time.

The happy youth in Lamu ended abruptly when Zein's father died in 1951, leaving the twelve year old kid to the care of the extended family. He was sent to Mombasa to attend school there, but before long family troubles and missing finance lead to his leaving school and taking up work at the port of Mombasa. The seed of music was planted though: Zein soon picked up the lute, practicing and studying on his own after his day-time job in the port.
Zein l`Abdin

In 1960, at last with his own 'ud, Zein embarked on his professional career. Besides playing the usual wedding gigs, he was soon to start recording for local Mombasa record companies like Mzuri. Zein's prowess on the lute and his witty self-composed songs quickly earned him a good reputation. He was invited to play weddings and concerts up and down the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts, and farther inland, up to Nairobi and Kampala in Uganda.

Zein l`Abdin From the late 1960s onwards Zein became something like the musical father of the Mombasa taarab scene, with all of today's famous musicians, at one point or another in their career, passing through Zein's group. The Zein Musical Party thus featured the voices of Maulidi, Zuhura and Malika, Mohamed Mbwana's harmonium or organ, or Bakari Salim's accordion. Zein's groups in the 1980s - in typical Mombasa taarab style - branched out to include violin, accordion, keyboard, bass guitar and a percussion section. He has since moved back to basics, and a more classical approach in the old Lamu Tradition.

Zein's current group is a re-union with his erstwhile band members Omari Swaleh and Anasi Mbwana, Mombasa's best percussion team. Zein taught them both when they entered the music scene in late the 1970s. Omari's father was also a member of Zein's group, and the young Omari learned at an early age accompanying his father to the frequent wedding gigs. After leaving Zein for a time in the late 1980s, he became a featured musician and bandmaster of Malika's ensemble.

Anasi Mbwana, who is also an accomplished solo singer, left Zein's group in the mid-1980s to join Maulidi Musical Party, then Mombasa's premier wedding orchestra. The early 1990s brought him together with his former rhythm partner Omari, when he joined Malika's group as well. For the past couple of years Omari and Anasi have worked for both Zein and Malika. They are also in high demand as studio musicians backing visiting singers from up and down the coast, who come to record for Mombasa's thriving cassette industry.

Zein l`Abdin
The Zein Song-Book - handwritten

The musical style of Zein and Party is called taarab by the Swahili people of the East African Coast. This is less a stylistic description, since many personal and regional styles exist. Among the Swahili taarab refers to a festive occasion which commonly closes marriage celebrations, and at which this type of music is played. Going out to his wedding gigs Zein carries his handwritten book of more than 400 song lyrics. All taarab songs follow the formal rules of traditional Swahili poetry, with intricate rhyming schemes. Many of the songs in Zein's book are his own compositions; others are given to him by contemporary poets. Together with the famous poet and cultural historian Sheikh Ahmed Nabhany Zein has unearthed and revived many old songs dating back to the last century and the beginning of this century.
Zein l`Abdin
As with the lyrics, so Zein's music also follows the traditions of the northern coast, by including the rhythms and melodies of many old Swahili ngoma (music-song-dance) events like twari, goma, vugo, together with contemporary dance rhythms like kumbwaya or chakacha. For more Information on Swahili taarab music please consult: Graebner, Werner. 'Swahili Musical Party." World Music: The Rough Guide, ed. by Simon Broughton et al. London: The Rough Guides. 1994. [new edition forthcoming autumn 1998]

The Zein Songbook Vol I (CD 1999)


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