Love songs

Lamu is the name given to both the city and the island located below the equator along the Eastern African coast in North Kenya. The island Lamu is part of an archipelago separated from the continent by a narrow channel surrounded by a dense mangrove forest. The island is protected from the Indian Ocean by coral reef and large sand dunes. The numerous archaeological sites on the island and on the edge of the continent reveal the region's long history. 

Ever since its foundation, Lamu City has been a very important coastal trading centre, whose economy is still dominated by varied marine activities: fishing, ship construction, marine transportation and mangrove culture. The inhabitants of Lamu and the other islands of the archipelago are descended from the association and mixing of several human groups: Bajun, Omani Arabs, a few Boni and Somali as well as Pokomo and Mijikenda. Some Bohora Indians also live in the archipelago, but they never practised intermarriage. The great majority of the inhabitants are Muslims, and the city is an important pilgrimage destination where devotees from East Africa gather once a year to celebrate Maulidi, the anniversary of the prophet's birthday. 

Popular sung poetry called Tarabu can be heard all along the Kenyan coast, as well as in Zanzibar, Pemba and alongside the Tanzanian coast. This musical genre has particularly been submitted to external influence, as can be heard in the musical accompaniment and in the style of the songs. The musical instruments come from India, Portugal and the Arab world. The small harmonium - harimoni - present in the recordings, is of Portuguese origin and was brought to India by Portuguese missionaries. This instrument, which can be heard today in popular music from Rajasthan, reached the Eastern coast of Africa with sailors trading wood and spice between the Lamu archipelago, the Arabian peninsula and the Indian world. The harmonium may sometimes be replaced by a kind of sitar - kinanda - whose origin remains mysterious. The musicians who sing tarabu are sometimes accompanied by an oblique flute - nay - of Persian origin. The percussion instruments are not solely African: Indian tablas, bongos and tambourines may accompany the songs, as it is the case in Mohammed Famao's group. The number of instruments accompanying the tarabu varies from one group to another and even between particular performances, depending on circumstances and on the choice of the lead singer.

The song itself, sung in the Kiswahili language and almost always in verse,
is interpreted by a soloist joined for the chorus by the other musicians or by the audience. Tarabu is the most popular musical style among the coastal Swahili. It is performed at weddings, happy events and celebrations, and also during rejoicing festivities. Tarabu is a magnificent testimony to the extraordinary wealth of Swahili culture in eastern coastal Africa. This music succeeded in blending the region's original culture with influences acquired through contacts with the many foreign elements which followed one another in this part of Africa.

The songs from this record are poems by Mohammed Famao inspired from the traditional Tarabu style (tarab in Arabic) of the Kenyan coast. The Indian style that can be traced in these songs is finds its source of inspiration from the music in Indian films, which are widely broadcast in East Africa. Mohammed Famao and his fellow musicians go to the cinema as often as possible to immerse themselves in the musical atmosphere of these films. These musicians regularly perform at weddings, or simply for the pleasure of the listeners who invite them to play on the roofs of their houses. The recordings for this disc were made in similar circumstances in April 1985. Breaks between songs and interludes are filled with singing cicadas, which reminds us that Tarabu music is a living art performed in the open air, in the intimate atmosphere of the warm Lamu evenings. 

CD tracks

  1. Ridika muhibu pendo nakuaomba
    « My beloved, please accept my love. »

  2. Ee rafiki shikani wasiya mkehalindiki bure ta umiya 
    « Friend, take my advice: do not keep watch on your wife if you do not want to be disappointed.»

  3. Nami leo teapuka 
    « I too want to leave you. »
    This song expresses a deceived lover's shame and farewells.

  4. Nenanao moyo wako hakirami nigonayo nituze nami 
    This text speaks of a husband's grief over his wife's unfaithfulness. 

  5. Awajibu waongwana tena nimengi maana 
    « The respectable persons (or responsible) do not give answers, but when they give answers, they mean many things. »

  6. Moyo siizi  nituma mimi nimtumwa wako nitayari kulandawa kulala uzito lako 
    « My heart is your slave; it is as strong as your sleep is deep.»

  7. Duni ya nihini nyondani mzi to sana ni umasikini tungeli tangamana 
    This song asks people all over the world to unite and fight against brutality, violence and poverty.