Jahazi Literary & Jazz Festival

News room

PRESSS RELEASE (Jahazi Festival History and Objectives)

1.       Jahazi Festival has been held since 2011. What has been the achievement to date?

We started the festival with the intention of introducing Jazz and promoting live music performances to Zanzibar, Tanzania and East Africa in general. We also hoped the festival would bring together artists from different walks of life and result in possible collaboratives works and ventures. This of course would ultimately lead to new creative works and give impetus to Tarab in forming a new creative direction and guarantee its continued survival for the next century. We believe we have achieved this. Zanzibar is now full of live music venues. It was not the case 2011. Dar-es-salaam as well has a number of Jazz bars which were not there in 2011. Nairobi followed Zanzibar 2 years later and started there own Jazz Festival, opening up the possibility of a circuit of Jazz musicians to tour. This we believe in the Jahazi Festival objective and till date early days of its achievement.

2.       Does Jazz music have a huge following in Tanzania!

Jazz music does not have a huge following, however Jahazi Festival is not purely a Jazz Festival. It leans more towards world music with touches of Jazz to give it intensity in the creative area. 

3.       What are some of the challenges of organising a Jazz festival within Tanzania?

Fund raising is extremely difficult. Sponsors seem to not realise the importance of the work we are doing. It is of course disappointing, but we believe it, and thats what matters. So we push ahead. Logistics is also a problem, moving people around in addition to getting the right equipment for the ideal performances. 

4.       What are some of the goals you hope to achieve with this year’s festival?

We want to continue with the work we are already doing. Spend a few more years solidifying our original goal before taking on the next phase of our work. This you will have to wait and see. 🙂

5.       Are there any awards for this year’s festival?

Yes, we will be awarding the Mohamed Ibrahim award this year. Mohamed Ibrahim was the founder of Tarab in Zanzibar in 1880’s after a trip to Cairo to learn classical arabic isnhtructments. On his return and working with other musicians they combined it with local sounds and Tarab was born. This award is really to honour their work and sacrifice that we almost forgot.



Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festival 2014 Opening speech:
One hundred years ago this month a German battle cruiser the Konigsberg carrying coal from the Rufiji River, opened fire and sank the HMS Pegasus, a British ship anchored in the entrance to Zanzibar harbour. The First World War was barely a month old, scarcely a shot had been fired, but one of the first naval battles, in the very first truly Global Conflict began here. And there is reason for that – it is the reason that the Periplus, the two thousand year old Greek sailor’s journal, one of the first pieces of writing to describe the great Indian Ocean trade routes painted such a vivid picture of this Island – it is because Zanzibar is, and has always been particularly special, a place of exchange, of diffusion and hybridity, an interface between strategically important worlds, and hence a space that has been contested and competed over for millennia. And here in this magical place that straddles faultlines, where cultural plates diffuse one through another, it is here that a particular transcultural way of being was created, a way of thinking that has increasingly come to define progressive thought.
It meant that Zanzibar was never just important for trade, but also culture, for music, for craft, for ideas. And it wears that heritage of cosmopolitanism proudly, you can hear it in the language, see it in the beauty of its people, it is writ large in the culture, architecture and politics.
So I am delighted to be here to enjoy – to celebrate – to muse upon African cosmopolitanism in this crucible of cultural hybrididity and diffusion. We will not just do that in the superb programme of music, but also in a series of talks and discussions – to which you are not just welcome – but to which we hope you will contribute, we are hoping that the discussions will be every bit as lively as the music. I am looking forward to meeting and hearing from you.
I just want to finish with one final thought – as the Konigsberg sailed away from Zanzibar harbour a century ago, as in Europe armies gathered to begin one of the most brutal conflagrations the world has ever seen, amongst the ferment and fear, something else was also happening.
In a moment of the silence before one of the early battles of the First World War, as the young soldiers prayed, and awaited orders, someone played a gramophone – and a few bars of Scott Joplin momentarily wafted out across the quiet trenches.
Music can be powerful – but this was music with sublime power. Scott Joplin’s music had developed a decade earlier, it was revolutionary, it seemed to set a different agenda for popular music. Joplin liberated the pianist’s right-hand to enjoy more and more freedom, playing innovative harmonies, mocking the thudding, plodding Nineteenth Century rhythms of the left hand into submission, pushing the new genre to its limit to discover Jazz lurking beneath. This was a new kind of cultural deal, it didn’t ask for silence or your attention – it was violent, physical – it grabbed you, ragged you, robbed you of choice and tormented you with that fact. For Joplin, as the son of a former slave, resolving oppositions on the keyboard between the left and right hand, between black and white keys was political. His work brought the music of the un-polite intensity of fields and backstreets to the concert theatres and dance halls and with it came the politics. Many people instinctively feared it, but could do little to stop its spread. It was born out of a moment of unanswerable change, change that rippled around the world. I have always thought that part of the fear of that early Jazz was a fear of its archaeology, in the complex harmonies of the right hand were intricate and intense rythmns of African drumming, that had come to do battle with metronmic precision of the European fief drum of that left hand. The rhythm of the fief drum is one that held American and European armies in step, and the African drum, the African beat is the one that held slave narratives, and their memories of Africa alive – and here they are tied together in an intense dance.
Whenever I hear Scott Joplin, I am reminded of a lone African drum that is held in the British Museum Collection. It was collected by the Museum’s founder Hans Sloane, and was one of a handful of the earliest objects of a collection that now numbers more than eight million pieces. It was collected on a plantation in Virginia in the 1730s – and had probably belonged to a slave, and had been carried along with its owner across the Atlantic into bondage. Originally made to sit in a family of five, the drum like its owner has been brutally extracted from its original context.
But one can imagine how that original connection to Africa had become all the more poignantly apparent and profound because of that dislocation. The further the drum was carried from its place of origin, across both geography and time, the more that its beat must have felt evocative of its past. One could not deny hearing in Jazz, the voices, the witness, a testimony that speaks so eloquently across the centuries, a lament for what slavery stole from its victims, from the indignity it cast upon all of humanity, and the lingering hankering for healing. And in becoming the architectural underpinning of all contemporary music it has forced us to all to ongoingly, however subconsciously, a need to find ways to accommodate that difficult heritage. The drum in the British Museum display case is a comment on us all – on slavery on exploitation, and on African indefatigability – just as the rythmns of Jazz are an archaeology of the pain and the joy of all of those who have contributed to its making. In this home, this place of celebration of cosmopolitanism and hybridity, I cannot think of more perfect place to celebrate Jazz. I look forward to joining you on the dance floor.

Dr. Augustus Casely-Hayford