Saturday, September 03, 2005


ZANZIBAR - The Al-Ahmady music group has returned to Yemen from Tanzania following its performance in the Festival of Dhow Countries.The group, from Mukalla in Hadhramawt, and made up of bandleader Ahmad Al-Ahmady, a renowned singer and oud player, dancer Tanya, and seven other musicians, took part in the annual Zanzibar festival, held this year under the theme “Monsoons and Migrations”. The group’s first performance, at the Forodhani Gardens overlooking the sea, began as the sun was setting. The gardens are located close to the Customs House - forodhani means customs in Swahili - and were first laid out in 1936 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the late Omani Sultan, Khalifa. Zanzibaris and visitors from around the world came to stand and sit on the grass and enjoy the Hadhrami group’s show. The Al-Ahmady musicians, wearing colourful traditional Hadhrami costume, played their brand of Yemeni music, and Ahmed performed on his oud, songs of African and Indian influence, reflecting the festival theme of Migrations. The group also performed at the Arab Fort, built between 1698 and 1701 by the Omanis who had gained control of Zanzibar in 1969, following nearly two hundred years of Portuguese occupation. In 1994 the fort was restored to its former condition and turned into an open-air theatre (the Sauti za Busara Theatre, or “Voice of Wisdom”), now used during the annual Festival of Dhow Countries. The Al-Ahmady performance at the fort was set off by a backdrop of three floodlit dhow sails. Among the audience were visiting Yemenis and members of the Hadhrami community. Hadhramis have age-old trade links with Zanzibar, thought to go back to the 14th and 15th centuries or even earlier, with many of them settling in Zanzibar. Ahmad Al-Ahmady’s compositions received a rapturous reception. In other pieces, Tanya displayed her graceful dances, accompanied during some numbers by one of the musicians, the drummers beating out infectious rhythms on their drums. At the end of the performance the audience called repeatedly for an encore, but the festival scheduled required them to vacate the stage for the next act. French and British media were on hand to report the event and the Al-Ahmady group’s Yemeni music to the world . The group’s visit to Zanzibar was made possible by the support of the Yemeni Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) through the Festival of Dhow Countries. Yemeni participation in the festival was the brainchild of Leila Ingrams. Leila, a long-time lover of Yemen, has an historical link with Zanzibar and a long and close relationship with Hadhramawt. She has been active in organizing exhibitions on Yemen around the United Kingdom and Ireland. Leila co-edited, with her mother Dareen Ingrams, the 16-volume work Records of Yemen: 1798-1960 and is currently in the process of completing another book on Yemen. When Leila visited Zanzibar five years ago for the 2000 festival, she met the dynamic director Imruh Bakari, and asked him if he thought Yemen could be included somewhere in the festival’s schedule, subject to Yemeni approval of course, as Yemen was “most definitely a Dhow Country”! Imruh replied without hesitation: “That is a wonderful idea! Bring them, Leila, please! Yemen is most certainly a Dhow Country!”


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