Zanzibar music lovers everywhere are grieving over the loss of the legendary musician Makame Faki Makame, who died on January 18, 2020, at age 77, at the Global Hospital in Stone Town, Zanzibar, after a thirteen disease.
Taarab musician Rajab Suleiman with the band Kithara was one of the first to announce the death of Makame Faki on Facebook:
It is with sadness that we report the death of our singer Mzee (Elder) Makame Faki. Makame died in Zanzibar this morning after a short illness. Rest in peace, Mzee Makame.
We sadly report the death of our singer Mzee (elder) Makame Faki. Makame died in Zanzibar this morning after a brief illness. Rest in peace, Mzee Makame.
Makame Faki was amply known in East Africa and throughout the world as father or king of kidumbak, Unique traditional drumming of the Zanzibar Islands. Faki was also a teacher of taarab, the “national sound” of Zanzibar – fusion of Arab and African rhythms symbolic of centuries of trade and exchange along the Swahili coast.
Kidumbak style is like a “stripped version of the orchestral taarab, with voice, violin, sanduku (low tea chest), small clay drums (ki-dumbak) and other percussion instruments, such as cherewa, a kind of maracas made of coconut husks full of seeds, or mkwasa; short wooden sticks, which are played as keys, ”according to Busara Promotions, a nonprofit musical organization in Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Makame Faki was born in Zanzibar in 1943, and became one of the most revered and celebrated Zanzibar musicians who toured the world with the Culture Music Club, founded in 1958 as one of the oldest and most prolific taarab music orchestras in Zanzibar, as well as with Sinachuki Kidumbak, popular kidumbak group.
As a music fan, Makame began to play drums and sing taarab as a young man. Then he went on to master the violin, the lute, the flute, the maracas and the accordion, which he played with great joy and generosity. Famous from coast to coast for his hoarse and baritone voice, he earned the nickname “Sauti ya Zege” or “Rough Voice”.
Perhaps no other song exemplifies the fading and tenderness of Taarab poetry than this Taarab classic, “Mazowea Yana Tabu” or “Old habits can be a burden,” played by Makame Faki:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGtmJkyqz3M (/ embed)
Like many moans of taarab, this song speaks of pain and heart for a broken love:
Old habits can be a burden / When we have become so alike.
It is our habits and our likeness / That tears us apart.
Can you not see the reason why / We are so dishonest with each other?
I lie awake all night / As you haunt me.
I have lost my mind calling out your name.
Old habits can be a burden / when we have become so similar.
They are our habits and our similarity / What tears us apart.
Can't you see the reason why / we are so dishonest among us?
I stay up all night. While you persecute me.
I lost my mind when pronouncing your name.
Remember a legend
Followers, friends and family flooded social networks as soon as the news was heard to lament the loss of this musical giant of Zanzibar with an enormous heart and an epic smile.
Zanzibari journalist Ally Saleh praised Makame Faki on Twitter:
Makame Faki Ametangulia.
Kwa muda mrefu alikuwa ni nyota wa mtindo wa taarab wa “kidumbak” ambapo mtindo huo huruhusu washabiki kucheza na nyimbo zake huwa za mipasho. Amekuwa kikundi cha Culture Musical kwa miaka kadhaa huku baadae kuunda kikundi cha kutumbuiza kwa kukodiwa pic.twitter.com/4z7QTuZ3YJ
– NIMEPOTELEWA NA PAKA WANGU JAMANI (@allysalehznz) January 18, 2020
Makame Faki has anticipated us.
For a long time, he was the star of the “kidumbak” taarab style, which allowed his fans to dance and whose songs were usually mipasho (captivating, direct). He was a member of the Culture Musical group for several years and then formed a recording studio.
Yusuf Mahmoud, executive director of Busara Promotions and founder of Sauti za Busara (Voices of Wisdom), the largest music festival in Zanzibar, worked closely with Makame Faki for years. Mahmoud told Global Voices that “it will be a long struggle for all of us to accept this epic loss.”
I was with friends at breakfast when I heard Makame had passed. I was speechless; unusually completely lost for words.
In 2013, the Swahili Coast lost Bi. Kidude (Fatuma binti Baraka). This morning, we lost another legend.
Makame Faki was a legend. He was a rock and foundation for Zanzibar music. One of taarab music's leading singer-songwriters and musicians, aka Sauti and Zege, he was a truly unique and brilliant entertainer. … I have featured many times on stage at Sauti za Busara and had been scheduled to perform at next month's 17th edition.
I had the pleasure to accompany him on tours to Lamu, Kenya, Europe, and the Caribbean, where his personality, warmth and charisma touched everyone. Between regular international tours, he would often be seen performing at local weddings, or visiting Zanzibar's Dhow Countries Music Academy (DCMA), to share advice and encouragement with students, always stressing the importance and value of our unique music and cultural traditions.
Makame Faki had the widest and most heart-warming smile on the island; I've brought joy in bucketfuls to the people around him. When Makame spoke, time stopped. We listened, we learned – perhaps more so as his stories always came with riotous laughter.
With thanks to the Almighty, Makame Faki's spirit lives on, and so does his music.
He was having breakfast with some friends when he learned that Makame had died. I'm speechless; Unusually I lost the words.
In 2013, the Swahili Coast lost to Bi. Kidude (Fatuma binti Baraka). This morning, we lost another legend.
Makame Faki was a legend. He was a rocker and the basis of Zanzibar's music. One of the main singer-songwriters and musicians of taarab, aka Sauti and Zege, was a truly unique and brilliant artist. … He appeared many times on the stage of Sautiza Busara and was scheduled to perform in the XVII edition of next month.
I had the pleasure of accompanying him on his tours of Lamu, Kenya, Europe and the Caribbean, where his personality, warmth and charisma moved everyone. Among regular international tours, he was often seen performing at local weddings, or visiting the Dhow Countries Academy of Music of Zanzibar (DCMA), to share advice and encouragement with students, always highlighting the importance and value of our music and unique cultural traditions.
Makame Faki had the widest and warmest smile on the island; He brought joy to the people around him. When Makame spoke, time stopped. We listened, we learned – maybe more, since their stories always came with unbridled laughter.
With thanks to the Almighty, the spirit of Makame Faki is still alive, as is his music.
Said el-Gheithy, president of the Emerson Foundation of Zanzibar, praised Makame Faki on Facebook:
His unique voice, grand performance and his great contribution to the musical tradition of Zanzibar will continue to be an inspiration.
His unique viz, his great performances and his great contribution to the musical tradition of Zanzibar will remain an inspiration.
Tanzanian musician Maembe Vitali updated his profile picture with a photo of Makame Faki ’and published:
Mzee Makame Faki! Rest in peace As a musician, your presence here on earth has not passed in vain, we have heard you, we have seen you, we have been refreshed and we have learned! Rest in peace!
Mzee Makame Faki! Rest in peace. As a musician, your presence here on earth was not in vain; we have heard you, we have seen you; We have revitalized and learned! Rest in peace!
Around the world, netizens toured this huge musical legend:
Another fine musician returned to the ancestors. Mzee Makame Faki, violinist and vocalist of Zanzibari ensemble Culture Musical Club died yesterday. In this clip he's the more wrinkled-looking fiddle player next to the oud https://t.co/lHzJP8iI4y
– Christopher Graham (@ grumpychris2) January 18, 2020
Another fine musician returned to the ancestors. Mzee Makame Faki, violinist and vocalist of the zanzibarí group Culture Musical Club died yesterday. In this video, he is the most wrinkled violinist next to the lute.
‘You are the mirrors, you are the pillars’
In 2002, with almost 60 years, Makame Faki became a fixed element of the DCMA, the only music academy in Zanzibar, whose mission is to preserve, promote and protect the Swahili cultural heritage through traditional Zanzibar music.
On the day of his death, the general director of the DCMA, Alessia Lombardo, wrote on Facebook:
Mzee Makame Faki: I wish to wake up and realize that this is only a dream – a bad dream. … Thank you for giving us the strength to continue and not give up. Thank you for your words! ‘My dear, you are doing very big work, the world still needs DCMA.’
Mzee Makame Faki: I want to wake up and realize that this is just a dream, a nightmare. … Thank you for giving us the strength to continue and not give up. Thanks for your words! Dear, you are doing a great job, the world still needs DCMA.
As a teacher and artistic advisor, Makame Faki defended Zanzibar's unique traditional genres, such as kidumbak and taarab, and often warned that if young people neglected those forms, the arts would cease to exist.
In the 2018 documentary “Audiovisual Ethnography: Music and Heritage in Zanzibar,” produced by students and professors of the New York University Arts Center, Makame Faki talked about the importance of preserving Swahili cultural heritage through music and of his reasons for working so closely with DCMA:
– Dhow Countries Music Academy – Zanzibar (@dcmazanzibar) January 18, 2020
Makame Faki Makame: father of the kidumbak – by the NYUAD Art Center, asante sana, we will always remember our teacher, father, friend of all in Zanzibar.
In the documentary, Makame Faki gave a specific message for musicians of the next generation: “For those who study music, if they are not careful, art will be lost. … Because you are the mirrors and the pillars. But if they do other things, then art will not exist, ”he said.
In the whole of Africa, there is no other country that plays taarab and kidumbak like we do. … Taarab only remains in Zanzibar. We must preserve it and ensure its continuity.
In all of Africa, there is no other country that touches taarab and kidumbak like us. The taarab only subsists in Zanzibar. We must preserve it and ensure its continuity.
Makame Faki Makame was buried on Sunday, January 19, 2020 in the city of Gamba, at 10 am (East Africa time) with a procession that left the Culture Music Club of the Vuga neighborhood, early in the morning.