Rajab Suleiman and Kithara Bring The Sounds of Zanzibar to Lewisburg

Rajab Suleiman and Kithara rocked the Weis Center lobby on Friday night, playing to a captivated audience of all ages. Students, faculty, staff and community members filled every seat in the house, although the music brought much of the crowd to its feet, since the band encouraged dancing throughout the performance.

Professor of history and international relations Dr. Cymone Fourshey, who introduced the band, taught the audience how to say, “welcome to Lewisburg” in Swahili.

The group played taarab music, a style native to Zanzibar. Known for its rhythm and melody, this style of music features a variety of stringed instruments, percussion, and vocals. One unique aspect of taarab music is its multiculturalism. While native to Zanzibar, this style of music is popular in Tanzania and Kenya, and it includes influences from the Middle East, India and Western countries.

The audience listened to the familiar sounds of strings, drums and an accordion, while other instruments such as the oud, a stringed guitar-like instrument, and the qanun, a type of box zither, brought the sounds of Zanzibar to the Weis Center.

One of the most captivating elements of Friday’s performance was Saada Nassor’s vocals. Although some of the audience, including myself, couldn’t understand the Swahili lyrics, Nassor’s voice was so entrancing that it didn’t matter. Amina Yusuf and Malitina Hassan, both on percussion and backing vocals, brought the band’s music to life through dance throughout the performance. Their charisma and colorful dress brought them to the forefront of the show. In fact, it was these two band members who led much of the audience in clapping and dancing along to the upbeat music.

Rajab Suleiman, the leader of the group, played the qanun, accordion for several songs and performed vocals for part of the concert. A seasoned veteran of taarab music, Suleiman also trained many of the musicians. During the performance, as well as at the Weis Center’s welcome dinner for the band the previous night, the group’s close-knit dynamic was clear. They laughed together and enjoyed a game of cornhole at the dinner, and seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company both on and off stage.

~ Madeline Diamond,  Class of 2017

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