Press release from GRIS-GRIS FILMS:
POETRY IN MOTION: 100 Years of Zanzibar's Nadi Ikhwan Safaa - a film celebrating Zanzibar’s famed taarab music to screen as an Official Selection at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF).
Los Angeles – Jahazi Media and Gris-Gris Films proudly present POETRY IN MOTION: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa in Los Angeles, CA, as part of the Pan African Film Festival’s 20th anniversary, with two screenings on Feb.15, 2012 at 1:30p.m. and Feb. 19, 2012 at 7:40 p.m. at the new, all digital RAVE CINEMAS, 15 Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw Plaza (located on MLK Blvd between Marlton and Crenshaw).
POETRY IN MOTION: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa is a feature-length documentary film exploring the music, poetry, history and personalities of an esteemed East African orchestra. Performers of sung Swahili poetry called taarab, Nadi Ikwan Safaa (‘The True Brotherhood Club’) of Zanzibar, Tanzania, celebrated its 100th anniversary in July 2005, making it one of the oldest orchestras in the world today.
Situated at the nexus of Indian Ocean trade, Zanzibar developed during the 19th century into a thriving cosmopolitan trading center. Colonizers, slaves and migrants came to the island contributing their musical and cultural traits to local Swahili communities. Born of this cultural diversity, Swahili taarab poetry became a vehicle utilized by elites and commoners alike to articulate social grievances and reinforce social mores. The musical sounds of taarab, which originate in traditional music of Africa, Arabia, and South Asia, were refined and blended in small ensembles. Then inspired by Egyptian film orchestras of the 1950s they developed into an orchestral performance sound far-reaching in its popularity.
African orchestral music is largely unknown, falling, as it does, outside popular perceptions of African music as limited to drumming. Originating as a male social club, Nadi Ikwan Safaa has since grown to encompass male and female members from all sectors of Zanzibar’s diverse population. ‘Poetry in Motion’ offers a music and poetry-driven narrative of a musical group that has survived colonialism and violent revolution, yet always managed to celebrate life’s joys and challenges.
POETRY IN MOTION: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa affords an aural and oral-historical exploration of the melodies, the instruments and the verbal eloquence of this Islamic island nation where 19th and early 20th century fashions—musical and otherwise—were determined for the entire Indian Ocean world. Swahili taarab can still be heard reverberating far beyond Zanzibar's gateway from Bombay to Muscat, from Cairo to Mogadishu, sailing the expanse of the Indian and Arabian Seas to yet more distant ports-of-call. Additionally, the film highlights the Oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument considered magical and having healing powers in many Indian Ocean countries.
POETRY IN MOTION: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa, produced by Werner Graebner and Kelly Askew and directed by Ron Mulvihill is more than a concert film, as it explores the lives of some of the orchestra’s musicians ranging the full gamut of Zanzibar’s socio-economic spectrum. The film offers intimate glimpses into the ordinary lives of an aesthetically rich milieu of musicians.
Integrating archival photos, archival television and video footage, along with oral histories and live rehearsal and concert takes, the film offers a sensory, visual delight, allowing its audience to relish the rare beauty of the poetry, sung to haunting melodies, and the graceful interactions of the orchestra members and their captive audience; the swaying forms of Zanzibari women bestowing tips of money as a public expression of appreciation and also as a way of clandestinely affirming the songs’ lyrics, moods and coded messages .
The images in POETRY IN MOTION: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa highlight a compassionate and aesthetically rich Islamic milieu—a refreshing break from Western media’s current themes and persistent stereotyping of Islamic cultures as “terrorist” societies.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Ron Mulvihill, Director
Active as a filmmaker, producer/director and editor for a variety of feature and documentary subjects, Ron Mulvihill is a multi-talented film/video maker and has a knack for bringing together talented individuals from around the world on international award-winning productions. He is a partner at Gris-Gris Films. His feature film, Maangamizi – The Ancient One, continues to receive accolades after being selected as Tanzania’s official selection at the 74th Academy Awards. At Zanzibar’s International Film Festival, the film won Best Feature and Best Actress and also won the 2004 Paul Robeson Award for Best Feature Film.
Graduating with an MFA from the esteemed film school at UCLA, Mulvihill’s work, much of it based on cultures in Africa, reflects cultural and spiritual elements around indigenous cultures. His film, The Marriage of Mariamu, the first Tanzanian-American co-production was a prominent Festival winner at FESPACO in 1985 having received the Best Short Film Award, the Organization of African Unity Award and the Journalists and Critics Award and went on to win several more awards at Film Festivals in Europe and the U.S. Additionally, he has produced three documentaries, We Are Still Here, Sharing Is Unity and Prince Dixon’s Gospel Caravan.
Kelly Askew, Producer
Kelly Askew is Director of the African Studies Center and a professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Michigan. She received her B.A. in Music and Anthropology from Yale University (1988) and her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University (1997). Her publications include African Postsocialisms (2006), The Anthropology of Media (2002), articles on topics ranging from nationalism to gender relations to Hollywood film production, and a book on music and politics in Tanzania entitled Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Production in Tanzania (2002), a finalist for the Herskovits Award for best scholarly work on Africa. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the Berlin Institute of Advanced Studies, National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Ford Foundation, USAID and Fulbright Association.
Beyond her research, Dr. Askew has pursued various film and video projects. These include the four-part video documentary series, Rhythms from Africa (Tomas Film/Acacia Productions, 2004), which explores music in South Africa and in Zanzibar, and the feature-length documentary film Poetry in Motion: 100 Years of Zanzibar’s Nadi Ikhwan Safaa (Jahazi Media, 2011). She is currently working on a new film about land rights in a Maasai village.
Werner Graebner, Producer
Werner Graebner served as Producer and Sound Engineer for this film. He was a long-time research fellow at the University of Bayreuth (Germany), with a research project on the history and regional styles of taarab. He has produced numerous CDs of taarab and other East African and Comorian musics for international release. Recent releases include Zanzibar: Soul & Rhythm, a 2CD panorama of the islands' musics, and the ongoing Zanzibara series on the Buda label (France). He has been a consultant for Zanzibar Musical Club, a film on taarab music in general, produced by LesFilmsduPresent (France) for ARTE televion. His latest project is Jahazi Media, a media production and music publishing company.