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Catching „Zanzibar Fever“ – Sarah’s volunteer placement at the Dhow Countries Music Academy

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World Unite! participant Sarah from Germany volunteered at the Dhow Countries Music Academy this summer. Here she tells us why she totally caught the “Zanzibar Fever“: 



„… Jambo, Jambo bwana

Habari gani, nzuri sana … „

If you visit Zanzibar, you will inevitably enjoy this catchy tune. In the streets of Stone Town, sung by children, tourist guides and of course by the numerous beach boys on the beach. Among other things, the song was one of my first impressions of my new work place – the Dhow Countries Music Academy Zanzibar, DCMA for short.

My main task at the Academy was to teach the students piano and piano improvisation. In addition, I assisted the academy with small office tasks or provided support in questions of musical theory.

As a music teacher, the student’s ways of learning are especially of interest to me. It was fascinating that although my students had a sound theoretical basis, they primarily played by ear. Often, they would also clap or sing passages in order to fully internalize them. Although most of my students had only started to play their instrument when they joined the academy, they were making rapid progress, had a deep understanding of music and never got tired of learning. An important learning experience for me was to see the relaxed way and how naturally people make music here. No matter what level they are, they play and sing together and support each other.

In Zanzibar, you will heard traditional Zanzibar and East African music and Western style music or classical music. Of course, there is pop music as well and the students make their own compositions which they would often play and which tell of their lives and their experiences.

Here’s a description of my usual daily routines in Zanzibar:

Between 5.30 and 6 o’clock the call of the muezzin from the small mosque directly opposite my apartment wakes me up. His voice mingles with the approximately 50 other songs from near and far and interweaves into a buzzing tapestry of sound, which the two neighboring roosters join loudly and persistently.

Getting up, showering, packing my bag for the day.

Breakfast at the Stone Town Café and then a pleasant walk to the Academy: Past Joe’s Corner, and the women preparing fresh chapati and porridge for their families and friends in front of the still-closed shops. Bicycles and scooters whiz through the streets. They contrast the general „pole pole“ way of life and it requires a high level of attention not to get involved into an accident.

The Academy is still quiet, hardly anyone is there yet.

At 9 o’clock my first piano student arrives and we start the day with a prelude by J.S. Bach. Gradually, the Academy starts to fill; the students arrive for their classes or to practice. Those who do not have their own instrument can borrow one from the library.

After four to six lessons, my teaching is over and I can spend the rest of the day as I wish. Be it jam sessions with the students or small office tasks to support the academy, or a beach trip with other volunteers or even a leisurely stroll through the city. Most of the time I spend the afternoons with the people from the academy or later attend one of their concerts.

In the evening I meet with other volunteers for dinner and we visit the Night Market, where spend the evening by having some spicy tea.

What I liked most about my stay on Zanzibar is the warmth and the contagious zest for life of the people here. One of my personal highlights was clearly the visit to a student’s family in his home village. It was a unique experience to gain insight into their culture and way of life.

Also my trips to a Spice Farm or the trip to the turtle project in Nungwi, including a snorkeling tour were quite worthwhile.

The four weeks at the Music Academy DCMA are among the best I’ve ever experienced. It was diving into the Zanzibari or East African culture and I literally caught the „Zanzibar Fever“.

My thanks go to World Unite! and to Professor Mitchel Strumpf, Academic Director of the DCMA, as well as to his staff and, of course, to the students of the Music Academy, who have made my trip to Zanzibar so memorable and with whom I am still in close contact.

From the first moment I felt at home in Zanzibar and especially at the DCMA – music is literally a universal language.

„…wageni, mwakaribishwa

Zanzibar yetu, hakuna matata.“

Sarah, Switzerland

Join the Music Academy here




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