‘Taarap’ and Zanzibar’s DJ in a hijab

April 7, 2020

Stone Town Records was founded 5 years ago with three friends whose paths crossed at the Dar es Salaam University in Tanzania during a students’ exchange program.

Housed along the Stone Town streets in Zanzibar- the roots of the renowned Taarab music – Stone Town Records emerged as a community of artists who came together to record music and mentor young and upcoming musicians.

Ongoing studio recording with artists. Photo: Hivos/Imani


Conscious art and critical content

The purchase of their first studio equipment would come from the sale of cocktails at the iconic: Sauti za Busara Festival. To date, they speak of rooftops and terraces bustling with violin and taarab instruments, singing, rapping and creativity in free expression through music.

Stone Town records has pushed its spontaneity beyond the boundaries of music and is now a community art space where designers, graffiti artists and fashion designers can use their skill to pursue the use of conscious and critical content in a restrictive society where they can freely express themselves.

Group photo of artists hosted at the community space. Photo: Hivos/Imani


Restrictive societies often come with their own sets of challenges. Stone Town Records has had to overcome significant challenges for its survival having been raided 3 years ago by the police threatening to shutdown their premises.

They thought we were a space promoting alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution

Lorenz Hermann picture here outside the studio. Photo: Hivos/Imani

This challenge only gave them a platform to use the power of art in addressing social issues such as drug abuse, youth unemployment and gender inequality.

B Talent, DJ in a hijab and Taarap

By establishing a music academy, Stone Town Records has been training artists on how to monetise their content through branding and marketing. The B Talent incubator program supported by Hivos East Africa has particularly been a breeding ground for upcoming artists who wish to pursue different fields of artistic expression in their career.

Dida is a fast rising female DJ in Zanzibar. Photo: Hivos/Imani

The B talent program has brought to the lime light artists such as Dida Khamisi Pando who is the first renowned female DJ wearing a hijab in Zanzibar. Having being recognised at the Zanzibar Swahili Festival by the Minister of Culture and Tourism, she has been keen in countering the myth that deejaying is a male job. She hopes her story will continue to mentor and inspire similar women in hijabs interested in pursuing music as a career.

Ison Mistari also know as Zenji Boy has been making headlines as the musician who is turning tables in Zanzibar’s hip hop scene through his iconic: ‘Taarap.’

Taarap is a music blend featuring the fusion of modern hip-hop and the traditional Taarab. Armed with his violin and the mastery of powerful lyrics, Zenji Boy has used his skill to address negative social realities from tourism in Zanzibar such as drug abuse. His sounds have given him platforms for intercultural exchange with other artists in countries such as South Africa.

Zenji Boy is the brainchild behind: ‘Taarap’. Photo: Hivos/Imani


By supporting him to monetise his content on platforms such as Spotify, Itunes and Sound Cloud, Stone Town Records through the music academy has played an immense role in marketing his genre locally and internationally. He hopes to establish his own record label and mentor fellow upcoming artists.

For many artists, sustainability has always been an indicator of success in the sector. Stone Town Records has utilized trainings conducted by Hivos East Africa on proper financial management and project management to give it an upper edge in its ultimate survival as a community space.

Stone Town Records has become a household name in Zanzibar’s artistic space and continues to empower creativity and talent in forming a community that pursues alternative forms of expression such as art and music.

Featured on CNN’s Inside Africa

Making a debut on CNN’s Inside Africa, Stone Town Records shone a spotlight on how modernity meets the historical taarab music to create an iconic blend of ‘taarap’. In this story, artists from the grassroots record label, Siti the band and Zenji Boy, share their experiences in Zanzibar’s traditional music scene.

About R.O.O.M

Hivos East Africa’s Resource of Open Minds (R.O.O.M) supports the creative work of a new generation of artists, makers, musicians and critical content producers around the world who strive for openness and lead the resistance to shrinking civic space.