‘Yaseen and Party’ is a compilation of songs recorded by taarab musician Yaseen Mohamed al Hosni, whose musical career spanned several decades from the late 1940s. He was born in Mombasa in the early 20th century and of Omani heritage. After a spell in the British Army in pre-independent Kenya, he began composing and performing his songs, sometimes supplemented by electrician work. The nineteen tracks featured here appear to be from the early 60s, culled from 45s released under the names of ‘Yaseen & Party’ and ‘Mac & Party’.
I have had no experience of taarab before listening to this but reading the excellent sleeve notes, I can tell you it’s an East African pop genre, possibly of Egyptian origin incorporating “dances and percussion rhythms from the East African coast, the music of the ‘dhow countries’ in the Arabian Gulf, Indian and western music.”
The tunes here are all around the three-minute mark. Yaseen’s deep voice is usually in the style of contemporary Indian movie music accompanied by, among others, taishokoto (a Japanese novelty instrument), guitar, flute or accordion. He is quoted in the liner notes thus “there is no certain thing which is taarab. Even rock is taarab if people just sit and listen” and he was true to his word as there’s a surprisingly wide range of musical styles on this release. It’s an incorporation of whatever international music was popular at the time. There’s the Latin flavour of tracks like “Mwana Na Kibarua” and “Nna-Kiliyo”. There’s the self-descriptive “Suku-Mambo” and “Hi-Life Mambo”. There’s the rock ‘n’ roll of “Afrika Twist” and especially “Liverpool” with its outrageous rockabilly guitar solo breaks, complete with rebel yells.
It’s an accessible and enjoyable album. The catchy tunes make this music to be listened to for fun and not some dry, dusty musicologist outing. The breathtaking variety of styles means there’s never a dull moment. Stand out tracks on the album are “Lala Mpenzi”, a duet with this wife, the Latin drenched, “Azimio Lishikeni”, which comes in like “Louie Louie” and the grooving instrumental “Zandale”. The substantial notes that accompany the album are a good read too; well researched and informative with evocative pictures. The music and the notes together, this is a superb package and a fitting tribute to the life and works of Yaseen.