Sounds of Stone Town

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Staying in the middle of Stone Town, Zanzibar made me aware of the possibilities of what I could do early in the morning. I’ve practised rising very early in the past, but that was due to a regime I set for myself. In Stone Town, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter, as various religious town criers would get busy at the crack of dawn, waking up the neighbourhood, to get folks to pray (or do something similar, I guess).

The first time I heard the soundscape, I tried to ignore it, unsuccessfully. It occurred to me that I could draw musical inspiration from the combination of textures and timbres, which included the ringing of bells from a Hindu Temple, a Muezzin calling the Muslims to prayers, street sweepers and possibly traders using carts and wheelbarrows to carry their wares from one place to another. I decided that I would use my digital recorder if I heard anything similar on a subsequent morning, but I never heard anything quite as startling after that, for the rest of my stay.

The pathways and alleyways in Stone Town are unbelievably narrow, so one could hear everything that one’s neighbours were up to. Thankfully, most people there didn’t play loud music on their stereos, as people sometimes do in London. I don’t know if it would have been bearable to hear such a cacophony of sounds at any point in the day.

Evenings were not that different. The Hindu Temple would have long praise and worship sessions, with people singing, clapping and probably dancing to the sounds of tablas and harmoniums. Part of each service was probably amplified. I say this, because the music would continue playing for many hours, but after a while it seemed to be relatively subdued.

Now that I’m back in London, it still feels eerie when I wake up to hardly any sounds at all. Before I left for Zanzibar, I thought the North London seagulls were becoming particularly noisy in the early hours of the day. Now, I don’t even notice them.