Zanzibarred!

One of Amsterdam’s less-known but worthwhile tourist attractions is the Tropenmuseum, or Museum of the Tropics, housed in a magnificent late-19th-century building way over on the east side of the city, generally outside the radius within which most tourists venture. True, its original purpose was as a storage and display point mostly for what the Dutch colonial authorities were looting out of the lands where their authority held sway (the same could be said of the British Museum, or indeed the Louvre), but time has moved on since then and the facility is now known simply as an interesting museum for non-Western cultures – even if what is contained within still probably originated as loot from those non-Western areas where Dutch colonial authority once held sway.

The museum’s sister-institution, installed in its eastern wing, is the Tropentheater (English version unfortunately not yet available), which offers a platform for the staging of usually non-Western-related musical and drama productions. And coming up this week at the Tropentheater (starting tomorrow) we had an interesting affair called the “Zanzibara Festival”: a festival of music and films about the Swahili culture of East Africa, predominately in Kenya, Tanzania, and yes, Zanzibar. At the center of the festivities was the Kilimani Qusida Group from that Indian Ocean island, a group of Islamic musicians specializing in Sufi music (Sufism is essentially Islamic mysticism), scheduled to travel out of Zanzibar for the first time in their lives to come play in Amsterdam. I’ve seen posters for this Zanzibara festival all over town – I even saw them on a visit to Antwerp a few weeks ago.

American readers will probably already be hearing the alarm bells over all these plans, why I’ve been describing this festival in the past tense (“we had”) rather than in the present. A bunch of Muslims out of East Africa: they would never get permission to visit the US in today’s climate, would they? – not without about at least a year’s worth of screening, investigation, and passing-on to the Department of Homeland Security’s massive banks of computers of all the personal data that could possibly be sucked out of them. You just can’t be too careful; a bongo drum offers plenty of space for the smuggling of some Semtex explosive, say.

Well, I’m sorry to have to pass on today’s report in the Dutch newspaper Het Parool that the Kilimani Qusida Group has failed to gain the required visas from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry refuses to comment; we’re left to our own speculations why this has happened. (“Kilimani” – too close to “kill a man”? “Qusida” – too close to “Qaeda”?) The one thing that is not in doubt is that there will be no Zanzibara Festival, at least for now: the Tropentheater has had to call it off.

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