Experience the renewal of an art form when musician Rajab Suleiman and the ensemble Kithara bring taarab music direct from Zanzibar to the Moss Arts Center stage on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 7:30 p.m.

Rajab Suleiman & Kithara will perform in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Moss Arts Center’s Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

Taarab music has defined Zanzibar’s aural landscape for over a century and is known for its mix of Arabic and western instruments, diva-worthy vocalizations, and Swahili lyrics. Historically, taarab orchestras could include 60 or more musicians, but the last 20 years saw synthesizers and drum machines displacing musicians. Virtuosity, as well as audiences, were lost.

In 2012 Suleiman and a few younger players formed Kithara, a pocket orchestra capturing all the sonic specialties of acoustic taarab in an original, dynamic way. In uniting older and younger generations, Kithara’s musicians are embracing the music’s Arabic and Ottoman underpinnings, calling out influences from Cuba to India and welcoming Zanzibar’s folk rhythms and stories.

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The eight-member ensemble explores the subtle beauty of maqamat, the system of modes and ornaments that drives Arab classical music, and pairs it with interweaving rhythms that are distinctly African. Sensual dance rhythms unfold on instruments like the qanun, oud, violin, and accordion. Earthy vocals by masters like Makame Faki and up-and-coming singers like Saada Nassar touch on universal themes.

This marks the ensemble’s debut tour to the United States as part of Center Stage, an exchange program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts.

Ruth Waalkes, associate provost for the arts at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Moss Arts Center, traveled to Africa in 2015 with Center Stage to recruit performing artists for the program.

Kithara will also lead a workshop with members of Itraab, an Arabic music ensemble composed of Virginia Tech students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. Translated as “delectation” or “diversion by music,” Itraab was founded in 2014 as a component of the Moss Arts Center’s Islamic Worlds Festival. Led by ethnomusicologist Anne Elise Thomas, the ensemble performs traditional and contemporary Arabic songs, accompanied by percussion, qanun, oud, cello, violin, voice, and guitar.


Tickets for the performance are $25 for general admission and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email kmcallis@vt.edu during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to an event.