The street grid of Stone Town in Zanzibar is like a sadistic joke; one’s bearings get knotted up like a ball of yarn. Zanzibar’s last sultan, Barghash bin Said, who was in power between 1870 and 1888, is credited with laying out the town’s roads, among other things. Getting lost in the tapestry of architectural and cultural influences that have washed over the island, you might join the sultan in a chuckle, peace be upon him. Old Customs House, a white two-storey block facing the ocean, is relatively difficult to miss — a few metres from the harbour and next to a huge construction site. From outside, Afropop, classical music, reggae and hip-hop compete with the cacophony created by trucks and construction machinery. Inside, the higher up in the building one goes, the less audible the noise becomes. On the top floor, the Dhow Countries Music Academy’s (DCMA) classrooms and rehearsal spaces form a rectangle, each of the doors facing the central courtyard. To the right, through the pia...

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