ZANZIBAR, Tanzania — Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist of the British rock band Queen, spent his childhood on a small island thousands of miles from Britain.
Zanzibar is offshore of Tanzania in eastern Africa. Between March and May, the island’s inhabitants endure a long rainy season.
Hopping over puddles, I meandered down narrow alleyways between old white-walled buildings before arriving at “Mercury House,” the vocalist’s childhood home. Though Mercury died more than 20 years ago, his popularity lives on.
An endless stream of tourists, mainly from the United States and Europe, visits the house, which is now part of a hotel. Mercury, whose real name is Farrokh Bulsara, was born here to Persian-Indian parents.
“When he was a child, he never studied, but always sang and hummed,” said Diana Darukhanawalla, a relative.
At about the age of 8, Mercury moved to India to enroll in boarding school. Though he returned to Zanzibar around 1962, he didn’t stay for long.
It was a difficult time for the island, which had been discovered by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in the late 15th century and Portuguese began to settle there soon after.
Arabs from Oman also began to increase their presence on the island from about the 17th century. Zanzibar became a hub for the trade of ivory, spices and slaves. It became a British protectorate in 1890 and gained its independence in 1963.
But the following year, African residents revolted against Zanzibar’s Arab rulers. The same year, Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika on the African mainland to form what is Tanzania today. Ajar Patel, 80, who witnessed those tumultuous times, said, “Many stores were attacked and many Arabs fled the island.”
This led to the flight of residents with Indian roots to escape the disarray. In 1964, Mercury’s family was among those who emigrated to Britain. Mercury majored in arts at university and performed in some bands.
In 1971, he formed Queen with guitarist Brian May and others, and they debuted as a professional band in 1973.
The band made megahits “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions.” Mercury became extremely popular, particularly in the United States and Europe, but rarely spoke about his personal history in public. Jason King, an associate professor of New York University and a music industry expert, said, “The hard rock music in the late 1960s and 1970s ... was not a supportive place to launch a career” for artists who were not white.
Since Mercury’s parents were Indian and he was born in Zanzibar, King said, “he likely felt he needed to camouflage his identity.” In contrast with his huge popularity in the United States and Europe, Mercury was less popular on his home island. Mercury was gay and Zanzibar is 90 percent Muslim, a faith opposed to homosexuality. Queen died in 1991 after making public his battle with AIDS.
In 2006, some local people planned a party to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Mercury’s birth, but were forced to cancel the event because an Islamic organization strongly opposed it. As to how Mercury felt about his home island, it’s anybody’s guess.
However, Mercury sings part of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in an overdramatic way, as if mocking the Western tradition of opera, which is part of the heritage of former colonial countries.
Some music commentators interpreted the song as representing the views of people who were oppressed by colonial powers. “‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ could only have been written by Freddie Mercury, given his African and Indian roots,” said King.
Kuroiwa is a correspondent in Johannesburg. link
Micky, why do you bother? Really?
Again, this is absolute pish, lacking in any real interest to anyone here - full of stuff we already know, so nowt new.
And AGAIN "Freddie died of AIDS in 1991".
twisted muslims eh, they didnt realise freddie was a genius instead they rejected him just because he is gay, how petty.
Zanzibar should be so so proud of freddie, but sexuality takes over things, so he gets dismissed.