Freddie Mercury’s Zanzibar Roots – What the film forgot!

November 16, 2018

Freddie Mercury’s Zanzibar Roots – What the film forgot!

Filed under: Tanzania Odyssey News — Tags: , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 11:01 am

With the recent release of the Bohemian Rhapsody film selling out in cinemas across the world, we only thought it fitting to talk a bit more about Freddie Mercury’s childhood which was spent in Tanzania’s Indian Ocean archipelago, Zanzibar. Specifically, the then called Farrokh Bulsara grew up in Stone Town, Zanzibar’s spice infused and characterful seaside town.

His early years were spent meandering through the cobbled streets of Stone Town. He lived in the centre in an Arabic townhouse overlooking the sea with his parents and his younger sister Kashmira. His family immigrated to Zanzibar from India before he was born, and they lived there until the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964 where many Arabs were killed, forcing them to flee to England. They originally moved to Zanzibar so his father Bomi could work in the High Court as a cashier for the British Government (Zanzibar was under British protection at that time). Mercury was sent off to a prestigious boarding school in India (St Peter’s Church of England), but as his love for music increased, his grades declined and he ultimately chose to spend the last few years of his course in the Roman Catholic St. Joseph’s Convent School in Zanzibar.

Their house was an enviable one to live in on the island; as they were were well off they could afford a fantastic central position in the town. His family very much practised the Zoroastrian religion, as his parents were Parsees. Loosely and in very general terms, the religion focuses on there being one God (alike with Judaism and Christianity), and also revolves much around Dualism (the force of good and evil opposing each other within a person’s soul.) Unlike Christianity and Judaism though, Zoroastrians believe God’s power is limited and a person’s freewill is tangible (he is not omnipotent).

Some may assume that Mercury rebelled against his religion, due to the scripture’s demonization of homosexuality – he did after all change his name, and go down an extreme path of being the bohemian Rockstar we all know and love him as.  Interestingly though, as urbanisation increased in the 20th century, the religion mostly adapted accordingly. It adapted without losing it’s core principles of “good thoughts, good words and good deeds” – it could be true that this mantra stayed with Mercury throughout his life. The religion he grew up around is something which was not explored in the film, and we can only speculate on the inevitable impact it must’ve had on shaping him into the person he became.

The new film seems to overlook his childhood in Zanzibar, but luckily, we know all about it, and there is no denying that Stone Town is proud of shaping Mercury into the iconic figure he was.

With a rich history and an indescribable charm, it seems fitting that such a historic and influential character begun life here. Only 6 years after leaving this charismatic corner of Africa at the age of 17, did Mercury form Queen. When he was growing up, he spent much of his time learning and practising the piano in his home, a home which is now a main tourist attraction on the island.

Another big attraction for tourists and locals alike is Mercury’s Bar in Stone Town, which captures the spirit of Queen in an unlikely place. It is fun, lively and full of that Mercury and Zanzibari character and a great place to visit if you find yourself on Zanzibar. Taking a stroll around Stone Town really does give you a slice of Mercury’s history, and you can almost taste how his insatiable zest for life brewed on the streets of this charming town, and where ultimately this unconventional and truly free-spirited icon was born.

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