The Old Fort advertises displays of African music and dancing, accompanied by a buffet dinner, for 10,000 Tsh (about $10), beginning weekend evenings at about 7pm. This sounds like a great idea. The setting has potential, since it's a wide paved area surrounded by walls, about 100 yards from the sea. There's a row of shops along one wall selling wooden carvings and Tingatinga paintings. Patrons are seated at picnic tables, and as they wait for the show to start, a waiter serves the usual array of Tanzanian beer (about $1.50 each, not included in the buffet price).
Unfortunately, the standards for the dancing and music are dreadful. Instead of the wonderful traditional hip-shaking motions of local dance, the dancers, wearing plastic "grass" skirts, just hump each other (with the exception of one man, presumably the lead dancer, who runs around humping the pillars of the porch, some nearby trees, and audience members). It was embarrassing--not because it was sexy (sexy's great), but because it was crass, dumb, and debased, aimed at the kind of tourist who can't tell grass from plastic. It would be less painful if it weren't pretending to be authentic. As a deliberate parody of colonial stereotypes of the hypersexualized African, it might even be funny. But, alas, it's meant to be taken straight.
I was there with a group of six, and everyone of whom found a different reason to suffer: a musician in the group was miserable because the music was repetitive and poorly performed, another person was most distressed by the looks of glazed boredom on the dancers' faces, and another mostly insulted at being taken for someone dumb enough to think this was real African dance.
We never got as far as eating the food, but we saw it set out, and it looked mediocre: some unidentifiable kebabs and one unsafe-looking raw salad. A greater variety of better food is available for the same price or cheaper in restaurants throughout Stone Town.
From the point of view of cuisine, culture, and health, you're much better off eating dinner in the Forodhani Gardens across the street, which is what we did after demanding our money back from the Old Fort--a completely uncharacteristic action on our part, which tells you how angry we felt to have been taken in.
September 21, 2004
From journal Zanzibar Spices