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Freddie Mercury Museum in Zanzibar

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Apart from a fantastic beach vacation, Officially, Zanzibar is an archipelago of 75 islands. Zanzibar is also referred to as a political and administrative entity, a semi-autonomous region within Tanzania and the capital of the autonomy state. The largest island is oficially named Unguja, but it is widely called simply "Zanzibar" both in Tanzania and English-speaking communities. For the sake of simplicity, we will also refer to the famous tourist destination as Zanzibar. (Tanzania, East Africa) can offer travelers in Stone Town to visit one of the most authentic Freddie Mercury museums. It is closely connected with the origins and childhood of the rock icon - located in the house where the Queen’s lead singer’s family lived, this cozy museum is filled with things and vibes telling us the story of the earliest and most important period of Freddie's life and, consequently, about everything that came after.

Freddie Mercury Museum, Shangani, Stone Town in Zanzibar
Freddie Mercury Museum, Shangani, Stone Town in Zanzibar

Freddie Mercury House, Stone Town, Zanzibar

On a street in the old Stone Town, Zanzibar, a passer-by might notice a bright three-story building. Sometimes tourists stop here, taking photos of the facade and selfies at the background of its door decorated in Indian-inspired tradition. But, if you walk closer, you can see a sign that reads "Freddie Mercury Museum Zanzibar" with a recognizable silhouette of a man standing with his legs spread wide apart, one hand holding a microphone stand and the other with his fist up.

A handsome man wearing a bushy black mustache is smiling shyly from the posters decorating the ground floor window. This is Freddie Mercury, the legend whose fame and popularity have not diminished even decades after his passing. This guy was a living representation of why some people are called stars - and continues to do so after he left this world some decades ago. As if Freddie wanted to get this thought further across to people, you can read his quote in the same window: "I'm not going to be a star, I'm going to be a legend."

Sign near the entrance to the Freddie Mercury Museum
Sign near the entrance to the Freddie Mercury Museum

Freddie Mercury is perhaps the world's most famous native of Zanzibar. The museum collection contains original photos donated by his family and loved ones and other artifacts received by the museum from Queen Productions Ltd. directly from the UK. The museum is always playing Queen music, Freddie's voice vibrates inside. The atmosphere plunges you into the world of the Great Pretender, who found the island of Zanzibar and even the island of Great Britain too cramped for himself, which made him create his world of the immersive music universe.

Is the museum building itself of genuine historical value for Freddie Mercury fans? Yes, it is - Freddie’s family had lived in this house for a few years before leaving the island for good during the In January 1964, after gaining independence from Britain a month earlier but still remaining a sultanate, Zanzibar rebelled against the authority of the Arab sultan. Within hours, the rebels seized key facilities in the capital but the sultan and his family and members of the government managed to escape. This was followed by riots and massacres of the Arabs, Indians and Europeans on the islands of the Zanzibar archipelago. Many people, including the Bulsar family, had to flee Zanzibar. This house’s steps and walls still guard the memory of a naughty boy who was later recognized and cherished by the entire world. Today, the walls of this house tell the story of the time and place where the Star was born through the photographs and memories of the boy’s contemporaries.

When Freddie Mercury was Farrokh Bulsara

The museum is only a few years old. Its creators were inspired by the success of the film "Bohemian Rhapsody" rated 7.9 on IMDb. The key objective of the museum founders was to tell the story of where and how Freddie Mercury’s personality grew. The museum did not have much space to share the archive and create an adequate setting - only one spacious room is allocated for the exposition, while the rest of the house is occupied by a hotel with few rooms.

Founders Andrea Boero and Javed Jafferji managed to immerse visitors in the world of Freddie Mercury's childhood and adolescence, where he was yet known under his parents’ name, Farrokh Bulsara. This part of the exhibit is the most vivid. It shows the old Stone Town under British and Arab rule and the streets where Farrokh and his friends used to go to school and run to the beach after the classes to play and swim in the Indian Ocean.

Here one can see an old photo of Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, where Jer Bulsara had a baby boy in 1946, and a birth certificate with crossed out and rewritten biodata when a poor clerk got it all wrong at first. As a child, Farrokh was greatly influenced by the traditions of Zoroastrianism practiced by his Parsis are an ethnic group of Iranian origin that left Persia in large numbers in the 8th and 9th centuries when the Arabs imposed Islam on local population. Parsis are united by their affiliation to Zoroastrianism, a religion based on the teachings of Zarathustra. Most of the Parsis fled to South Asia, primarily to India. Today there are more than 100,000 people in the world who consider themselves Parsi parents. Outward manifestations of Zoroastrianism cultural tradition also reach visitors’ attention - here, you can see how the Parsis dressed in the 40s, what rituals were like in the Zoroastrian temple that is now demolished, and where Farroukh was a frequent visitor as a child. Back in the days of Mercury’s infancy, about 300 Parsis resided in Stone Town. Today, only two are believed to remain in the entire Zanzibar.

A soon-to-be rock star
A soon-to-be rock star
Farrokh as a baby Farrokh in his school years,
Farrokh as a baby Farrokh in his school years,

Preserving the history of Freddie Mercury's connection to the colorful culture of Zanzibar's Old Town is what the museum in Shangani, a coastal neighborhood of Stone Town, has succeeded in. Here's a one-year-old infant posing on a pouf in a photo studio (that photo studio still stands on Shangani Street and is owned by the son of the photographer who took that picture). Here's Sabin, a dark-skinned nanny walking in the backyard with a smiling baby in a stroller. And here's a five-year-old boy with a festive wreath around his neck standing in the garden of his family home on Parsi New Year's Day. Looking at the photographs, reading the captions, and delving into the memories of Freddie’s sister, who helped fill up the museum with these memories in its early days, is a real treat for a curious tourist.

A small museum, yet a great pleasure

The Museum in Zanzibar is a must-visit for those who consider themselves fans of Queen and Freddie Mercury - and for anyone else who is interested in seeing the iconic spots of the island. A couple of rules to keep in mind will help you get the most complete impressions of a short and - for some - incredible museum trip in Stone Town.

Freddie Mercury’s piano and iconic jacket in the interactive hall of the Museum
Freddie Mercury’s piano and iconic jacket in the interactive hall of the Museum

Choose the hottest time of the day

Stone Town is one of the hottest and sweltering places in Africa. The houses stand close to one another, and the narrow sultry streets intricately twist into a bizarre tangle and do not let the wind into the town at all. Hardly you can find any shelter from the scorching sun as you wander through the stone streets. Only sparse cafes and museums bring salvation. The Freddie Mercury Museum is one of them - it has air conditioning.

Plan your visit for the hottest part of the day, and take your time roaming around the photo galleries. Look at the pictures, absorb the lyrics, and enjoy the cool air and Queen’s music. Stick around the spot where concert recordings are broadcast on a screen. Keep away from the steaming streets until you are cooled down properly.

Refrain from reading reviews before you go

Quite often, people carelessly review the places and sites they've been. You can find a bulk of info about the Freddie Mercury Museum in Stone Town online, too, but not all reviews are worth reading. We advise you not to read anything at all but to boldly go to the museum and see it with your own eyes.

Some tourists see the building itself, take pictures hastily, and go into the hotel instead of the museum, getting back disappointed and blank. Others expect to see a rare exhibit of Mercury’s personal belongings, and neither the piano nor the recognizable jackets and suits impress them. Others walk through the room briefly but spend three times as much time writing a negative review. Only thoughtful and attentive visitors write something worthwhile.

It makes more sense to consider the museum where the Bulsara family lived as part of the Stone Town and Zanzibar history and as an excellent addition to other museums where you can learn about the slave trade, the Arab heritage in Zanzibar, and the local traditions. Only if one keeps all of these interrelated parts in mind as a comprehensive picture can one leave honest feedback. 

A museum unit on Mercury's life in England
A museum unit on Mercury's life in England

Keep Calm and Pole Pole

Throughout Tanzania and Zanzibar, the phrase "pole pole" reflects the local philosophy of a leisurely life and no fuss. That’s probably the best rule for visiting the Freddie Mercury Museum. The longer you stay, the more details you see, and the brighter your impression is. It is likely that the museum might spark a new wave of interest in the musician’s personality, even among those who are totally deaf to the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen.

Here are a couple of quizzes for your stay at Freddie Mercury Museum from Altezza Travel - to make it funnier and test your attention to detail:

  • When in the museum, look for a star similar to the stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame;
  • Spot errors in Freddie’s birth certificate made by a hasty hospital registrar;
  • Find the memoirs of Farrukh's friend named Bonzo and read on three top biking places of Zanzibar teenagers (one of them is a must-visit on a separate excursion - the hides where slaves were confined);
  • Search for a review sheet written in your native language - there is a suggestions board behind the souvenir exhibit, or write your own if you can’t find it.

What else you can see in Freddie’s museum

The exhibit is divided into several visually distinct units. At the entrance, you are introduced to Stone Town's past, which smoothly brings you to the time when the Bulsara family had their firstborn. The following units correspond to the periods when Freddie Mercury studied in Panchgani in India, his first musical successes after he moved to the UK, the popularity of Queen, and the last years of the musician's life when he was already sick.

Freddie Mercury’s handwritten lyrics
Freddie Mercury’s handwritten lyrics

One of the most remarkable units displays a collection of drafts with song lyrics. Queen fans can see their favorite lines here written in the author's hand. Under the band's logo, there is a story of Queen's creation told by the artist himself - Freddie Mercury studied at the art school and was an excellent painter.

Closer to the end of the exhibit, you can read the touching story of the artist's last song, Mother Love, told by his bandmate and Queen’s lead guitarist Brian May. Next to it, there are framed prints of photos of Brian May himself, posted on his Instagram page (we did find them on Brian's Instagram, so it's all fair and square). The photo shows Brian visiting a newly opened museum and other places in Stone Town where Freddie spent his childhood days. Brian May said that he had dreamed of going there his whole life.

Queen's performance at the Live Aid charity concert was hailed as the best show in music history
Queen's performance at the Live Aid charity concert was hailed as the best show in music history

If your dream is the same as Brian May’s, perhaps it is the best reason that might ever bring you to Zanzibar. And we haven’t even told you about everything else that you can find on Shangani Street! It is impossible to put everything you see and feel here into words. Getting to the museum yourself is the only way you can feel that the show must - and is going on.

Revised on 12 July 2022
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