Zanzibar Relies on Freddie Mercury Tourism, While Condemning His Lifestyle
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People are always trying to capitalize on any connection that a place or object might have to a celebrity, no matter how tenuous, so the fact that Zanzibar has built a tourism industry out of its status as Freddie Mercury‘s birthplace is hardly surprising. As Vice points out, however, it’s more than a little hypocritical.
A semi-autonomous part of the East African nation of Tanzania, the islands of Zanzibar are subject to many of the same laws and cultural biases as the rest of the region, including harsh legal penalties for anyone caught participating in same-sex acts. As Vice reporter Eleanor Ross points out in her piece, Mercury’s homosexuality — and overall flamboyant lifestyle — stood in direct opposition to the cultural limits Zanzibar’s government seeks to impose. Of course, that hasn’t stopped its residents from actively reaping the economic benefits of their association.
“I like Freddie Mercury very much. He brings much money to this island, because many Americans and British people come to visit his birthplace,” one tour company employee told Ross. “This is good because it means I can buy my sons a television that they want. But in my religion it is not good to be a man with a man. The new laws in Uganda are right. These people should be punished because what they are doing is ungodly.”
As the article points out, Mercury only lived in Zanzibar until 1964, when the future Queen frontman — still a teenager — moved to England with his family and never went back. Tours dedicated to his time there are still popular, however, and they continue to draw an increasing number of visitors, many of whom don’t care to follow the local customs, possibly helping set the stage for a brewing culture clash between traditional and Western values.
“Although I love the tourists coming, I do worry about the way of life here,” another tour guide added. “Will it become the West? Who knows.”