Our city icon for this week is no other than Fatuma binti Baraka (c.1910s – 17 April 2013) also known as Bi Kidude. She was a Zanzibari-born Tanzanian Taarab singer. She is considered the undisputed queen of Taarab and Unyago music and was inspired by Siti binti Saad. Bi Kidude was born in the village of Mfagimaringo and was the daughter of a coconut seller in colonial Zanzibar. An interesting gist about Kidude is that her exact date of birth is unknown, and much of her life story is uncorroborated, giving her an almost mythical status.
As a child, she was singled out for her fine voice and, in the 1920s, sang locally with popular cultural troupes, combining an understanding of music with an equally important initiation into traditional medicine. At age 13, after a forced marriage, she fled Zanzibar to mainland Tanzania. There she toured mainland East Africa with a taarab ensemble, visiting the major coastal towns and inland as far west as Lake Victoria and Tanganyika. Kidude was once reported to have walked the length and breadth of the country barefoot in the early 1930s, while fleeing another unhappy marriage. In the 1930s, she ended up in Dar es Salaam, where she sang with Egyptian Taarab group for many years.
Then in the 1940s, she returned to Zanzibar, where she acquired a small mud hut to be her home. Widely known for her role in the Unyago movement which prepares young Swahili women for their transition through puberty; she was one of the experts of this ancient ritual performed only to teenage girls. The ritual uses traditional rhythms to teach women to pleasure their husbands, while lecturing against the dangers of sexual abuse and oppression.
Bi Kidude goes down in history as one of the greatest music composers characterized by real African tune as featured in African culture. Some commentators considered her to be “the myth” and “the legend”. One of the unfortunate things about Bi Kidude is that there is no published book documenting her life apart from the known video documentary “As old as my Tongue -The Myth and Life of Bi Kidude” by director Andy Jones. Some musical experts have called upon the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania to come up with a full Biography of this icon.
Her fame has been widely acknowledged throughout the local Zanzibari and Zazibari tourism community and has a luxury hotel on the island ‘236 Hurumzi’ naming their restaurant ‘Kidude’ in her honour. She was often found residing within the lobby of this hotel in Stonetown.
Bi Kidude has worked with various Taarab groups, but her first solo work is called Zanzibar, and it demonstrates Bi Kidude at the peak of her performing power.
In 2005, Bi Kidude received the prestigious World Music Expo Award – WOMEX for her outstanding contribution to music and culture in Zanzibar. Regarded as a national hero, she was honoured with the national merit award of Tanzania.
Did you Know?
- Kidude, a legend in East Africa, was thought to be around 100 years old when she died on Wednesday 17 April 2013 at her home.
- She reportedly performed and toured up until months leading to her death.
- She was best known for Taarab music, which combines Arab and African influences.
- Her first solo work is called Zanzibar
- She was often found residing within the lobby of the hotel ‘236 Hurumzi’ in Stonetown.
- Bi Kidude was a diminutive and wrinkled figure with a haunting voice, and she displayed immense energy on stage, beating a large drum clamped between her legs and occasionally drawing on a cigarette or taking a swig of liquor from the bottle.
- She started her singing career back in the 1920s.
- Bi Kidude courted controversy all through her life, notably for openly defying her Muslim religion by smoking and drinking openly and was noted as the first Zanzibari woman to sing without a veil.
- In 2005 she received the prestigious World Music Expo award for her outstanding contribution to music and culture in Zanzibar.
- She was regarded as one of Zanzibar’s most famous musicians and cultural icons.
- When she was born, Zanzibar – once a famous port for slaves, ivory and spices – was under British colonial rule.
- Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of rock legends Queen, was also born on the island, but left as a teenager for Britain.
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