Performance and lyrics

The performance

The Swahili song Kijiti, whose text was composed by the famous taarab artist Siti binti Saad (1898-1950), is performed by the udi player Said Nassor and the old taarab singer Bi Kidude, who is also well-known in Zanzibar for her ngoma performances. The performance took place on July 7, 2002 during the 5th Festival of the Dhow Countries (Tamasha la Nchi za Jahazi). The venue of the performance was the Stone Town Cultural Centre in the old part of the city of Zanzibar, Mji Mkongwe, often referred to as Stonetown.

This kind of performance shows an important aspect of the contemporary context of traditional taarab (taarab asilia) in Zanzibar town. This is the strategy used by taarab artists to exploit the notoriety which is connected to the global market of so called ethnic music and which can help the groups to find sponsors for their tours and the recording of CDs. This consideration, however, does not imply that this kind of performance is aseptic, ‘false’ or ‘unnatural’. One of characteristics of the taarab art is in fact its great versatility, the capacity to be adapted to different social and cultural exigencies and contexts. The audience at the performance consisted of both foreigners (cultural operators or tourists) and local people. The whole audience was, of course, fascinated by Bi Kidude's beautiful interpretation. She is considered to be Siti’s heir and, people say, often visited Siti’s home in her childhood. Most of the foreign people did not know the words to the song, which, on the other hand, were known by heart by most of the Zanzibari participating spectators. They sang along at some parts of the song and one of them, Mariam Hamdani, the manager of Bi Kidude's taarab performances, typically showed her satisfaction with the performance by making an offer (kutunza) to the singer.

The lyrics

The lyrics sung by Bi Kidude are two strophes of Kijiti. This song was composed by Siti binti Saad to express her anger about the abuses committed against women that often remained unpunished. She sang about an episode of sexual violence and murder in which the perpetrator escaped to Dar es Salaam, whilst the women who had accused him of the crime were arrested and considered guilty because they had organized the meeting where the crime took place and brought alcoholic drinks. Kijiti is one of the numerous songs that were played by Siti and her musicians during the informal sessions in Ng’ambo private houses, which presented a good opportunity to make frequent impromptu comments about people from the neighbourhood or relevant social events. This was recalled by Khamis Shehe, an old violinist who used to play with the Culture Musical Club: &“Ehee, Siti binti Saad mashairi yake yalikuwa hayako kama ya sasa. Siti binti Saad tofauti, alikuwa anaimba mashairi vile vile ya mapenzi, mashairi ya kumuimba mtu. Akifika huho ghafla akifanya ujuba na mambo siyo, ataimba hapo hapo na watu watacheka wote.” (‘The lyrics of Siti binti Saad were not like those of today. The songs of Siti binti Saad were different, she used to sing both love poetry and lyrics to criticize someone. When she arrived at a place she would suddenly start to provoke, she sang, improvising, and everyone would laugh.’)