ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Feb. 10, 2006 (AP) _ Singing of sex and domestic violence, Bi Kidude pounded her drum and shouted ancient Swahili lyrics, delivering a nonstop 40 minutes of African tradition with a hip-hop flavor.
An impressive performance by any standard, and all the more so for a 93-year-old.
Kidude’s performance, which mixed once-secret bridal initiation songs with a distinctly feminist voice, was one of the highlights of Sauti za Busara, or Sounds of Wisdom, a music festival which brought together performers from across East Africa to Zanzibar to celebrate the region’s music, both traditional and modern.
The five-day festival is three years old and drew record crowds in February but is still a labor of love for its organizers, offering music ranging from drumming to Afro-pop fusion to Swahili hip-hop.
Director Yusuf Mahmoud said a primary goal of the festival in Tanzania’s Indian Ocean archipelago, besides drawing tourists, is to promote traditional music forms, “but if we were to have traditional music only, what we would find is that local audiences wouldn’t come.”
What young people want is rap music, known here as Swahili Bongo Flava, he said.
Mahmoud said admission is free early in the evening to attract young people to the traditional acts before the modern music begins.
“Popular hip-hop musicians are starting to think of ways to work with local, traditional musicians, or at least use traditional rhythms in their music,” he added.
Groups such as Tamarind Band and Jagwa Music combine electric guitars with traditional drumming and dancers for spectacular performances that are uniquely African, with a modern sensibility.
The festival also showcases performers hoping to keep ancient music alive. African Ngoma, Black Roots Culture Club and Mkalimala Culture Group use handmade instruments and play ritual music.
Korneli Kijogoo, who drums, sings and dances with Kyandu Music, said the festival reaches young people, but also brings musical minds together.
“We can communicate and also learn something from the other groups,” he said.
While the festival remains little-known outside East Africa, some Western tourists are coming.
Americans Christina Lindholm and Richard Harris planned their visit to Zanzibar around the festival.
“I like ethnic, local cultural music. When we travel, we look at faces, we look at the things people make, and music is one of those things,” Harris said.
February afternoons in Zanzibar are hot and humid, and most of the audience seeks shade by the fortress’ coral walls. But once the sun sets and an Indian Ocean breeze comes ashore, a cup of sugar cane juice and a skewer of grilled fish keep most people going until midnight.
During her night in the spotlight, Kidude performed a song normally played only for teenage girls that explains how to sexually please their husbands, but also to stand up against abuse and oppression. Backup singers echoed Kidude’s lyrics, while acting out her instructions through dance.
In predominantly Muslim Zanzibar, such frankness is normally reserved for women’s only gatherings. Kidude’s mix of tradition and women’s advocacy wins widespread praise. She is a legend for keeping ancient ritual music alive while revealing it to the world.
Her rhythms have been featured in recent Swahili hip-hop recordings, creating an exciting mix of the ancient and the modern. During the festival, it was clear that younger generations had embraced a woman who has been performing since the 1920s — and that she in turn embraced them.
Every night, whether she was performing or not, she could be found sitting in the front row, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and keeping time whether the music was classical Taraab or hip-hop. Young artists continuously gestured to her throughout the night.
On the Net:
Busara Promotions: www.busaramusic.com