Zanzibar’s music icon, Bi Kidude, is dead


Registered User
RIP Bi Kidude.

Zanzibar’s music icon, Bi Kidude, is dead

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Legendary East African Taarab musician Bi Kidude is dead. She passed away in her native Zanzibar.
She died today, 17 April 2013.

According to a statement by the management of Sauti za Busara, an African music festival that is held every year in Zanzibar and Tanzania, “It’s with very heavy hearts that we confirm the news that Fatuma binti Baraka aka Bi Kidude has died in Zanzibar (19??-2013). We will always remember her and be grateful to her for her voice, her spirit, and her immortal contributions to Zanzibari music and culture. Rest in Peace, Bibi! We love you.” (photo by Peter Bennett during Bi Kidude’s last public performance at Sauti za Busara in February 2013)
She is considered the undisputed queen of Taarab and Unyago music and is also a protégé of Siti binti Saad.
Bi Kidude’s exact date of birth is unknown, much of her life story is uncorroborated, giving her an almost mythical status.
In 2005 Bi Kidude received the prestigious WOMEX award for her outstanding contribution to music and culture in Zanzibar.
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. Bi Kidude toured mainland East Africa with a taarab ensemble, visiting the major coastal towns and inland as far west as Lake Victoria and Tanganyika. She walked the length and the breadth of the country barefoot in the early 1930s fleeing another unhappy marriage.
In the 1930s she ended up in Dar es Salaam where she sang with Egyptian Taarab group for many years.
In the 1940s she returned to Zanzibar where she acquired a small mud hut to be her home. She is known for her role in the Unyago movement which prepares young Swahili women for their transition through puberty. She is one of the experts of this ancient ritual, performed only to teenage girls, which uses traditional rhythms to teach women to pleasure their husbands, while lecturing against the dangers of sexual abuse and oppression.


Earth Angel
What an amazing woman! I'm saddened to only be hearing about her at the time of her passing. But it's a privilege nonetheless...

Such intoxicating music!


Registered User
More on the late Tarab music queen.

Empress of East Africa, Bi Kidude RIP
It was 2011 and we were preparing for TEDxDar. Behind schedule as always, we needed to get Bi Kidude, this iconic figure on our stage. We wanted to hear her voice and her story in an intimate way. We wanted to experience her magical presence, her Diva, on the small stage, away from the large international concerts and festivals such as Sauti za Busara where we had become accustomed to seeing her. Was she still alive we asked ourselves, for it seemed every four weeks in the previous four years there was at least one rumor of her passing. How would we even get in touch with such a legend? This authority of culture must surely be hard to find – but find her we did.
We released some fillers and finally managed to get a hold of her manager, one of her nephews at the time. And we managed to book for this icon, set to arrive in Dar es Salaam from Zanzibar. Having organized with her nephew manager, we were skeptical that the iconic Bi Kidude would be so accessible. But we realized this reality as she arrived with more spice than could be filled on an Island. Arriving at the docks of Dar es Salaam by boat, our posse went to welcome the Empress of East Africa to Dar es Salaam.
Her handshake, firm, hid all other appearances of age. “How was your boat ride to Dar es Salaam?” we asked her. In a charming way, she seemed to have misinterpreted the question. “Ahh mimi bara lizima nimeshalizunguka miguu peku…” (“Ahh I have circled the whole mainland barefoot!”) She went on a diatribe about how this was not her first time on the mainland, she had in fact circled it barefoot three times before we were even born… She was liberating ears before TANU had even brought independence. Perhaps she understood the question exactly, but her discernment was to educate beyond small talk. DIVA.
“Tomorrow we will need you at the National Museum and House of Culture where our event is being held. We will pick you up for rehearsals.” She agreed to come and see the venue, but rehearse she would not: “Do I look like I need rehearsal?” her gaze seemed to say.
She was sitting outside the Museum veranda on event day, burning through her classical pack of Embassy cigarettes, we sat in wait – anxious. When the bell struck, she was on stage, our closing act. And close she did.

Bi Kidude is beyond a cultural icon, a national figure, an orator, a historian, a legend, her humility, her statuesque authority transcends a legacy like no other. Her loss is a great one to Tanzania and the world over though we shall not mourn but celebrate her excellency. Rest in Power, Great Empress.
Here are some videos to remember her by. Below is Bi Kidude in a drum circle beating the drum with her dancers in a ubiquitous dance style of going round in a mduara (circle) and gyrating:
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In “Kijiti” Bi Kidude speaks of rape; since there are subtitles you can see her wizardy skills of composing, storytelling. Kijiti returns the defiled girl deceased, this could be spiritually or physically:
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Bi Kidude sings one of her classics, “Muhogo Wa Jang’ombe”, where she explores themes of sex and midwifery:
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And finally, “Alaminadura” (Ar. “the Universe is Round”). In Swahili there is the similar proverb “Dunia duara” (the world is round): you will come back to the starting point:
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