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Taarab singer Bi Kidude was one of Zanzibar’s greatest cultural ambassadors and influenced a generation of musicians.
Bi Kidude won many accolades, including the Womex Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding contribution to music and culture in Zanzibar.
She is the subject of the prize-winning documentary As Old As My Tongue. Nobody knows when she was born – the best guess is the early 1900s – but the legendary voice of Zanzibar died on 17 April 2013.
Young South African musician Thandiswa Mazwai has a gallery on her website dedicated to 13 women who inspired her by living their lives by their own rules.
Over Bi Kidude’s picture are the words “the voice from Zanzibar that shook me”.
Born Fatuma binti Baraka, she was affectionately known as Bi Kidude or”littlething”.
The tiny queen of taarab music embodied and yet radicalised Zanzibar’s musical traditions.
As a child she would run away from home and Koranic school to learn drumming from Arab sailors, leading to her mastery of the msondo rhythms of unyago, the secret female-only rite of passage preparing young women for marriage.
Siti binti Saad, the first superstar of taarab, was her idol. Young Bi Kidude sat under Saad’s window “like a thief in the night”, soaking up her repertoire.
Bi Kidude later formed her own taarab bands, performing in the nightspots of Zanzibar at a time when women did not perform with men unless they were separated and sang under veil.
Bi Kidude broke the rules and re- moved her veil.
Many Tanzanian ‘Bongo Flava’ hip-hop artists revered her. Fid Q, one of the giants of the scene, recorded Juhudi Za Wasiojiweza with her.
He reflects that “Bi Kidude was an active musician to the end, a poet on top of her game. Bibi [little granny] was inspirational, in a league of her own, and I feel blessed to have worked with her.”
The video of Ahmada that she recorded with OffSide Trick has more than a million hits on YouTube. Singer and songwriter Ashimba collaborated with Bi Kidude on Kidjana.
Amazed by her energy, her passion for music and the way she transcended age when she sang, he argues that the quality and quantity of her international performances made Bi Kidude the country’s greatest export and cultural ambassador.
“Yet she was a grandmother to everyone and always had time for a joke and a chat,” he says.
When he asked her why she smoked, she replied: “I can’t stop smoking. I have to smoke and sing until I die.”
– The Africa Report