SETTING THE STAGE ON FIRE

Reporting on the 2003 Zanzibar International Film Festival, Miguel Suleyman wrote in The Express on July 3 that, with their music reminiscent of the Kilwa era, Sidi Goma, the African Sufis of Gujarat, India, set the stage on fire at the opening of the Festival. ‘The group’s performance of ritual music and dance captioned qawali, dhamal and baithi, was clearly a reflection of the African root of call and response, improvisational talking drums and common Bantu phraseology. Sidis are African Sufis of Gujarat, India; they were brought in as slaves to Maharajas and Nawab families of the time. Yunus Babu Sidi, the group leader, told ‘The Express’ that there were many Kiswahili words in their songs, but none of them understood their meaning. “We have preserved the culture and dances of our ancestors for more than seven centuries ….. however, we think people of this region understand them better than we do and we rely on them to help us connect to our past…. We have preserved a lot from our ancestors, the word Goma (refers to Ngoma in Bantu language) represents dance to us. But we think our visit to our people here will bring some productive changes in our life” he said. Sidi Goma performs in a group of twelve, four lead musicians (drums/singers) and eight dancers. The performance centres around a dance zikr (remembrance), consisting of joyful, satirical praise dances to their Saint Bava or Bava Gor, who is attributed with giving them the joy they express in their dances. Intoxicating drum patterns that speak the zikr prayers in rhythm, support the dancers who perform virtuoso feats of agility and strength. They gradually reach an ecstatic climax which ended with a coconut being thrown high in the air and, when it landed on the head of Nazir Gulamhusein, broke into tens of pieces splashing its juice on the excited audience. The acts of Sidi Goma featured solos on malunga, an instrument resembling the Brazilian Berimbau or East African Zeze, while the circle dance, with people coming to the centre platform, was more exhibitionist dancing, indicative of the slave dances of Zanzibar. Juma Khamis Pandu, a resident of Zanzibar, told ‘The Express’ that the faces of the Sidi Goma group members resembled the Tumbatu people of Pemba, or those from the Tanga coastal line, mainly Pangani. The features of the musicians -thick lips, height between 5.4 and 5.6 feet and the general facial appearance -suggests that Sidi Goma are the descendants of the Kilwa empire, which ended in the 15th century when the Portuguese interrupted its trading activities.

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