World Music Network were saddened to hear of the passing of Tanzanian legend Fatuma Binti Barak (aka Bi Kidude) on 17 April 2013. Bi Kidude was a Zanzibari taarab and unyago singer.
Her fascinating life was encapuslated in film by the Screen Station team and forms the topic of award-winning documentary As Old As My Tongue. In memory of her, Bi Kidude's friends at Screen Station have made the documentary available to watch for free online.(NB please email Screen Station to obtain a password: email@example.com) To view the full film click here.
Born in the village of Mfagimaringo, Bi Kidude was the daughter of a coconut seller. Her exact birth date is unknown but she was thought to have been over a 100 years old. Her life story is intensely colourful and her stories have achieved almost mythical status. Charting more than 100 years of Swahili music, her legend is a veritable archive of her countrie's rich heritage.
As a child during the 1920s she sang with popular cultural troupes, combining her training in music with an introduction into traditional medicine. Age 13 she fled from Zanzibar to mainland Tanzania to escape a marriage that she had been forcibly entered into. On the mainland she joined an ensemble and proceeded to tour East Africa playing taaraab (popular music from Tanzania and Kenya).
In the early 1930s Bi Kidude found herself needing to escape another unhappy marriage and walked the length and breadth of the Tanzania barefoot. Finding herself in Dar Es Salaam, she began to sing with an Egyptian group, and remained in that ensemble for many years. In the 1940s she returned to Zanzibar and took up residence there once again. At various points in her later career the government asked her to retire because of her age - never one to shy away from controversy Bi Kidude told them to 'concentrate on doing their jobs' and let her 'concentrate on doing hers'. She has famously challenged female stereotypes in her culture, her behaviour challenging perceptions of the role of women in a Muslim society. Bi Kidude drank, smoked and sang - and she made no apologies for any of it.
On stage she always effused energy and was known to beat a large drum clamped between her legs, even in her later years. She was an inspirational figure whose music lives on.