An institution and musical legend, Zanzibari singer Fatuma binti Baraka, known as Bi Kidude, meaning “Little Thing” in Swahili, died last week Wednesday (April 17th) in her home.
No one knows exactly how old the singer and drummer was when she died – reports range between her late 90s to well over 100 years old – but she started her singing career in the 1920s, and left a unique musical legacy which fused African and Arabic culture into what became Taarab music.
Known for her haunting voice and energetic performances despite her age, she performed and toured up until very recently before she died.
A diminutive figure, watching her performances online (which I’ve been mesmerized by for the last hour or so), she displayed a strength and energy, which impresses, given how old she’s believed to be – for example, forcefully beating a large drum clamped between her legs, and while singing.
In 2005, Bi Kidude received the prestigious World Music Expo (WOMEX) award for her outstanding contribution to music (in recognition of her 80 years as a singer) and culture in Zanzibar (her role as cultural ambassador for Zanzibar, and advisor to younger generations globally).
According to WOMEX, her big break came in 1989 when she was part of a group from Zanzibar who visited Germany performing as a member of Mohamed Ilyas’ group Twinkling Stars. European audiences immediately warmed up to the songstress with her wit and voice.
And since then, she’s traveled the world, far and wide, leaving a remarkable, indelible impression on all she met and performed in front of.
You’ll find a few comprehensive obituaries of Kidude online penned by those who are far more familiar, some personally-so, with her and her music than I am.
And as I learned while researching Kidude, a documentary film on her life exists!
Titled As Old As My Tongue: The Myth And Life Of Bi Kidude, the documentary feature, directed by UK filmmaker Andy Jones, was released in 2006 by ScreenStation, as a portrait of the legend in her home island of Zanzibar.
It screened at film festivals around the world, and was eventually released on DVD (at least in the UK) in 2009. Amazon merchants have it for sale HERE. Or you can contact the company that released it or the filmmaker via the film’s still-existing website HERE.
Given that it appears to be the only film about Kidude ever produced (although I could be wrong about that), I’m sure Andy Jones and ScreenStation are probably fielding lots of phone calls and emails about it right about now.
Here’s a 7-minute preview of the documentary (you’ll also find many clips of her performing on YouTube, which I encourage you to watch, and familiarize yourself with her music at least):