Bi Kidude, Zanzibari Taraab singer, dies

Taarab star Bi Fatuma Binti Baraka,  popularly known as Bi Kidude, performs during a show in Nairobi, Kenya 13 October 2006

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Tanzanian singer Fatma binti Baraka, known as Bi Kidude, has died at her home on the island of Zanzibar.

Thought to be more than 100 years old, she was a legendary performer of Taarab, a style of Swahili Arab-influenced music.

In 2005, she was awarded a prize for her contribution to world music at Womex, the annual gathering of the world music industry.

She continued performing and touring until recently.

Start Quote

She removed the veil - that was really revolutionary and so controversial”

End Quote DJ Rita Ray

Correspondents say Bi Kidude's performances were known for their intense energy; she often beat a large drum and danced on stage as she sang.

She also broke Muslim taboos by openly smoking and drinking alcohol, they say.

'National treasure'

According to Womex, she started her career as a Taraab singer in the 1920s.

"She not only helped to maintain the cultural heritage, but also reinvented it, infusing it with local rhythms, Swahili language and matters of everyday life," Womex said about her in 2005.

The singer's exact date of birth is not known, but she is believed to have been born in 1910.

Bi Kidude was the subject of a documentary, As Old As My Tongue, a few years ago which reported that she began breaking rules at an early age, running away from a Koranic school at the age of 10.

"What was special about Bi Kidude was she lived the life that she wanted to live," DJ Rita Ray, who worked on the documentary, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"When she started singing Taraab, the female singers sang beneath the veil. She removed the veil - that was really revolutionary and so controversial.

"She followed her own spirit. She ran away from two husbands, she was childless, she drank, she smoked, she really broke their rules but at the same time she embodied all the great cultural aspects of that island."

The singer was also generous with her time, teaching upcoming musicians, and with her money.

"She'd go away touring around the world - come back with thousands and within days Bi Kidude was penniless because she was looking after everyone whether they were relatives or people coming with hard luck stories," Ms Ray said.

Bi Kidude was also a reputed herbalist, known for her asthma cures with people queuing for her medicine, Ms Ray added.

"She was just true to herself. There're not many people who can withstand that kind of controversy all their life," she said.

"And in the end she won everybody over - she is a national treasure now."

Do you remember Bi Kidude? Did you ever go to one of her performances? You can send us your memories using the form below.

The first day I met Bi Kidude was during the TEDex event in Dar es Salaam back in September 2011. During a lunch break everyone seemed quite overwhelmed with her presence and took pictures of her from a distance while having lunch and snacks. I approached her and asked in Kiswahili if I should bring her water or juice. She raised her head and the eyes said it all: No. Silently and meaningfully she opened her empty pack of cigarettes, which I quickly filled with my Marlboros. After she inhaled the smoke for a few times, she started talking and said she wasn't hungry. The second time was in Poland, last year, during the Brave Festival. I happened to take pictures and videos there and was delighted to hear she came over. It might have been her last performance outside of Tanzania because shortly after she ended up in hospital for a few weeks. Knowing that I might be one of very few Swahili speakers around and how destitute she may feel about that I impatiently waited in front of the theatre in Wroclaw before her performance. She had another smoke with me but didn't recognise me. Me and my friends took a video though and here it is, I posted it today on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DB3uzTUyykgFirst - Bi Kidude says in Kiswahili that she has been everywhere around the world and knows everything about it. I sing to her a famous Tanzanian song acknowledging her efforts as a woman to travel a lot. Then she sings back and the chorus is meaningful: "Good bye. I am going to my place. You will all remember me."

Helena Goldon, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

I had the honour of meeting and interviewing Bi Kidude during the late 90s for a radio station I was working for at that time in Helsinki. She was in Finland with a retinue of Taarab musicians from Zanzibar. Being my first time of knowing about her, I was simply amazed that a woman of that age could possess such voice and energy that she had, for I was made to understand that she was in her 80s then. She was a rare gem and a gift to the world. May her great soul rest in peace.

Ike Chime, Helsinki Finland

The following link - http://on.fb.me/13mQfAf - leads you to my photo series of Bi Kidude captured on stage and backstage in Maputo/Mozambique in September 2007 and in Zanzibar in February 2008 plus links (on the album comments) to simple video impressions of those performances.

Werner Puntigam, Linz, Austria

I saw her perform at the Sigalagala women's festival at the Godown in Nairobi's industrial area and after the show I helped a VOA journalist interview her. I had just spent more than a year in Tanzania - so my Swahili was at its best. After the interview I was still hanging about - trying to gather my fortitude to launch into a conversation. She insisted I speak my mind. I had a million things I could have asked her about - and I asked her a cigarette by default. So I was able to bum a cigarette from her. She had a Tanzanian brand unavailable in Kenya which I had come to favour. She was totally cool about it :) Bi Kidude hoye [hurrah in Kiswahili]!

Monari Ogari, Nairobi Kenya

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