Siti Binti Saad, mother of taarab | African history | -

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Siti binti Saad was born in 1880 in the village of Fumba, on the main island of Zanzibar, Unguja, which is now part of Tanzania. Born into a poor family, she sold pottery on the street before moving to Zanzibar in 1911. There, she began working with musicians and soon became famous as a taarab singer. She practiced music until a late age and died in 1950.

Siti binti Saad (Comic Republic)

Why Siti Binti Saad is renowned?

Siti binti Saad was a star of the taarab musical style, a music she herself strongly influenced. Endowed with a beautiful and powerful voice, she was even invited to perform at the sultan's palace. But Siti binti Saad did not just sing for the elite: she also played for the working class and her house was a place of exchange and debate.

Why did Siti Binti Saad have a pioneering role?

Before it taarab was generally interpreted by educated men who sang mostly in Arabic – the language of the small elite of Zanzibar. Siti binti Saad, who had no formal education, was the first famous female singer of the genre and popularized taarab music using the Swahili language. Her role was such that the British Gramophone Company brought her to Bombay, India, to capture her voice, making her the first East African artist to make commercial recordings.

What are the songs of Siti binti Saad about?

Always listening to the workers, Siti binti Saad relayed their concerns in his music. His songs talk about daily life in Zanzibar and real events. The songs are social critics, denouncing class oppression, corruption, men's abuse of women, and the shortcomings of the legal system. This is why taarab, the art of the female show as it was shaped by Siti binti Saad, is highly political.

Siti binti Saad (Comic Republic)

Who was inspired by Siti binti Saad?

Siti binti Saad has inspired many musicians and paved the way for other taarab singers. She was for example the mentor of Bi Kidude, who has also become a taarab star. Siti binti Saad met the famous Swahili poet Shaaban Robert, who wrote his biography, "Wasifu wa Siti binti Saad". Published after his death in 1956, this book is an important work of Tanzanian literature and is still studied in schools. Shaaban Robert called the songs of Siti binti Saad "the pride of East Africa"and his recordings"a great light in the darkness"Left to posterity." A magazine devoted to women's issues, published by the Tanzanian Association of Women in the Media, also refers to the artist: "Sauti ya Siti","Siti's voice".

What is the heritage of Siti binti Saad?

Siti binti Saad has produced more than 250 songs, but only a few of his original recordings exist today. His music is still widely performed in Zanzibar, Tanzania and beyond. His songs are part of the standard repertoire of many taarab groups. In addition, the year 2017 was marked by the creation of "the Siti Bint Saad Institute", whose goal is to preserve his songs and promote the values ​​and culture of Zanzibar.

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Aude Gensbittel, Salma Said and Gwendolin Hilse contributed to this story which is part of the series "Roots of Africa". A series launched in early 2018 by Deutsche Welle, in cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

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