‘Siti’ is an arabic prefix meaning ‘lady’ and this record reignites the passions of the trailblazing Siti Binti Saad and the golden timbre of Muharam, her descendant and heir apparent to a singular, artistic legacy.
This ‘Siti’s of Unguja’ story begins with Siti Binti Saad’s birth in 1890 in the small fishing village of Fumba (on Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago) to parents who had been freed from slavery.
“Siti Binti Saad is like a holy text for Zanzibari Taarab.
Over the last fifty years the music shifted back to more formal times. More recently, Bi Kidude worked to keep Siti Binti Saad’s legacy alive and, although musically different, she used some of her distinct scales. Bi Kidude connected with me because of the shared love for these scales.
The mood and times have changed and once again this essence is alive and with the young people. The groove of the original with the mood of today.
From meeting in a rehearsal studio in Dhow Countries Music Academy to the completion of a recording in ten days, it has been hard but now we’re in a new place. A band and a sound have come to life.
When teaching traditional music, it’s difficult to prepare students for recording and performance, as the facilities and opportunities are rare.
I know that all the musicians, even myself, have grown and risen.
Siti Muharam especially. For me, she was a lost artist. I have tried to help her keep the name of her great-grandmother alive but was often alone.
This project gave her an opportunity to embrace her Great Grand-mother’s legacy and to see how important Siti Binti Saad is. It also allowed her to see that her own golden voice is a blessing in itself. Fadhil, Gora and Nema all gained from this project and together we’ve grown.
This record is deeply personal and yet tells a history. Take ‘Nyuki’, which was my father’s song, who himself was a student of Siti Binti Saad, learnt her scales and her way with melody. On ‘Siti’s of Unguja’ we found the original feeling, the melodies, the ways that she innovated and connected Taarab to the people. The past has helped us find a future sound, so a new generation can go with the groove whilst carrying the method.
The sound is new, although, in a way, it’s awoken something real that had been forgotten from the time of Siti Binti Saad.
A new taste, a beautiful taste of the people of Zanzibar. It’s what my people will like and this record will reach them and audiences overseas. This makes me happy. Zanzibari ears will hear how fantastic this record is. It’s a rare thing in Zanzibar to have such quality in lyrics and melody; some of the sounds on this record were dying.
Siti Muharam’s golden voice carries the essence of Siti Binti Saad and her connection with Zanzibari culture.
NMR (photo press: Siti Muharam)