Monday, 8 October 2007


Andy Jones film on Zanzibar music legend Bi. Kidude
While going through the various reviews regarding “As Old as my Tongue” the new documentary on Bi Kidude, I was captivated by London's Guardian piece, Sultans of Swing, in January 2007.
"Zanzibar's music traditions are, it seems, becoming more popular among foreign fans than the young local people who take their home grown music for granted.”

And no wonder while 50 plus people sat and watched the film at Arcola Theatre there weren’t any Tanzanians to witness the occasion.

Part of it is the low key manner in which the ongoing African music, mine and music movement festival has been. Part is, Arcola theatre, as beautiful and cosy as it is, isn’t your normal cup of tea for Tanzanian communities in London. Theatre going is not a habit for your average African struggling to make money to send home,anyway.
Having said that Andy Jones deserves praise for bringing the sunshine of Zanzibar to Londoners. The 66 minute documentation of this fascinating woman takes you through stuff you never hear of anymore.

Andy (centre) flanked by Onyekachi Wambi, moderator of the film screening (right) and a fan, Peter Neal.

The history of East Africa, traditions (“singer, doctor, big sister, sex therapist,” wrote Sandy Bettison of The Times) , Arabs, racism and prejudice (Taarab music), Islam (that Bi Kidude defied stereotypes. “She has been breaking rules since she was ten years old and ran away from the Koran school to the Stone Town docks” say Screen Station Producers ), was teaming up with the legendary singer Siti Binti Saad. Even I, who read her biography by the great writer Shaaban Robert, never actually knew how this East African Josephine Baker, looked like.
Andy Jones film not only shows a photo of Siti Binti Saad, it explains a lot about her through the consistent, powerful voice of Bi Kidude. The camera lens illuminates her. A woman with many stories, who went through several epochs and generations. She is narrating like a typical grandmother telling her great great grandchildren about a past they only witnessed in history books. She is “herstory.”
In many documentaries I have seen the film maker interferes with your viewing. In “As Old as My Tongue” the participants become pilots, drivers, cooks, leaders, narrators. The film maker is almost absent.

Film viewers, Chris and Ilka Scholkermann, enjoying the after show with a drink.
There is Taarab music throughout (plus it’s history). There is also the most important detail. Zanzibar itself. Streets, seaside, food (ugali), houses and one more detail. This intrigued the audience so much it came out during the question and answer session at the end of the movie. There was the Taarab music (which the questioner called Arabic music, in Tanzania we call it Swahili music) and the Jando na Unyago ceremony portrayed lengthily and graphically.

Andy had a busy evening; posing with everyone including this grinning blogger.

You don’t see these female bonding ceremonies anymore these days. And it is not about gender hatred. It is about a woman’s joy. “Age doesn’t matter as long as the thing is working,” Bi Kidude ashamedly celebrates sexuality.
Bi Kidude is shown leading the drumming of “Women Only” rites of passage ceremony. Now someone called that eroticism. But it isn’t. Little is known about ancient rites of passage, these days. Is the hip shaking and gyrating that we see erotic or it is part of a very serious female emancipation? Chakacha for example a popular East African dance is normally done by women who have given birth to restore normality and get rid of midriff fat.

Andy with Benjy Neal, who loved the film too.
And in the film where Bi Kidude’s multiple personae takes over as a percussionist the film exposes culture, rituals, countries, mysteries. This has been made possible because Bi Kidude has lived long. Performing since the 1920’s and still cooking for her family and guests, flirting with young guys, smoking, drinking beer, singing her guts out throughout the world. You should check out the film. Andy Jones who formed the Screenstation Collective with Suzy Gillet in 2000 says it took 8 months to make in a three year period starting in 2003.
Visit or
To see clips or contact Andy.
The DVD is out soon.

Andy, flanked by Onyekachi, answers questions after the screening.

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