Siti binti Saad

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Siti binti Saad (1880–1950) was a pioneering artist in the taraab genre of east African music. In an era in which male singers predominated, she was a pioneer as a woman singer in the genre. In contrast to previous singers who sang in Arabic, she sang in Swahili. She sang in cities of the coast of Kenya, Tanganyika and Zanzibar. [1]

The peak of her career was from 1928 to her death in 1950, during which she recorded over 150 gramophone records in India. [2]

Subsequent to her death, more women singers appeared in formerly all-male singing clubs. [3]

Life History[edit]

She was born in the village of Fumba, Zanzibar in 1880. She was given the name of 'Mtumwa'(slave) this is because she was born during the Arab slave period. Siti was given the name by an Arab tribesman.

Her father was Saadi a person of the Nyamwezi tribe from Tabora and her mother was a person of the zigua tribe from Tanga, but both were born in Zanzibar. The living conditions of their families were very poor and were engaged in agricultural activities and pottery works that Siti had learned and mastered well.

As the Swahili say "being born poor isn't dying poor" Sita was blessed with the special gift of singing. This gift had helped since her earlier life, she used singing to sell her mothers pottery. when siti sang her voice was able to fly and travel a distance of many miles this was a signal for the people to know Mtumwa's pottery were being sold that day. She was said to have the lungs with great strength like a lion's.

Since at that time education for female children wasn't taken seriously, Siti wasn't able go to school nor attend quranic studies. So she decided to move to the city to better her life. Her coming was in favor because she met a man from the of taarab group of "Nadi Ikhwani Safa", named Ali Muhsin. At that time this was the only group of taarab music founded by Sultan who loved comfort and luxury Barghash Said. This was a group of men alone, women were not allowed to join musical groups as it was labelled as indecency. Lord Muhsin had seen only the gift of the Sita and so he volunteered to teach her singing to follow musical instruments and Arabic. After that he introduced her to the other "Nadi Ikhwani Safa" members who without hesitation began to organize for her various performances in the community. They received many invitations especially from the Sultan and other rich Arabs, also in various weddings and other celebrations.

As time went by her fame rose. In 1928, record company music of Columbia and His Master's voice with its quarters in Mumbai India heard the fame of Siti binti Saad and so they invited her and the group to record in Swahili. The company could not believe how the music was selling since the average player managed to sell 900 recordings during the first two years, and up to 72,000 were sold in 1931 . Due to the spread of this album, the popularity of Siti exceeded people from different parts of the world were coming to Zanzibar come to see her. Things got even better for Siti since the Columbia record company decided to build a music recording studio in Zanzibar known specially for Siti binti Saadi.

Siti continued her musical activities until old age, shortly before her death she met the famous writer and poet Shaaban Robert, who interviewed her to write her biography in a book he called "Wasifu was Siti binti Saad." This biography is seen to be the best in literature ever written in Tanzania. This book is used to teach secondary school in Tanzania.

On July 8, 1950, Siti binti Saad died leaving a huge gap in the field of taarab. Although a gap that can not be filled, but there are many people who can sing the emergence and popularity of taarab through him, an example is Ms. Kidude.

Siti Binti Saad rose from the oppressed classes to make taarabu music her vehicle calling for social justice in what is now Tanzania. She protested class oppression and men's abuse of women; her song "The police have stopped" sharply criticized a judge who let a rich wife-murderer go free. She seemed unafraid even of the sultan. The battle leadership of a Pawnee elder saved a village from atttackers, and so she was named "Old Lady Grieves the Enemy." Afterward, she taunted wife-beaters, telling them to go after the Poncas who came to burn up the village, and leave the women, who do no harm, alone.

Even after her death, her name is still widely used as a model for bravery, the Association of women journalists Tanzania (TAMWA), has used her name to pay the name of their party newspaper "Voice of the Siti." To this day Siti is used as a measure of teaching taarab. And is remembered in history to be the first woman in East Africa to record e music in an album.

Example on CD anthology recording[edit]

  • Echoes of Africa: Early Recordings (Wergo SM 1642 2) [4]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]