“Today’s screening is due to take place at the Nafasi Arts Space, in the Mikocheni section of the city, as part of the three-years commemoration since the cultural icon’s demise, at an estimated age of 102 years.
The filmmakers, Andy Jones, had arrived in the country last Tuesday, from Newcastle in the UK, especially for the promotion of these two films, so that it coincided with the anniversary of Bi Kidude’s passing on.
“I Shot Bi Kidude” is the latest film, which tells the story of Bi Kidude’s“kidnapping” and subsequent death in April 2013. This followed-on from his first feature,“As Old As My Tongue”, which is said “immortalised” Bi Kidude, who was often referred to as “a chain smoking, rebel rocking legend”in Zanzibar and “a veteran of music stages across the globe” on screen.
“The purpose of this visit is to promote the launch of these two films in Zanzibar and to get more interest, plus screenings, across the country for them,” Jones, told the ‘Daily News’ in a telephone conversation over the weekend.
Jones had arrived in the country last Tuesday, specifically for this purpose, which he says reflects the importance of Bi Kidude for the country. He told the ‘Daily News’ that trying to organise such an event from long distance wouldn’t bring the same result, as doing it from here.
“To me it’s very important that we don’t just show these films once, as was the case in last year’s Zanzibar International Festival (ZIFF), but to do our best that everyone in Tanzania and even East Africa, get the opportunity to see them.
That is why I made a point of physically coming here to go around making arrangements for other screenings. It’s very important that everyone gets the chance to know the story of Bi Kidude,” he suggested.
The two films were screened on Sunday at the Zan Cinema, which is the only one on the Isles, and will be screened at the Nafasi Arts Space in Mikocheni, Dar es Salaam today.
Actually there was a special launch night on Saturday in Zanzibar for invited guest and public screenings on Sunday, at the costs of 5,000/- a person. These screenings, according to Jones, will go on in Zanzibar for as long as the people keep coming.
Yesterday (Monday) he had to go to Nairobi Kenya for some meetings connected with screening the films there, then fly back home to Newcastle this coming Thursday. Jones also told the ‘Daily News’ that he has plans of making another film, which has been inspired by Bi Kidude.
This film follows the Zanzibar-born singer, Mim Suleiman, who is now based in the UK, on her journey around Africa to find more inspiring women.
It’s will be directed by a Kenyan woman called Zippy Kimundu and is being billed as continuing the world-wide festival tour, with select live music performances from Suleiman performing some of Bi Kidude’s most famous songs.
Jones made reference to Mim Suleiman, as being referred to as “the pint sized performer with the planet-sized personality”that looks set to inherit Bi Kidude’s mantle, as the voice of Zanzibar in years to come.”
“This month it will be exactly three years since Bi Kidude passed on, and just as many thought it would be just another commemoration something new is in the offing.
A posthumous film ‘I shot Bi Kidude’ by Andy Jones the man who directed and produced As Old as My Tongue is set to grace cinemas across the world.
And according to some reviewers such as Andy Markowitz of Music Film Web, ‘It is a documentary thriller with a deep emotional core’.
I shot Bi Kidude, a follow up to the first feature acclaimed ‘As old As My Tongue’ tells the story of iconic Zanzibari singer Bi Kidude’s kidnapping and subsequent death in April 2013.
‘As old As My Tongue’ that first immortalised Bi Kidude on screen was called “A delight from beginning to end” by The Independent.
‘I Shot Bi Kidude’ is set for a local premiere in Zanzibar on April 17 at ZanCinema before continuing its world-wide tour with select live music performances by Mim Suleiman who will perform some of Bi Kidude’s most famous songs.
Bi Kidude was probably the world’s oldest singer. A 102-year-old chain smoking, rebel rocking legend on her home island of Zanzibar and a veteran of music stages across the globe.
Her repertoire embraced both classic taarab, a swirling mix of Indian Ocean melodies backed by a full orchestra and also raw power drumming on an African drum, with shattering rhythms and shrieking lyrics from age old women’s initiation ceremonies.
Bi Kidude’s star rose further when she collaborated with Tanzanian hip-hop outfit Offside Trick; becoming the first Swahili video to hit 1 million views on YouTube.
The making of the film started sometime in 2012 when it was rumoured that Bi Kidude had been kidnapped. Unhappy that ‘unscrupulous’ members of the music scene were abusing her goodwill, her nephew Baraka took the ageing star from her home and aired his grievances on television.
News of the saga reached the UK and as the months rolled on with no resolution in sight, Andy returned to Zanzibar to attempt to get to the bottom of the story.
A helter-skelter shoot ended with the crew involved in brokering a fragile truce between the kidnapper and Bi Kidude’s musical friends, but the ailing icon remained under lock and key and prevented from what she loved doing most – singing.
Her final words in ‘As Old as My Tongue’ had been ‘if I stop singing, how will I survive?’ Upon hearing the news, Andy grabbed his camera and headed for the airport, he arrived just in time to capture her funeral which was attended by state dignatries.
Her obituaries in the East African papers compared her to Margaret Thatcher, who had been buried in London the day before.
Zanzibar’s “iron lady” shared none of Thatcher’s politics, but her iron-like handshake and extraordinary force of character grabbed everyone who met her.
A newly re-mastered ‘As Old As my Tongue’ will also be released online on the anniversary of Bi Kidude’s death 17 April, in an innovative strategy, which sees the film premiering online in 44 countries around the world where Bi Kidude performed and where the film has already screened.
Mim who will headline the tour performances was born and raised in Zanzibar. She grew up hearing tales of Bi Kidude and finally met her hero in 2012 when they performed at Zanzibar’s Sauti za Busara music festival.
The last known footage of Bi Kidude is a beautiful scene of her being serenaded by Mim.
The ‘pintsized performer with the planet-sized personality’ looks set to inherit Bi Kidude’s mantle as the voice of Zanzibar in years to come. “
“No one is too old for happiness
I Shot Bi Kidude, a movie on the life of Zanzibar taarab music icon Bi Kidude, opened in UK cinemas on March 21 and will be released in Zanzibar this Sunday, April 17, continuing its worldwide tour. The screening in Zanzibar will be accompanied by select live music performances from Mim Suleiman singing some of Bi Kidude’s most famous songs.
The film, shot and directed by UK filmmaker Andy Jones, is a moving tale of the legendary singer’s last 10 years before her death in 2013.
Shot mainly in Zanzibar’s Stone Town and in the UK, the movie opens with the death of the director’s mother just three weeks before Bi Kidude’s demise on April 17, 2013.
It then develops to show Bi Kidude’s musical journey, her formidable strength and influence on the taarab music scene, the highlights of her career and the director’s connection with Zanzibar and Bi Kidude.
Jones is an ardent fan and was a close friend of Bi Kidude’s, having toured with her, witnessing and recording her high and low moments. This is the second film he has made on Bi Kidude first, As Old as My Tongue (2007) introduced her to international audiences as the oldest singer in the world. The film was described as “A delight from beginning to the end” by the Independent newspaper of London.
Jones’s new film dwells on the lows in Bi Kidude’s life. It shows how things started going wrong after she fell ill in 2012 and was allegedly kidnapped by a distant relative only known as Baraka, who kept her away from her home, friends and Sauti za Busara officials (the organisation is the sole custodian of Bi Kidude’s royalties).
Controversy ensues between Baraka and Sauti za Busara, with the former accusing the latter of abandoning her at her time of need and exploiting her talent.
Jones finally finds where Bi Kidude is being “kept” and shows a sad, dejected and ailing Bi Kidude “hidden” by Baraka away from her home and the life she knew and loved, away from her friends and alleged “exploiters.”
My favourite scene in this film is the part where one of Bi Kidude’s old friends and Jones pay her a visit with the aim of cheering her up and persuading her to let them take her to see a doctor. As the two women chat in Swahili, you can tell that Bi Kidude is suspicious of her friend.
She tells her friend that she has heard that she is one of those who stole from her. The friend defends herself and the three head to the hospital. On the way, Bi Kidude’s friend lovingly squeezes her hand, to which a defensive Bi Kidude reacts strongly against and humorously squeezes her hand back so hard that the friend squirms in her car seat.
It is not certain from the film whether Jones believes Kidude was being exploited. He leaves the audience to judge for itself as he depicts the story moving from one arguing party to the next. He attempts to reach a common ground between Sauti za Busara and the singer, managing to get Bi Kidude back on stage one more time to do what she loves most; singing.
In an emotional scene, Bi Kidude goes on stage at the Sauti ya Busara festival 2013 edition, accompanied by Baraka and Jones. The organisers tell her to just sit on stage as an invited guest, but being the rebel that she is, Bi Kidude will not hear of it. She cannot resist the lure of the microphone.
She gets her way and takes the microphone and she sings, albeit weakly, a far cry from the Bi Kidude the audience knows. She has a hard time handing back the microphone, almost as if crying out for attention, as if silently pleading “I am here, I am still strong, I am alive, I can still sing.”
The film is a well-crafted tribute to a truly remarkable woman. An important lesson that comes out albeit very subtly, is that the old need care, love and support. That they too have dreams and deserve to do what they love. No one is too old for happiness.”
image – East African
text – http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/magazine/I-shot-Bi-Kidude-film-coming-to-Zanzibar-/-/434746/3161112/-/3ikh2az/-/index.html
From: Tanzania Daima 16/03/08
“I have never seen a woman ride a drum before, like a goddess rides a tiger…I have never seen an artist / male or female / anywhere across the world / own her instrument / like it grew out of her belly / like it was welded to her thighs.— Shailja Patel.
Where does one conjure the words to describe this image of Bi Kidude? How does one write of how she looks right into the sun’s eye, threatening it with the fire in her mouth?
How does one write about Bi Kidude?
Those who have been bold enough to write of her refer to her as a fast-talking, chain-smoking, rebel-rocker, ageless and endless. Andy Jones, a UK filmmaker and personal friend of Bi Kidude who collected footage of her before her death in April 2013 and turned it into a feature film, “As Old as My Tongue,” describes her as a force of nature with a bone crushing handshake and a fierce wit, a singer who somehow sounded like a cross between Bob Dylan and Nina Simone, and a percussionist whose conga drum was bigger than her.
Yet, there are no words that capture Bi Kidude as this image by Andy Jones does. It is an image of Bi Kidude with her back on the grass, her head resting on a pillow of hands, a cigarette sticking out of her wrinkly lips. Bi Kidude rests with no care, like one who does not need to be told where she is, one who does not need permission, one who knows that that the sun rests on her face. She looks like someone who knows freedom.
And in her music, she sings it… “You can see, I am free.”
And often, she is quoted… “Don’t be afraid of taking pleasure and being odd in public.”
In this image, Bi Kidude holds the cigarette like something that is not an event, even as I try to make it into one. To me, this moment is radical; it is provocative in a way that is not necessarily intended. To Bi Kidude, it seems mundane; that carefree black girl engaged in a moment of simple pleasures. A cigarette in her mouth and the sun shining on her face. Why must it surprise me? Why must I make an event of it?
On my Twitter timeline, this image is repeatedly memed, mostly accompanied by the word “mood,” like a license one presents to themselves before entering into a carefree zone.
This image is the beginning of a family of images through which I have known Bi Kidude. It reminds me of another one, and another one. There are images of her confronting a microphone with the impossible largeness of her voice in a studio or in front of a crowd. Everything around her pales in comparison, and she becomes that overwhelming presence that tells you that she has been here for a while, that she knows the world, that she has seen things you will never know and that she has lived the best years of her life. This similar presence is felt in the images of her holding a drum tightly between her thighs, riding it like a horse and drumming the music out of it.
In the short time I have known of her, I have memorized images of Bi Kidude’s life as if trying to conjure the memory of someone long lost and loved. In these images, her music comes to life.
I remember the first moment I was overwhelmingly aware of Bi Kidude’s presence. It was also the same time I became aware of her absence. I was sitting in the dark during a solitary trip to Zanzibar at the Sauti za Busara Festival in 2015, surrounded by people I did not know and the hoary walls of the Old Fort in Stone Town. The only light at this moment that stays with me was from the images shifting on the wall, one after the other. And then there was the smoke-filled voice of Bi Kidude and that frightening power in her lungs. I remember how terrifying her voice was, and I could almost smell the cigarettes in her. A documentary by Andy Jones, “I Shot Bi Kidude” was being shown. As I watched this documentary, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Not of her, the musician who had died two years before my sitting there, but the loss of having never known her, a nostalgia of someone I never knew and a deep envy for those who experienced her and her music while she was alive. I imagined going to a Bi Kidude’s performance, being in the audience, in the presence of this old, wrinkly woman. And as I sat in the dark and watched Andy’s film, I mourned Bi Kidude, for all the years I never knew her. This was also the first time I saw this image of Bi Kidude resting on the grass, threatening the sun with the fire in her lips.
Andy Jones has very vivid recollections of the moments leading to this image. It was the summer of 2004 and he had spent many days with Bi Kidude, either at home or out recording the memorable scene on the jahazi which eventually became the opening scene for “As Old As My Tongue.” He tells me by email that the day he took this photo was the end of their 24 hours together in England. “I’d met her off the plane at Heathrow, then accompanied her on the bus to Reading where she was due to perform at WOMAD.”
And so after an amazing performance in front of a crowd of thousands of people, when the rest of the band had already gone back to the hotel, Bi Kidude, Andy, and Sharon, their Kenyan translator, decided to lounge around in the sunny grassy hill, watching people go by. “Sharon had gone completely off-piste, asking her loads of questions about her previous boyfriends, and Bi was doing her best not to give us any straight answers.”
Andy then pulled out his digital camera and held it up to take a photo of himself and Bi Kidude. “She was still lying there, smoking and knowing that the camera would love it—she always had a real sense of that.” He wishes he had taken more photographs of this moment. “Looking back through the album there are only two images; one with, and one without a cigarette in her mouth. I’m pretty sure it’s a Galouise Blonde that she’d brought over from France. Her usual supply of Embassy Reds that she brought over from Zanzibar having long since disappeared.”
Born Fatma Bint Baraka, the daughter of a coconut creeper, Bi Kidude is remembered in several ways. To many, she is the queen of Taarab, following in the unsurpassed footsteps of Siti Bint Saad. Bi Kidude was also the queen of Unyago, which was sacred to women; a right of passage in which sex education was given to a bride-to-be.
It is impossible to speak of Bi Kidude without speaking of Taarab, of how this music has survived and why this image of her is so important. In her paper, “It’s Just Not Fun Anymore,” Laura Fair traces the journey of Taarab through the Zanzibar Revolution. Before the revolution in the early 60s, Taarab clubs in Zanzibar were controlled by women. They are the ones who decided who came into the clubs, who played with them in the bands, and what content was sung and produced. But in 1964, the year of the Zanzibar Revolution, this autonomy was lost. Under the Afro-Shirazi Party, the state took over control of these clubs and appointed men who now determined what women would perform. As with mainland Tanzania, the state also begun using these bands as instruments of its own propaganda. Women now no longer shaped this production. It was no longer that fun place they knew, no longer a place of freedom where they could immerse themselves from the exhaustions and the restrictions of the day and become poets. In one of the interviews by Laura Fair, an unnamed Taarab singer from Zanzibar remembers the good gone days:
Oh we danced! We danced and played! Oh how I enjoyed myself in those days, dancing brought such delight! There was no order, no command to perform. Whatever we decided to do, wherever we decided to go, this was indeed what we did.
In the subsequent years, the art space became misogynistic, existing only for the pleasure of men and the glorification of the state. Censorship by the state meant that those who played in these clubs sang songs of praise for the revolution, for the new president, for socialism. They sang in praise of the flag.
While most women poets and Taarab singers lost their interest completely even after Abeid Karume’s assassination in 1972, some like Bi Kidude survived these times. Even though she became visibly active in the later years, she continued to embody the freedom Taarab held for women. When describing this music, she says that for her, it is like throwing oneself into the sky. The image I speak of is the personification of this freedom she embodied, of the enjoyment that Taarab brought for women.
Bi Kidude challenged life the same way she challenges the sun in this image, with fire between her lips. And indeed there was always fire in her lips.
In a lot of her interviews, Bi Kidude appears as she appears in this image, carefree. Rarely does she sit on a chair. Often, she is holding a cigarette or a packet of cigarettes. Here, I am tempted to make a parallel with the torches of freedom in America’s 1900s where cigarette smoking was somewhat equated to emancipation, a symbol of women’s freedom. But I do not. I am careful about placing labels on Bi Kidude. But I recognize her, I recognize the thing she was doing, and what that could have possibly meant for women in Zanzibar and East Africa in general. Still, she was conservative, a beautiful body of contradictions. Severally in interviews, she insists that young women must dress properly, and especially those appearing in Bongo rap music videos.
“…maana mtoto mwanamke kitovu kikionekana, matusi!” It is a shame for a woman’s bellybutton to be seen.
Andy Jones, while talking about his first encounter with Bi Kidude remembers her as a “shriveled and shrunken presence sitting in a panel of women discussing her influence on women’s cultural practice in Zanzibar.” And what a contrast she was immediately after when she sat on her drum and rode it, beating the music out of it and out of herself. Perhaps, there is nothing rebellious or phenomenal about holding a drum between one’s thighs, or resting the head in the pillow of one’s hands and smoking a cigarette while staring at the sun. Perhaps it is the whole presence of Bi Kidude that terrifies me; something in the person that she was.
When she was 10 years old, Bi Kidude ran away from home. Twice, she was married. Twice, she was divorced. Her life, a journey of looking for that free place. In one of her interviews, she speaks of living the life of a sailor. “I would dress like a sailor, and you would greet me like a brother.” In this image taken just a few years before her death, she seemed to have found that place.
In her own words, she summarizes herself: “I drink, I smoke, and I sing…I do not need a microphone.” I want to read more into this. “I just sing,” she says. So I leave it.”
Text from Trans African