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I Shot Bi Kidude

One of the oldest singers in the world, and a woman who liberated African music and women rights through her own silent personal revolution - is subject to the eye of a very European documentary-maker

Gender disparities are an increasingly popular topic, and so it is good to fly the flag of women’s rights. Some activists dedicate their lives for this cause, such as the Chinese activist Hooligan Sparrow (click here in order to read the article about the eponymous documentary). But some women do a silent revolution through their own personal life choices. Bi Kidude is one of them.

Kidude grew up in the village of Mfagimaringo, Tanzania, where her father was a coconut seller. She was a pioneer in Zanzibari society, as she was one of the first women to lift the veil and sing in public. Bi Kidude was a singer with a daunting voice and a mesmerising presence at stage. She died at the age of 102.

Her music – Taarab – is an Arab-Swahili fusion that combines violins, flutes, drums and Arabic instruments, such as oud, a central stringed instrument of Arabic music with origins in Persia 3,500 years ago. Her performances include dancing and throat singing, which are associated with war and hunting. In Southern Tanzania, there is also the Makonde tradition, in which all-women groups play the drums. Bi Kidude’s significance to African music is comparable to Fela Kuti’s, who created the Afrobeat in Nigeria. Afrobeat uses music to broadcast political opinions against the dictatorial Nigerian government of the 1970s and 1980s. The informative documentary Finding Fela! (Alex Gibney, 2014) explains this in more detail.

I Shot Bi Kidude is a documentary about the final days of Bi Kidude. The British director and radial presenter Andy Jones, who had toured with her previously, received an email stating that Bi Kidude had been kidnapped. He promptly flew back to Zanzibar in order to “solve the mystery”.

In his attempt to reconstruct what was happening to Kidude, Jones described the events with his very own words. He interviews Kidude’s relatives, people who used to play with her, music festival organisers and her former manager. This is in reality Jones’ version of the story. It is a tale from an observer narrated in first person. In that sense, I Shot Bi Kidude is akin to the famous TV series ‘India seen by Rossellini’, in which the iconic neo-realistic Italian filmmaker presents India to the general public in 1956. ‘India vista da Rossellini’ is not about India; it is how Rossellini saw India, and it is very clear that it is a subjective documentary from its title. Likewise with I Shot Bi Kidude.

The film becomes more interesting in the second half, when Jones finally captures Kidude singing and express her art, feelings and opinions more extensively. Then the documentary speaks about Kidude’s personal liberation – she was after all an African woman who had no children, and whose art has always been exploited. The story turns into a report of an aging and lonely woman, whose only happiness is music.

The film will be screened in early July as part of East End Film Festival in London. Click here for tickets and information about the Festival, and watch the film trailer below:


By Maysa Monção - 29-05-2016

Maysa Monção is a Brazilian writer, teacher, translator, editor and art performer who currently lives in London. She has a Masters Degree in Film Studies from Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy, ...

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