Bi Kidude, Zanzibar’s most famous cultural ambassador and legendary barefoot diva of taarab and unyago traditional music returns home tomorrow morning after a three month concert tour in Europe and will be welcomed at Zanzibar port by a carnival of floats and admirers.

Bi Kidude’s exact date of birth is unknown, much of her life story is uncorroborated, giving her an almost mythical status. Kidude started out her musical career in the 1920s, and learnt many of her songs with Siti bint Saad. She has performed in countries all around Europe, Middle East and Japan and finally recorded her first solo album (“Zanzibar”, Retroafric Recordings) only six years ago, while in her mid-eighties. Recently she released a second locally-produced album (“Machozi ya Huba”, Heartbeat Records)  with her traditional drums influencing the burgeoning Zenji Flava local hip-hop scene in one of the most remarkable juxtapositions of musical style in modern ‘World Music’. Since fleeing a forced marriage at the age of 13 and escaping her homeland of Zanzibar, Bi Kidude has led an extraordinary and varied career as a drummer, singer, henna artist and natural healer. Her first journey was to the mainland of Tanzania, where she walked the length and breadth of the country barefoot. Fleeing a second unhappy marriage, Bi Kidude boarded a dhow, the ancient sailing vessels of the Swahili coast and journeyed north to Egypt where she became a renowned singer in the foremost dance bands of 1930’s Egypt. With renewed confidence and a new attitude to tradition (by now Kidude had thrown off her veil and shaved her head!) she returned, slowly to Zanzibar where she acquired a small clay house in the 1940’s and settled down to life grounded in the traditional roots of society. Her role as part of the ‘Unyago’ movement, which prepares young Swahili women for their transition through puberty and excelled at the art of henna designing for young brides, manufacturing her own ‘wanja’ application from age old recipes fit ‘to make a rainbow shine’. To this day, Bi Kidude performs traditional unyago music and is still the island’s leading exponent of this ancient dance ritual, performed exclusively for teenage girls, which uses traditional rhythms to teach women to pleasure their husbands, while lecturing against the dangers of sexual abuse and oppression. Her many talents were acknowledged by Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) at the second Festival of the Dhow Countries in 1999, when she was awarded “Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to the Arts.”  Bi Kidude’s is a remarkable story, one which challenges our perception of age, and of the role of women in Islam. She has never conformed to the media stereotype of a Muslim woman ever since she removed her veil. To see a ninety-something year old Muslim woman drink, smoke, flirt, dance and drum is a unique experience. To witness the transformation as she reverses the ageing process and changes from a wrinkled granny into a vital shining star is nothing short of revelationary. For the past three months Bi Kidude has been setting the festivals and concert venues of Europe ablaze, where she has been receiving rapturous reviews of her performances with Zanzibar’s illustrious Culture Musical Club taarab orchestra. With her humble manner, incredible stage personality, voice and strength, Bi Kidude is favourite with audiences wherever the group performs. Midway through this tour, the whole of Zanzibar was thrown into shock and disarray when a rumour spread fast through the island that Bi Kidude had died. From the narrow streets of Stone Town to the barazas of N’gambo and throughout the villages this was the only topic of conversation as the island rapidly acquired the atmosphere of mourning. This rumour continued to spread even long after the offices of Busara Promotions had disseminated confirmation from Bi Kidude’s European promoters that on the contrary, she was alive and very well. She may have been surprised to hear that people in Zanzibar think that she has died: "Sijafa bado. Labda sababu watu hawajaonana nami sasa karibu mwezi. Lakini bado tunaendelea na safari na bado safari ndefu ya miezi miwili. Lakini sijambo, sina wasiwasi miye. Kuimba naimba na nguvu zote ambazo ninazo ili watu wafurahi." “I haven’t died yet. Maybe people are saying that because they haven’t seen me around for almost a month. But we are still continuing our tour which lasts for two more months. Me, I’m well, I have no problem. Me I sing with all my strength and continue to make people happy.” Next month she will be packing her drums and travelling again, to perform a series of shows around KwaZulu Natal at the invitation of Awesome Africa Festival, culminating in a shared performance with South Africa’s legendary Mahotella Queens. Tomorrow morning when Bi Kidude finally arrives back in Zanzibar, her reception will be one that she and the island will never forget. There will be a carnival-like procession of vehicles and people lining the streets with the sounds of drums, singing and kidumbak music, and the rallying cries of the Zanzibari people as they rejoice: “amefufuka, amefufuka!!” (“she has risen again, she has risen again!!”) Bi Kidude’s welcoming reception will start at Zanzibar Port at 9am on Thursday 5th August, 2004. Organised by Kidude’s Restaurant together with Busara Promotions, ZIFF, Emerson & Green’s, Dhow Countries Music Academy, Heartbeat Studios and others,  contact 0747 428478 / 024 2232423 or emailfor more information.