Siti Muharam - Songlines Music Awards 2021 Nominee | Songlines

Africa & Middle East

Siti Muharam
Siti of Unguja: Romance Revolution on Zanzibar (On the Corner Records)

Siti Muharam ©Pete On The Corner Free2
Siti Muharam – Siti Of Unhuja Cover

More than 90 years ago, Siti Binti Saad, Siti Muharam’s great-grandmother, became the first East African singer to be recorded. A legendary figure with a rebellious spirit, Saad took taarab music with its mix of Arabic, Swahili, and Indian influences out of the sultan’s palace and turned it into the popular sound of Zanzibar. She died in 1950 and the story then jumps another 70 years, when a rumour emerged that she had a great grand-daughter who had never been recorded but possessed ‘a golden voice.’ Once she had been tracked down, oud player Mohamed Issa Matona set about curating an album that would bring Siti Binti Saad’s music back to life and, at the same time, shine a light on one of Zanzibar’s hidden talents. The resulting album (a Top of the World in the May 2020 issue) is a revelatory exploration of Saad’s legacy, featuring a combination of songs she wrote and recorded, songs by artists she inspired and some of the music which inspired her. Muharam, in turn, emerges as an intoxicating singer who wears her legacy with pride and adds a noir-jazz slinkiness to the traditional taarab style on a record that is both an evocative snapshot of Zanzibar’s rich cultural past and a glimpse of its future. Nigel Williamson

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