A Sidi Goma performance in connection with the Second International Theatre Festival of Kerala showcased the rich musical tradition of this community.

The 10-day Second International Theatre Festival of Kerala at Thrissur started with a performance by the Sidi Goma. A tribal Sufi community of East African origin, the Sidis came to India eight centuries ago and made Bharuch, Gujarat, their home.

From Africa, they brought with them their rich musical tradition, which they have managed to keep alive through the generations.

Music as a tool

Most of the Sidis are musically inclined as they see music as a tool for becoming closer to their God, Bava Gor. Over time, the Sidis' native music styles mingled with those of the Gujaratis, which evolved into a unique African-Indian flavour for their music. However, their singing and dancing were only amongst their community until a performance in Delhi (in the Eighties) brought them into the limelight. Cultural authorities, especially the Western Cultural Centre, Udaipur, identified the magic of the Sidis' music and helped them adapt their performance to suit a modern stage. And soon their songs, percussion and dance – the flames of which were kept with them for the last 800 years – began to light up venues in India and abroad. A new costume also gave them a new look.

The Sidi Gomas perform in groups of 12: four lead musicians (drummers/singers) and eight dancers. Mukarbhan, mushindo, thaz, thamama and mayi mizha are the musical instruments used for the performance. These are all identified as African instruments. However, these instruments have now lost the continuity of their tradition in East Africa where they came from!

The programme in Thrissur presented an overview of the Sidi's ritual performance consisting of joyful, satirical dances to their Saint. Intoxicating drum patterns supported the lively and energetic steps of the dancers.

As the tempo of the music increased, the dances unfolded with constantly evolving individual and small-group acts of spontaneous improvisations, which also saw them miming animals and performing circular dances. The second half of their performance was the highlight when the performers broke coconuts on their heads while dancing.

Although the songs rendered are in a variety of languages: Arabic, Swahili, Hindi, Gujarati…, Sabeer Siddi, the leader of the group, says: “In India people think of us as Africans, although we are Indians.” The regional Theatre of Thrissur, the venue of the festival, reverberated with the beats of their songs and dance. As the performance came to an end, one could not help but wish for the next round of Sidi Goma performance.