I smiled as I slowly gyrated my hips and waist, my pace even with the staccato Unyago beats. Then her voice pierced my eardrums and fired up the sky, made the air crackle…almost…as the Zanzibar gem sang and played her drum to her heart’s delight.
The crowd just sat there; eyes sparkling, soda in hand, feet taping here and there but most simply wore a blank look on their faces, her music sparked their interest but didn’t move them to their feet. It was artsy, maybe even intellectually savvy, to sit there and soak in the wonders of the singer’s brand of Taarab but they didn’t get up and go with the flow.
But not me.
I danced there in the shadowy sidelines wishing I could twirl around like a little girl in my sundress as I watched her thump her drum. A red and black lesso zigzagged around the enormous oblong piece of wood and taunt sheep skin, forming a sturdy bridge of fabric linking shoulder to waist to surprisingly firm thighs.
Beneath the glare of an artificial sun, she sang to the moon, whispered the secrets of the stars and marvelled at the beauty of the sea. She sang of home, sweet Zanzibar. It was her life put to song and sang to the beat of a drum lovingly tied to her being. An odd piece of wood as old as her tongue.
I loved it when she shut her eyes and let her hands speak, every firm slap, drawn out or quick fast tututututu she sang out the drum, she savoured. Eyes shut, head turned from the crowd, seeing nothing but facing me, an ear brazenly cocked to the amazing sound her hands produced, she felt her music in the core of her being.
I began imagining seeing her music as she might have, as a long whispy stream of a tangible nothingness that germinated and grew and grew and grew, exploding and expanding under her expert hands. The taunt and vast flatness of the sheep skin familiar terrain beneath her calloused palms.
She stood on stage flanked by two backup singers; she, older and obviously more sinewy and wispy haired, was majestic in all her tiny framed glory even if it seemed like they hulked over her. But that didn’t take anything away from her presence, she would always be the star, the sun around which we, perhaps really, I, would always adoringly revolve.
And as her drum reverberated one last time and the last chorus was sang, a silence descended. In that quiet moment, that total absence of sound, that nanosecond before the applause, that’s when I knew it. I just had a moment with magic
©Wanjeri Gakuru 2010
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