Musically rich and helpless in portraying pure emotion, Siti and the Band’s ‘Nielewe’ (Understand Me) builds upon the Zanzibari group’s unique blend of traditional taarab with Western and Indian Ocean influences.
African societies are yet to fully embrace music as a reasonable career for women, with many members of the fairer sex living under immense pressure to perform their ‘deserved duties’.
In ‘Nielewe’, the band’s lead singer, Siti Amina, releases the tension of her life’s conundrums as a female musician with a vibrant explosion of colour and creativity. Her vulnerability is vivid as she opens up about her abusive marriage, which helped to lay the foundation of her music career. With breathtaking lyricism she talks about a brave existential shift in the face of toxic masculinity – the kind that is not theoretically hyperbolised but lurks in the homes of millions of Africa’s women.
The song captures the complexity of domestic violence and underlines love as the justification used by many women to stay in abusive relationships. “Why is it that with each passing day I have to receive a beating from you?” she sings. Amina takes on gender-based violence as a necessary conversation, not just in aid of her own healing but also because she believes that self-sacrifice for an abusive other is morally decrepit.
“The truth is that I was once married many years ago but very unhappy due to constant physical abuse from my husband,” Amina, who is also a prolific oud player, tells Music In Africa. “He never wanted me to be a singer, yet when we first got together I had expressed my passion for music. Eventually, I decided to go back home, but it took much suffering for my son and me before we finally had a settled life.”
Amina’s personal story in ‘Nielewe’ is amplified with the musical skills of violinist Rahma Ameyr, qanun player Gora Moh’d Gora, keyboardist Razakey, drummer Jimmy and bassist Samuel Mbaluka, whose knack for fusion has taken this modest outfit to international stages and proved that cultural restrictions can be rejected in the name of creativity and love.