Still letting it settle in my body. The craziness of what happened on Sunday.
I was told, 3 hours before my performance at Sauti za Busara
on Sunday, that there had been complaints about Drum Rider
, the poem I performed at the festival's opening ceremony on Friday night. The festival director asked me to consider not doing it again, or cutting the offending parts
. Most especially, not doing it in Swahili. When Sally (my translator) and I, had planned to do exactly that, in response to specific requests from several audience members on Friday.
Drum Rider is the poem I was invited to Sauti za Busara to perform. For the opening ceremony of the festival, to accompany the Zanzibar Premiere of As Old As My Tongue
, the newly released documentary on Zanzibar's musical legend / icon, Bi Kidude. The director of the festival, Yusuf Mahmoud, had read every word of the poem, in both English and Swahili, last summer, when I first put it out.
Who were the complaints from? Six people. Six men, to be specific. From an audience of over 3,000 people on Friday night. An audience which broke into spontaneous applause no less than five times
during my performance. On further probing, I found that the complaint that really counted, the one that generated the call to me, was from Ismail Mohammed. Who happens to be chairman of the festival's board, owner of Mercury's, a restaurant in Zanzibar themed around Freddie Mercury, and pitched at the tourist market.
After 3 hours of tailspin, anger, confusion, mini-meltdown, frantic figuring out how to respond, I was thrown on stage immediately after an hour of bongo flava (local Swahili hip-hop). In front of a crowd who were fired up, on their feet, dancing. With no intro or transition from the MC. We began the set with Sally reading Drum Rider in Swahili. She was interrupted, repeatedly, by booing and yelling from the 200-odd young men right in front of the stage. When I tried to talk them down, I got the same treatment.
Finally, I gave in. Told Sally we were done. Helped her off the stage. Sally has mobility problems, and the steep steps to the stage were hugely difficult for her to negotiate. I walked into the arms of a friend and sobbed.