chapter  5
Women’s Taarab
Pages 28

Women : Nature : Domestic – the Position of Women in Zanzibari Society

There is a need to […] unveil myths that posit gender norms as natural, essential and immutable. There is a need to lay bare, interrogate, debunk, probe, and demystify the performative acts that construct and sustain myths. There is a need to regard gender norms as partial, provisional, and always open to revision. (Sanga 2011:367)

The aim of this section is to introduce women’s taarab – its origin and development, its organisation, its performances. This study highlights the role that women have played in the development of taarab. This is not to suggest that gender is the only criterion affecting the style’s evolution: talent, creativity and adaptability are implicit, as are the effects of globalisation, politics, economics and religion. In an Islamic community, however, the activities of women can be hidden from view in a private, domestic realm. The following sections serve, therefore, to ‘unveil myths that posit gender norms as natural, essential and immutable’. Looking at the position women traditionally have held in Zanzibari society, exploring the cultural significance of Siti binti Saad, a woman who challenged gender norms, describing the music and events of the women’s taarab network and discussing the changes brought to taarab as a whole, we are left with an impression of a highly innovative and publicly facing part of the taarab music complex.