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Siti Amina of Siti & The Band: The Making of An Icon

She started singing professionally in 2012, and that’s when she picked the name Siti Amina as her stage name.

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Zanzibar. She has a calming tone when she talks, but her singing is raw and original. You can feel the richness and rawness of Zanzibari culture in her songs, which are usually accompanied by traditional instruments, oud and qanun.

This is Amina Omar Juma, a 36-year-old Zanzibari musician who goes by the stage name of Siti Amina or Siti & The Band.

At a tender age, Siti developed a deep love for music. She fondly remembers joyfully dancing whenever music played at any party in her home. She started singing professionally in 2012, and that’s when she picked the name Siti Amina as her stage name.

Siti is named after her hero and the Zanzibari music legend Siti binti Saad, who lived between 1880 and 1950, toured the world and gained global fame.

“After studying Siti binti Saad’s story,” Siti Amina said during an interview with The Chanzo, “I decided to carry on her legacy to the next generation.”

READ MORE: Remmy Ongala: The Life, Death And Legacy of Legendary Musician

She reflects on her role, which echoes that of another Zanzibar music legend, Bi Kidude, who passed away on April 17, 2013, emphasising: “Bi Kidude took Siti’s songs and sang them. That’s why we know them. If it weren’t for her, our generation wouldn’t have known any of [Siti’s] songs.”

The melody of her music and dance routine presents a combination of vulnerability and passion of an artist. Siti sees her music as more than just voice and instrument but a representation of the struggles of women before her and the aspirations of younger women.

“As women,” she says, “we have talents. This is why it’s important to believe in ourselves. When we have confidence in ourselves, we can change things.”

Personal struggles

Siti has a diploma from the Dhow Countries Music Academy. Still, her journey to becoming a professional performer has been challenging.

“When I started to sing professionally, I used to go about with my musical instrument (Oud); some people would refuse even to accept my greetings,” she recalled.

Siti showing some of her accolades during this interview

This struggle stemmed mainly from the conservative nature of the Zanzibari culture, where many believe that involvement in the music industry equated to a decline in moral principles, particularly for women.

READ MORE: Court in Mbeya Drops Case Against Artists Who Sung About Police Brutality

Siti, the mother of a fourteen-year-old boy, had to divorce her husband because he didn’t want her to continue with music after their marriage and giving birth.

“Most people in Zanzibar believe that when a woman is married, her career is supposed to stop in place of her marriage,” Siti tells The Chanzo. “I did not believe that.

“I believed my husband would protect and support me, but he said no when I wanted to return to performing. It was a difficult moment for me.

“And the beatings at home became overwhelming; it reached a point where I had to decide to either stick to my marriage or to fulfil my dreams; I had to let go of my husband.”

She describes her music as an important release of her struggles: “There is nothing as important as having a release, especially in our society where it’s difficult to say things openly. Music has helped me reduce the heat inside me; my first album was about my struggles.”

At the moment, Siti sees a change of heart in her family, especially after seeing her progress and how she can care for her family. When she is not performing in Zanzibar or Tanzania Mainland, Siti tours outside the country or records music. 

She is becoming a powerful force portraying rich Zanzibar and African culture. Many observers see her journey as the emergence of a new icon in Zanzibar; to her, this is the beginning of a much bigger goal.

“When women become free,” Siti believes, “it doesn’t mean they have lost their values.”


Najjat Omar is The Chanzo’s journalist based in Zanzibar. She is available at najomar@live.com.

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