Published: January 28, 2006

by Subuhi Jiwani
Daily News and Analysis, Mumbai

At the screening of a video documentary titled The Sidi Malunga Project: Rejuvenation Of The African Bow In India today, the mujavari - female keeper of a Sidi dargah in Dongri - will be present along with filmmakers Nazir and Amy-Catlin Jairazbhoy.

Together they will discuss strategies to raise funds for the dargah's crumbling roof. In 2002, the Jairazbhoys - both ethnomusicologists - noticed that some of the Sidi musical instruments were disappearing or extinct. One such instrument is the malunga.

A bow played extensively in Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar and Angola, besides other African countries, it has been played traditionally by mendicants or traveling fakirs.
It is also used as an accompaniment to Sidis' Sufi devotional singing and rituals at shrines.

The mendicants sing in Deccani - a mixture of Kutchi, Gujarati, Arabic and Urdu - in praise of their African as well as Indian Muslim saints like Nizamuddin Aliya and Gharib Nawaz. Today, many Sidis tour Gujarat, India and the world, performing their traditional music for larger audiences.

With the help of a grant, the Jairazbhoys surveyed Gujarat's towns and villages and invited Sidi musicians to a camp in Zainabad. The documentary shows the malunga masters teaching the younger generation the art of playing the musical instrument at the camp.

"The project was meant to revive the African musical bow. It was also designed to bring together Sidis from all over Gujarat around the shared musical heritage of this bow, singing and dancing. And it helps to bring the community together which is often rather dispersed," says Catlin-Jairazbhoy.

A year later, the Jairazbhoys visited Gujarat and found that Salim, a student at the workshop, ended up leaving his job in a chemical factory to become a full-time malunga player. The documentary shows him walking through Muslim neighbourhoods, singing praises to African saints, receiving alms, and even, a plate of idli-sambhar from a Tamillian.

The Sidi Malunga Project is the Jairazbhoys' third film on the Sidis. They have also helped release a CD titled Sidi Sufis: African Indian Mystics of Gujarat in 2002. "The Sidis we were working with asked us to bring out a CD. The first thing they said that they wanted to do was tour," adds Catlin-Jairazbhoy.

The camp had the long-term effects desired by the ethnomusicologists. The Sidis were sharing malunga-making and playing traditions with their families and friends. And a young boy innovatively made a malunga suitable to his height.