Waridi lisilo miba

Performance and lyrics

The performance

The song called Waridi lisilo miba (‘A rose without thorns’) was performed by Hussein bin Ali and the orchestra of the Zanzibari Taarab’s National Group (Kikundi cha Taifa cha Taarab) at the Old Fort in Stonetown on 13 July 2002 on the final day of the 5th Festival of the Dhow Countries (Tamasha la Nchi za Jahazi).

The Taarab’s National Group was founded by the government, inviting some of the best performers from each traditional taarab club to play together for the official celebrations in Zanzibar. On these occasions the male performers all wear black suits and the women very elegant dresses. The orchestra plays in a soft musical style, which has been influenced by Egyptian film music and has been popular since the 1950s. The music is accompanied by elegant, enigmatic lyrics. Another feature of traditional taarab, which can be observed in the videos on the accompanying DVD, is the fact that the singer keeps still, or slowly oscillates his/her body. The taarab asilia differs from the modern derivations of the genre in that it is in fact a non-danceable style, which means that the spectator's attention is maximally drawn to the music and the text.

The lyrics

This song is a good example of the kind of poetry that started to be composed by the male taarab groups during the 1950s, accompanied by the soft music of the big orchestras, and which is perceived today as the purest, ideal tradition of taarab. The lyrics composed in that period were very different from those sung by Siti binti Saad’s group. The poetry was much more regular and sophisticated with regard to meter and rhyme, the language was standard and elaborate, not exhibiting colloquial forms, and the content was typically a love message expressed in an elegant and enigmatic style (mafumbo), often employing metaphors taken from the natural world, like animals, fruits, flowers, etc. In this song, for instance, the lover is represented as a rose without thorns. The depiction of women as delicate creatures to be protected, but at the same time often difficult to be near, reflects the impact of gender segregation in the Zanzibari community that has taken place since the 1940s and has often caused a sense of frustration among the men.