Maulidi ya Hom
pic: Mtendeni Maulid Group by Javed Jafferji
The Maulidi ya Homu is a visually spectacular and spiritually uplifting experience once witnessed that will never be forgotten. In the 21st Century there are only three remaining groups in the world practising this religious artform – all based in Zanzibar. Maulidi ya Homu comes from a centuries-old tradition with roots in the Arab World and/or Indonesia – even the people who practise it do not know for sure about its origins.
The Mtendeni Maulid Group is the oldest surviving group, led to date by Ustadh Majid Said Mansour, who founded the group in the mid-1960s. He says that the group was supported financially during its early years by the late Abeid Amani Karume, first President of Zanzibar, who appreciated the cultural importance of preserving this unique tradition, largely unknown by the outside world.
For several decades the group had no financial support and only survived due to the perseverance of its leader and founder, as well as the fact that the people of Zanzibar clearly hold the tradition close to their hearts and turn out in thousands to witness the shows when they perform at Islamic religious festivals. The first time the group performed at an arts festival with many non-Muslims in attendance was at a recent ZIFF Festival of the Dhow Countries, where the group received audience choice as best performance out of more than sixty groups who participated.
For many years both women and men participated in Maulidi ya Homu performances, but these days it is mostly performed only by men, who make a spectacular sight on stage in their white kanzu and kofia (traditional Zanzibari Muslim dress). The songs are always played at night time and are based around religious texts, praising Almighty God and the prophet Mohammed.
The musicians play only percussion and are arranged on the floor or kneeling in a line with the dancers, starting very softly and almost motionless as the music and singing slowly unfolds and encapsulates, weaving its spell among both artists and audience. Slowly the rhythm and music builds in intensity, until the right moment, when the musicians take everything to another completely higher level.