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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Mysterious Sidi sounds draw crowds
Sidi musicians
Sidi music is usually performed at local shrines
Songs from a lost and mysterious culture are attracting sell-out crowds to the first ever Sidi foreign music tour.

India's Sidi - people of African descent - are believed to be descended from slaves brought to the subcontinent from east Africa.

But no-one is sure of their exact origins - not even the Sidi themselves, who settled in the Gujarat region of western India.

The only clue to their past lies in their musical traditions, which have been handed down through the centuries.

That music is being heard outside India for the first time, at a string of concerts across the UK.

'Fantastic reception'

The Sidi Goma tour, which began in Cardigan last week, has passed through Bath and York and will conclude in London on Sunday.

"The reception has been fantastic," said tour manager Andi Langford-Woods. "We've been selling out every concert. There's an enormous amount of interest."

The idea for the tour came from University of California ethnomusicologist Amy Catlin.

She said that for centuries the Sidi have been performing their music - which relies heavily on drums - during rituals at local shrines.

More recently, groups have begun conducting national tours.

"I asked them if they would like to extend their touring network beyond the borders of south Asia and they were thrilled," Ms Catlin said.

Ms Catlin and the tour's promoters, Asian Music Circuit, joined forces to produce an album called The Sidi CD.

"We collected the finest examples of different musical groups throughout Gujarat," she said, adding Sidi music had never been studied before.

Unknown origins

The Sidi migrated to India from many different African regions and in many different waves, Ms Catlin said.

Their ancestors could be slaves, sailors, navigators or merchants.

Ms Catlin believes many of them may have come from coastal and inland villages in east Africa which were raided by slave traders.

But their precise origins remain the subject of debate.

One legend has it that the Sidis originally came from Kano in northern Nigeria, and ended up in India after undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ms Catlin says that although they have largely lost touch with their African roots, the Sidi "are aware of Africa and treasure their African traits that they have retained for so many years."

Sidi Goma perform on BBC Radio 3's World Routes programme on Saturday at 1300 BST. Listen on 90-93FM or online.

See also:

13 Mar 02 | South Asia
27 Nov 00 | South Asia
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