Formerly known as the Seattle International Children's Festival, Giant Magnet seems to have an irresistible attraction for great global acts. This year, they included Zimbabwean chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo, German chemist-comedians Hacki and Company, and the Gentlemen of the Carolina Chocolate Drops (on their own with Rhiannon Giddens due to give birth any day now). The Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia brought their amazing blacklight puppetry retelling of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar;" Belgium's Les Argonautes demonstrated new ways of playing with blocks (and violins); and Kuniko Yamamoto engaged kids in origami-illustrated folktales from Japan.
But perhaps the most visually and emotionally engaging show was by Sidi Goma. The Sidis are black Indians with roots in East Africa, though the details of their past seem hazy. They are Sunni Muslims of the Sufi persuasion, which means they embrace ecstatic music and dance as part of their religion and culture. And whiel the details of their history may be hazy, the African influence is clear in their performance. The drumming, dancing, and body painting seem lightly removed from their African roots (think of Fela Kuti's more ecstatic moments).
Their performance began with a Muslim call to prayer, followed by several songs performed by the musicians seated in a semicircle. As the emotion and tempo rose, several Sidis rose to dance, inciting cheers from the young audience -- particularly when one Sidi broke out in some spinning break dance moves. Following a terrific solo on the malunga (the Sidi version of a berimbau), the troupe returned, changed from their white robes into more African looking garb consisting of peacock-feathered headdresses, cowry-shell anklets, and peacock-feathered skirts with straps across their bare chests.
The increasingly fervent drumming, the outfits, the dancing, the singing -- it all built to a climax in which the joy of life and the devotion of thought simply shoved out the nagging questions of just how to think about this unusual cultural hybrid. And the ecstatic focus allowed several Sidis to toss coconuts* high into the air, breaking them with their bare heads into fireworks of spraying juice as they fell back to earth.
[mp3] Sidi Goma:
from the album Black Sufis of Gujarat
* Yes, they were real coconuts. After the performance, I ran into one of the Carolina Chocolate Drops digging into some fresh coconut meat.
More Sidi Goma:
youtube | news video
Giant Magnet Festival website
Giant Magnet slideshow