The Black Sufis of Gujarat

The Black Sidis of Gujarat are a tribal Sufi community of East African origin which arrived to India eight centuries ago and made Gujarat their home. They carried with them their exceptionally rich musical tradition and kept it alive and flourishing through the generations, unknown to the rest of the world. Their history is rooted in the slave trade of the 13th century and beyond, when Arab and later European slave traders systematically captured thousands of African men, women and children and took them across the seas for sale to the highest bidders. Many Sidi arrived in India as slaves to the Maharajas and Nawabs of the day, whilst others came as merchants, navigators, sailors and slave kings, settling in Gujarat. Their Nubian features attracted the Arab slave traders because of their huge demand in many Indian households as trusted servants and status symbols. That remains true in the Parsi community and several Sidi royal family lineages also continue to thrive to this day in

A traditional occupation of African-Indian Sufis in Gujarat has been to perform sacred music and dance as wandering faqirs, singing songs to their black Sufi saint, Bava Gor. Sidi men and women perform sacred music and dance during rituals in the shrines to Bava Gor, and have lived on accepting alms for touring these devotional genres from villages to shrines for centuries. The Sidis are the most musically inclined, who recognise music as a tool for becoming closer to God. Many Sidis also perform as muezzins as they feel closely related to Hazrat Bilal, a black African man who was the first person chosen by Prophet Mohammed to recite adhan (call to prayer). Over time, the Sidis’ native African music styles, melodic and rhythmic structures, lyrics and musical instruments mingled with local influences in Gujarat to form this unique and symbolic representation of African-Indian ness.

The Sidi speak word perfect Hindi and Gujarati, but have remained an oppressed class in India. Because they are black, from Africa, and Muslim, this has kept them at a lower socio-economic and educational level, but recently their situation is finally beginning to change for the better.

Courtesy of Yusuf Mahmoud, Busara Promotions