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Eight centuries ago, a tribal Sufi community left East Africa and made Gujarat, India its home. The African-Indian Sidis have been known for many years in Europe and Asia as masterful musicians and dancers who celebrate with footed drums, musical bows, and centuries-old songs, seasoned with polyrhythmic drumming and occasional vocal polyphony in thirds, which reveal African origins.

In its debut United States tour, Sidi Goma invites audiences to visit the fascinating intersection where African drumming and dance combine with the faqir performance traditions of southwestern India. The group will perform 8 p.m. Friday at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Tickets are free for students, $4 for faculty and staff, and $18 for the public. They can be purchased by calling the box office at (610) 330-5009.

Before the performance, Sidi Goma will give a public lecture-demonstration at 12:10 p.m. in the Williams Center.

The event is the first in the Williams Center’s F ootlights series. Others are Masters of Caribbean Music, part of a National Council for the Traditional Arts limited tour combining calypso from Trinidad, twoubadou from Haiti, and jíbaro from Puerto Rico, Friday, Nov. 11; SamulNori, a Korean ensemble performing music for changgo (hour-glass drum), kwaenggari (small gong), and other percussion instruments, Saturday, Feb. 11; and Masters of Persian Music, featuring three of the most important figures in classical Persian music, Tuesday, March 7. A Sound Alternatives subscription costs $59, a $17 savings compared to the total cost of a ticket for each performance.

As an example of the oral transmission of sacred texts, Sidi Goma’s performance also is part of Lafayette’s Ninth Biennial Roethke Humanities Festival, titled “The Book Re-Visioned: Crossroads of Traditions and Technologies.” This year’s festival celebrates books — and their many interpretations and permutations — through exhibitions, readings, workshops, lectures, performances, and special events. An updated schedule of festival activities can be found by visiting, Quick Links, Performing Arts/Williams Center.

The New York Times praises Sidi Goma’s “ecstatic powerbuilding slowly and steadily to a fever pitch.” BBC World Service calls the ensemble “a remarkable group with an extraordinary history.”

A Global Rhythm review of the group’s first album, Black Sufis Of Gujarat, states, “With unique instrumentation consisting of the malunga (a musical bow), the mai misra (coconut rattle) and a battery of percussion including the musindo and the mugarman drums, Sidi Goma casts a hypnotic, trance-inducing spell not unlike the Gnawa of Morocco or the Qawwalis of Pakistan. Like their Sufi brethren, the Sidis’ music builds slowly, but eventually reaches an ecstatic fever pitch.”

Sidi Goma was invited to perform this month at the prestigious World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles. The group is directed by hereditary leaders Iqbal Kamar Sidi (music) and Sabbir Kamar Sidi (dance).

The Sidis of India are scattered in diverse communities over many parts of the South Asian subcontinent. Their various African origins span many centuries and even millennia. Arriving as sailors, navigators, soldiers, merchants, and slaves, their way of life differs little from other Indians, except that they often retain African traits, particularly in their forms of worship.

In Gujarat, Sidis are Muslim Sufis dedicated to Gori Pir, a black African saint whose tomb was first mentioned in a 16th-century account of a Mughal leader’s visit there in 1451. The tradition of this community is to embody and celebrate the gifts brought to them by Gori Pir through song, music, dance, and play. Among the gifts often mentioned in the song texts are the joy and rapture (mauj/lahar) collected by Gori Pir from the waves (mauj/lahar) of the sea during his voyage to India. The punning on these two word pairs is part and parcel of the sacred fun embodied during rituals and performances.

By retaining and reinventing traces of their African heritage using occasional Swahili words and African-inspired costumes, makeup, and movements, Sidi performers celebrate their origins and uniqueness. “Kingaiali val” and “Sidi ka beta, sher barobar” are favorite refrains in their zikrs, meaning “curly hair” and “A Sidi child is like a lion.”

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2005–2006 Performance Series is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, the James Bradley Fund, and the Ed Brunswick Jazz Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, the Dexter and Dorothy Baker Foundation, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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