Ngoma literally translated means 'drum' and is a term used to encompass all local African traditional forms of dancing, drumming and singing. There are literally hundreds of different ngoma styles throughout Tanzania, variations often being so slight that untrained eyes and ears can hardly notice the difference. A number of these originate from Zanzibar and Pemba and all are spectacular to watch. The often-elaborate native costumes emphasise the unity of the dancers' steps and the rhythm section which usually consists of several handmade drums and percussion instruments (such as oil tins beaten with a stick). Ngoma ya kibati
from Pemba, for example, consists of a very rapid declamatory style of singing which is an improvised dialogue to drum accompaniment with singers/dancers coming in for a chorus every so often. Even if you can't follow a single word of the firework-like exchange between the two main singers, kibati is hilariously funny; if you understand all the references and hints implied, it is of course even more so. Another example is msewe, supporting the rhythm section, and named after the material which is strapped to the ankles of the male dancers.
Each ngoma style has its own special costume. In kyaso
, men dance dressed in shirts and kikois
(special woven cloth from the east African coast) with a long, narrow stick in their hand, all movements beautifully coordinated. In ndege
women in colourful dresses all hold bright umbrellas, moving forwards with slightly rotating steps and movements of the hips. In bomu
, the women dress up like men and in other funny costumes and dance around in a circle.
The variations are endless and performances are never dull. According to Abdalla R Mdoe, choreographer for Imani Ngoma Troupe, a privately initiated performance ensemble that specialises in all kinds of ngoma, three different types can be differentiated: ceremonial ngomas, which are performed at weddings, circumcision and other festivities; ritual ngomas (eg: kisomali
to cure a sick person, or pungwa
to avert evil); and religious ngomas, which in Zanzibar are closely related to the Muslim festivities of Zikri, Duffu, Maulidi and Hom.