Deba

Mayotte is an island in the Comorros Archipelago, a set of islands between Continental Africa and Madagascar.

Islam was first introduced to the Comorros with the arrival of Arab navigators voyaging between the islands and the mainland. The encounter between the local Bantu civilization and Arab civilization gave birth to the Swahili culture. Within this scheme, the existence of Islam on the islands was reinforced mainly through Sufi orders, especially the Qadirriyya and the Rifaiyya.

Debaa is a Muslim cultural practice that is exclusively feminine, a mixture of music and dance based on Qasida. A form of the traditional Sufi genre called zikr, debaa is a practice that has acquired enormous popularity, becoming one of the favorite pastimes on Mayotte. This “music-dance” plays an important role in the “traditional” education system of Mayotte where the majority of the population is practicing Muslims. The training that young people undergo to learn this tradition also allows them to assimilate most of the island’s culture and musical heritage.

Apparently, the name debaa simply grew from the practice of singing Qasidas from the published works of Abdurahmân ibn Ali al-Dayba’, a 15th century scholar from Yemen, who gradually became identified with the singing of the poems and Mawlid narratives he had compiled.

Practiced originally by men of the Rifaiyya brotherhood, the implantation of debaa on Mayotte dates to the first half of the 20th century, around the 1920s. Later, the transmission of Qasida was opened to women, allowing them to become involved with this practice. Since its early days on the island, a certain evolution took place whereby debaa absorbed more of a local color with elements from African music and dance traditions.

Debaa has become an occasion to rejoice and share moments of happiness for women. Adorned in their most beautiful jewelry and wearing their best robes, women perform with movements of the head and the arms that correspond to very elegant figures. Performed on a variety of occasions, like the return from the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), birthdays, weddings, the feasts of Aïd, passing exams, it has also become a staple of life.

The themes of debaa are those of mystic poems, such as: the invocation of Allah, glorifying the Prophet, the praise of saintly men, reminders of ethically moral behavior, love, et cetera. These same poems are accompanied on drums and declaimed during commemorative ceremonies of the Mawlid, the birth of the Prophet.

The aesthetic of debaa depends on a series of correlated, coherent elements: the beauty of the singing, rhythmic formulas used, and the costumes and ornaments worn - usually an array of silver and gold finery. The main features of debaa, which together create harmony, include: an “Answer and Response” type of song between the main soloist and the rest of the group, the music being unique and improvised within a certain framework, the increasing tempo accompanied by kashkasha and tari frame drums and bells at its fastest, rhythmic variations introduced on top of the main line to allow individuality, and the elegant, fairly static dance with minimal movement of torso, arms and the head.

The ensemble Deba, carrying the same name as the tradition they put on stage, consists of 13 female musicians from Mayotte. They had a pioneering role in making this tradition known as a musical from around the world.

Artists

  • Madi Missiki
  • Abdallah-baba Zamzam
  • Ali Mami
  • Sandi Salama
  • Colo Makaraf
  • Mahamoudu Saoiti
  • M’colo Mariama
  • Madi Fatima
  • Attoumani Djaouhari
  • Ahamadi Hassana
  • Djamadar Moinou
  • M’tsounga Nemati
  • Antoy Zaihati