I hope you’ve enjoyed our past few updates introducing you to the Radio Tanzania team. I feel so lucky to not only be working with Tyler, Nina, Benson, and Erasmus, but also to count them as friends. I have no doubt that I would never have made it this far without them. Despite all of the hard work I ask them to do, the constant requests and emails, the late-night brainstorming sessions, all I get in return is encouragement, inspiration, and support. Right now, I can offer them only my eternal gratitude. But if we make it to our goal, I might be able to buy them dinner! If we exceed our goal (and that’s what I’m hoping happens), I might even be able to do more, like get Nina and Tyler to Tanzania.
So now that you’ve met the folks behind the scenes, I figured it was time to give you an update on what has been happening here in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Since landing on January 12th, I’ve managed to cover a lot of ground, both literally and figuratively. Despite some rental car troubles (I’ll just say Benson has pushed us out of the sand more than once and we’ve had our battery jumped by helpful strangers more than twice), we’ve had meetings all over the city with: a documentary filmmaker who wants to feature the archives in a potential film about Tanzanian history; a record label exec and African music expert who managed Afro-jazz bands here in the ‘90s; the famous Danish-Swahili musician Mzunguu Kichaa; John Kitime of the Kilimanjaro Band, one of Tanzania’s most renowned artists of all time and a fierce campaigner for artists rights and copyright adherence, not to mention one of the best guitar players I have ever heard live; the Director of Special Programs at the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation; Bruno Nanguka, the chief archivist; and more. Each of these meetings was an incredible learning experience. All of the people with whom I’ve met have had valuable insights into Tanzanian culture, politics, and music. They’ve offered their support in a variety of ways, and I’m confident now that we’re not doing it alone! We’ve also submitted our official documentation to become an NGO in Tanzania so as to attract more sponsors from within the country.
This past weekend I went to two live Musiki wa Dansi shows. It turns out I need to back-track a little, because it’s really just the archives that have been “forgotten” and left to decay. The music itself is still very much alive. I’d estimate more than a dozen of the old groups are still playing all around the city, nearly every night of the week. Many of them have original members, and they play the original tunes, too. The Mlimani Park Orchestra show on Friday and the Kilimanjaro Band show on Saturday were both packed with enthusiastic supporters, young and old. The music started late and lasted until the early morning hours.
I’m also realizing that despite many months of planning and researching, there is so much I couldn’t do or discover without actually being here. Take, for example, the fact that each band develops its own “Mtindo,” or dance style. The most successful bands have distinctive moves that their audiences recognize and perform. Each band also has a nickname, which was confusing at first because I thought people were referring to two separate groups. Mlimani Park Orchestra is also Sikinde. Kilimanjaro Band is also Wanjeje. Even the music itself, which I always knew as “Musiki wa Dansi,” also as an affectionate nickname: Zilipendwa. It means, “the ones that were loved.”
And loved this music is. Discovering how dearly its cherished here to the present day made me even more sure of the importance of the digitization project. The dozens and dozens of people I saw at the shows will someday have to listen to recordings of this music. And I am determined to make sure that there are recordings left to hear. As I felt the Zilipendwa flow through and around me, I realized that art is never static, culture never stops changing and evolving, but that the ones that were loved will continue to be loved as long as there are people to dance and hum along, as long as we refuse to let the music fade out.
We have just ten days left in our Kickstarter campaign. Please help us make the most of that time and continue to spread the word!
With you, for the music,