Update #11: Do you know where the real music is?

Jambo, rafiki (hello, friends)!

We have just nine days left in our Kickstarter pitch! In the homestretch, I’ve challenged myself to write a brief update each day to help push us to the finish line. I’d be so grateful if you could each challenge yourselves to recruit a few more supporters to the cause! Together, I know we can reach our goal and help to permanently preserve this historic collection.

So, the title of this update is, “Do you know where the real music is?”

In one of their songs, the Kilimanjaro band says, “Wangu ngaie ngoma iko huku.” Or, “Hey people, the real music is here.” When I heard John Kitime and his bandmates sing these words, man, I really knew them to be true. So much of the stuff on the radio, the throw-away culture that plays a song to death for a week and then throws it away forever, the songs that are more machine than man… perhaps they have a place, but do you know where the real music is? It’s being played live, in little bars and pubs and basements around the world, by people who live and breathe music not because it’s a quick way to fame and riches, but because it makes us all feel alive. That is where the real music is, and that type of music, the real stuff, is worth keeping around.

But what makes the Radio Tanzania even more interesting is that it’s this incredible rich, real music played by true musicians– yet the lyrics and content were heavily censored and supervised by the socialist Tanzanian government. Now, before you denounce Tanzania’s early leaders as opponents of liberty and truth, let me remind you that the nation had just gained independence after the brutality of colonialism and the early leaders saw music as a way to unite the fractured country. The bands were themselves sponsored by government agencies, so one could argue they wouldn’t have been able to exist without the government in the first place. But still, to hear stories about musicians being forced by bureaucrats to change lyrics because they didn’t want a love song to end in anything other than marriage, well it’s shocking to modern democratic sentiments about creative expression and freedom of the media. What do you think? Was this sort of censorship ultimately a fair price to pay for Tanzania becoming a peaceful, stable country free from ethnic conflict and strife like many of her neighbors?

This is one of the questions we’ll be exploring through this project. I’m happy to say that Nils, a Dutch master’s student, has recently decided to write his master’s thesis in African Studies on Musiki wa Dansi, the Radio Tanzania archives, and our digitization project– which will provide a much-needed critical/theoretical look at issues of censorship, cultural preservation, and the role of music in shaping the national discourse. We can’t wait to read it! And we’ll make sure to share any interesting insights Nils discovers in the course of his research with you guys.

Thanks again for following along on this journey. In Kiswahili, they say, “Tupo Pamoja,” or “We are together.”

Pamoja kwa musiki, together for the music,