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An article by Freddy Macha that was published in The Tanzanian Guardian, Dar es Salaam. It is one of Freddy's regular 'Letter from London' columns, published on 16th December 2003
In an article by Kwaku K published in Gargamel, The International Word in Reggae & Urban Music Issue 15, Autumn 2003, Sam is quoted as saying: “African music is more closely related culturally than I used to think. The basic underlying rhythms are quite similar to the trained ear.” Kwaku quotes him saying he believes his show is opening up African music to a wider market. “I try to play from as many different areas of the continent as my collection and time can allow in order to broaden the appeal of the music. Everyone is bound to hear something they would like, I just want to make the show a complete one, in the sense that by the end of it, you'd have learned something new about Africa.”
Readers back home, you have to remember that African music is passing through a bad season. Not much of it is heard in mainstream television or radio abroad. Many African musicians in London for instance, are forced to do other jobs to survive. Some of these musicians used to play every night 7 days a week back home. In Europe they become “guards” at supermarkets, taxi-drivers or even menial labourers. I have been in Britain since 1996 and in my life here, have only witnessed one regular television programme which focused solely on African music.
But as we hear Salum Abdullah’s
music, the two hour programme, has the task of going through the coming
on Germans. Carl Peters who passed around tricking Chiefs in Tanganyika
to sign “agreements” to annex their lands to German companies.
Carl Peters work was helpful in peparing “spheres of influence”
and by the time the Berlin Conference happened in 1884 chaired by Emperor
Otto Von Bismarck, Europe was ready to “Scramble for Africa.”
Sam’s programme in a known station such as CHOICE FM then is helping boost this music. On many of websites related to Uncle Sam, including his own site, there is a link to the only African musicians website in the UK: http://www.africanmusiciansprofiles.com, which is run by a lady called Anne Wanjie. Mrs. Wanjie although English has a family with a Kenyan national and speaks a bit of Kiswahili.
But the man from Ghana not only ends with African music. Through sheer initiative, as is the trait and character of most West Africans, he has managed to include an informative aspect to his show. On every African Independence Day he discusses, while playing music as well, the history of that country. He calls it “History through Entertainment.” When possible he also invites a national of the said country, who of course should know his/her history well, to help in with the light but educational show. It is in such a show I was part of last Sunday’s show to help celebrate Tanzania’s Uhuru day on Tuesday 9th of December.
Reflect on another thing about living abroad: You are a mere dot in the lives of many other people from all over the world. Also in a society where the majority of the population is white, a day such as the 9th of December means “nothing.” It won’t even get a mention in the local international news. What Sam does is dedicate two hours of his three hour music show to a country in question. Two hours for a mainstream programme is plenty of time for an African show in Europe.
It is not my first time
to be on Sam Tsipotey’s exposé, though. In January, he invited
me to speak about my music and travels. Although my presence was brief,
I got a glimpse of how the man works. His choice of music ranges from
the most exuberant Congolese “Ndombolo” to the ballads of
the Maghreb people in Western Sahara.
Tanzanians and Kiswahili
speakers have to learn from other races. Children will not comprehend
if we do not teach them, if we are not patient with them. Go to a Turkish,
Arab, Indian, Brazilian household etc. However much the kids speak English,
the native speaking parent or relative will still re-enforce their own
language. I have heard some colleague Africans remarking that speaking
their own languages to their kids will make them “confused.”
“I can’t be speaking my own African language. In school they
are supposed to learn good English.” But how do Somalis and Ethiopians,
who are the few Africans who manage to keep their own cultures abroad
do it? Persistence. The fact is, it is easier for children to speak and
learn multiple languages than adults.
As I go through the preparations
of tonight’s programme with Uncle Sam, I soon realise he has done
good research. Sam kicks off by saying the cradle of humankind was found
in Tanganyika. Zinjathropus. To start the show the music of Hukwe Zawose
introduces the country. I don’t know how many Tanzanians realise
how much Zawose is revered and respected abroad. The man’s music
is played everywhere. I have heard his melodious voice and marimba in
countless television programmes, from Germany, Brazil to Canada.
We say “those days”
and as we do, Sam plays Tanzanian music as you have never heard before.
Salum Abdullah’s “Ukitaka Ngoma, Ngoma iko huku” recorded
in 1955. Long time ago. It is my turn to speak about Salum Abdullah.
His music charted the woes and feelings of the struggle for independence
until he died in 1965.
In his book published in 2001, about his experiences in Tanganyika as a British colonial officer, between 1951 to 1962, Michael Longford, quotes estimates of 75,000 killed during the suppression of Maji Maji war. The number rose to almost 300,000 Tanganyikans who died as a result of the famine later.
Writes Longford in “The
Flags Changed in midnight”: “I formed a high regard for
the skill of Germans in putting up buildings which were attractive to
look at and comfortable to work in, but did not like what I heard about
the way they governed the country...
We go from the end of
German rule after the European war of 1914-18, through to the formation
of the Bunge then known as “Legco” or Legislative Assembly.
Both Germans and British rule introduced European forms of development,
including infrastructure, cash crop farming, schools and administration.
As we discuss this Uncle Sam plays Remi Ongala’s “Kilio
cha Samaki” and again is my turn to speak about Remi, who I know
personally having written his biography back in 1985. Sam chirps and
laughs about Remi’s mastery of metaphor. Remi’s defence
of the fish which “shows no tears” when taken from water
and cooked, is a vivid picture of suffering.
It is Tanzania’s history through music and tales of domination and resistance, done in a very light but educational style. In between all this, my own music, from the Constipation CD is played. Sam has chosen the upbeat reggae song, “Abiye biye” but I insist on playing one of my Swahili poems: “Zarina” “What is it about?” Sam asks of the lyrics which if I may quote myself say:
“Kibogoyo ati nani?
Children growing up, losing their teeth. Just like a country as huge and old as Tanganyika celebrating its 42nd birthday. Growing up and looking back.