Africa

The African Heartbeat

Music is a huge part of my life. Ever since I was a little girl I would play tapes at home and walk around the room dancing and singing along. My mother always played a lot of Portuguese music, which is both lyrical and melodic, to acquaint me with the artistic cultural roots within me. Since then I’ve always loved playing music: my instrument is my voice, I absolutely love singing and could never see my life without it. It’s my means of complete self-release and expression. It’s a privilege to have the ability to listen and experience music, that I cherish it with all my heart.

A culture’s music is a way through which we can engage in cultural discourse and understanding. It’s another aspect of Africa and Tanzania that ties me here.  African music is so unique, unlike anything I’ve heard before, and is a direct translation of its culture. It’s developed and changed over time, just like the politics, demographics and generation of the continent, but still is representative and definitive of each country.  In a developing nation, I personally feel that the first things to change are the arts (within that music). Individuals find an outlet through these mediums where they can express themselves, and show off ideas they have. I certainly feel that’s the case here.

Song for the read: The Way it Is by Lucky Dube

Music is the Tanzanian heartbeat — the pulse that guides daily life. You hear it in the house, on the street, in the dalla, even on a piki-piki, at school…everywhere. When I was here two years ago teaching at the Maasae Girls Lutheran Secondary School (MGLSS) in Monduli, the girls were always singing — in chapel, at meals, on the bus, before sleeping and at all other spare moments in the day — and never stopped. I’ve always loved African drums, and the incredible tunes created by them, and of course the Gospel-like singing of my girls at MGLSS, but I wasn’t so familiar with African pop/R&B/hip-hop or even rock until this trip.

Taking the dalla each morning and evening, going to restaurants, bars, clubs and even just walking around I got to know the music of the people: the heartbeat of contemporary African culture I mentioned in my article a couple of weeks ago! These tunes blend so much of traditional drums, wind instruments, jazz and metallic sounds, with contemporary electronics and Western beats. They’re also a lot more melodic and lyrical than I had anticipated. They’re catchy, better than any good Western pop song, and the true definition of “feel good” music! Since dance is also a large part of their culture (both ancient and contemporary) all their music has dance rhythms: for me they sound very much like Brazilian samba beats, maracatu and other very definitive music counts. That doesn’t surprise me actually since Brazilian samba origins reach so far back to when slaves arrived from Africa by the Portuguese explorers. Music and dance are dialects of the same language here: you can dance to music, or play music to accompany dance, and allow yourself to speak that way.

One night I remember going out with some volunteer friends to a club called Via Via. We didn’t really know what to expect but that only came to our advantage: it was incredible, a mix of Western contemporary music with African artists. At one point five African dancers took to the dance floor. Naturally everyone cleared off and was captivated by them. Two drummers joined them and the spectacle was jaw-dropping: the synchronicity between the drummers and dancers was flawless. Sometimes the drums took lead of the dance then moments later the dance would take lead: there wasn’t a moment when something wasn’t happening. Different dances and tunes blended seamlessly, I wasn’t even sure when one dance ended (if indeed it did) and the other started. A world where movements and beats were the language, where words would have been superfluous, I was transported out of myself. It’s 30 minutes of my life I can never forget.

I certainly developed very many favorite songs, the names of which I unfortunately cannot remember well (luckily I’ve purchased a few CDs to accompany me back in Europe). My favourite was listening to music on the dallas on my way to work: there is a specific kind of contemporary Tanzanian pop music played on them. From dalla to dalla the same songs are played and the driver, “konda” (the bus-boy you pay your fare to), and locals join to sing or hum along. Having pretty much learnt all these songs by heart I sang a long as well getting sometimes the funniest looks from locals, but I didn’t mind I found a new pulse and pace of life!

I cannot remember any public bus back in Europe or the US where music is played, let alone loud enough for passengers to hear! It’s a different spirit: it creates warmth between people, bringing strangers together under a common love: that of music.  This warmth is felt between people anyways, with or without music playing: music simply enhances and highlights that quality of the locals. Whether you’re young or less young the music fills your soul! There is a heartbeat for each of us and that’s a final note about Tanzanian music I want to leave you with: I love the blend of contemporary and “classic”- tradition with the new generation of music, where neither one shadows or contradicts the other- much like this artist I’ve featured here: Lucky Dube. Although he’s South African he’s a huge success in Tanzania, as well as one of the artists I heard on a daily basis in the bus. A contemporary African jazz and reggae artist who has some socio-political context as a foundation.

Image citation: http://www.africansuccess.org/docs/image/1luckydube.jpg
Featured photo attributed to http://getmziki.com/

Monica de Pinto Ribeiro Hancke
Monica de Pinto Ribeiro Hancke is a soon-to-be-senior at Emerson College in Boston, MA. A double major in Theatre Education and Political Communication, Monica is passionate about education and the arts as mediums for international understanding and social justice. With a Portuguese mother and a Norwegian father, and having lived in England, the Netherlands and now America, she likes to call herself a global nomad. This intercultural lifestyle has strongly benefited her in understanding culture, society and our individual responsibility to contribute to our global community. Through travel she seeks to engage with her "host" community by volunteering: be it teaching English to the Maasai tribe, building houses in Nicaragua, tsunami clean-up in Southeast Asia or just playing with orphans in her native Portugal, Monica looks to learn from others and build positive relationships. You could rightfully say she's a feminist dedicated to bettering women's education, health and well-being on a global scale. Join her on this Go Girl stint as she interns for the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guine-Bissau, East Africa.

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