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Thursday, August 18, 2016

A MUSICIAN GROWING UP IN MWALIMU NYERERE'S ERA

It is nearly 17 years since the death of Mwalimu Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania. A lot is being discussed in the streets, in the media about life during Mwalimu’s era, there is a lot of truth moving side by side with a lot of lies about the era. Some lies are perpetuated for a reason and some are just information being passed on that came from a person who lived during that time but might have forgotten the truth, some simply are fabrications from a good story teller. Music information is one area that is a victim of such misinformation. I came across a ‘research’ by an American professor that claims all the bands during Mwalimu’s era were state sponsored, and the artist lived a life of semi luxury, being guaranteed even health insurance. I wondered where that fellow got such information. But people who read the ‘research’ believe that’s the truth. The Prof went on to say that, Tanzanian love ‘zilipendwa music’ (oldies) because the songs remind them of that period when life was ‘good’ as socialism provided them with every need in their daily life. Pure 100 percent lies. I was born in Iringa, a town in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, about 400 kilometers from Dar es Salaam. My parents loved music. My father could play several instruments including the mandolin; banjo, accordion, trumpet and I remember once seeing him trying to blow a saxophone. But the guitar was definitely my father’s favorite instrument. On weekends the whole family would sing along, while my father played the guitar. In the early days there was ‘His masters Voice’ Gramophone and a radio later there was a tape recorder, definitely every evening there was music. Music from all over the world, India music Congolese South African, Jimmy Rodgers and Gene Autry records and so on. There was always a guitar in his home until his death last year at the age of 74. My father recorded some of his songs early 1960 and the songs were first aired in a program called Jimbo Letu (Our Province) on 16th May 1960. He was paid 40/- for that. A proof that radios paid royalties then.
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Receipt of payment from Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation
   I remember seeing Mwalimu Nyerere holding a meeting on the football pitch of the school where my father was a teacher just a few months before independence. There was a lot of music from the horn speakers that day, one particular song has somehow stuck in my brain since that day, it was Salum Abdallah’s song Kuku watatu. The lyrics are about this chicken fight that Salum saw one day in a street. Three chickens were fighting, a black feathered chick, a white one and a black, each was fighting another, a song that was translated to be the fight for independence, between the Europeans, Asians and African’s. I remember the day before independence how we sprinkled water on the then dusty roads of Iringa ready for the Big Day. I honestly don’t remember any particular feeling that I felt that day but remember that it felt like everybody was happy about something big. And so that’s I grew up in Nyerere’s era. In school music was a must, not so much as music classes but more of singing classes, through the years we learnt hundreds of songs. In the early years of Independence we sang songs from books that were inherited from the just ended colonial period.
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Chiriku Song Book
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A typical school band
  All schools had a big marching band, every morning the band would perform a waltz, the favorite song was ‘Baba Paka’. This was a standard song when teachers would move around checking for cleanliness. Which included, length of hair, nails, teeth, uniforms. Believe me this was quite a frightening experience, at the time teachers were allowed to use a cane for the smallest of excuses. At the time one of my ambitions was being one of the musicians in the school band.   machi 
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Aga Khan Primary School ngoma group 1967
The mid 60s saw the new political stance with Mwalimu introducing his own brand of Socialism-Ujamaa. New books, new syllabus, new songs. Almost all the new songs were about Ujamaa. Over enthusiasm on the new Tanzania dream saw the banning of my number one childhood dream. I always wanted to be a Wolf-Cub, and later become a Boy Scout. This was banned, Young Pioneers and Green Guards took over, school bands were discouraged and ‘the Chinese’ goose-march was introduced. Goose-march teachers came from Zanzibar, and the marching orders were in Kiswahili with orders like ‘Nyumaz geuka’, ‘Kushotoz geuka’. Every school had to have a school choir, a traditional ngoma group. For a number of years I was in a school run by the Aga Khan, most of the students were Indians but they all had to participate in traditional ngomas .......to be continued

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