13 November 2012

Tanzania: Something About Looking From Within or Without

THERE are those who feel more consideration should be given to the attitude locals have towards their art and culture.

These same people would say it's not enough to complain that local artistes have deserted their own for the sake of taking-up foreign modes.

This, they maintain would only develop a misconception further and by so doing, stray away from the reality. The local Stand-up Comedian and General Manager of the Mwananyamala, Dar es Salaambased Vuvuzela Entertainment, Evans Bukuku, made a few interesting points in this regards when conversing with the 'Daily News' on Thursday.

He made reference to it being common to hear foreigners complain that local people do not give cultural things the respects they deserve. According to Bukuku, there is more to this than is contained in this statement. These people from other shores can hold such an opinion simply because they have been there so understand how dangerous such a mistake is.

History tells us that those European artistes, who are now being held as heroes today, were not respected in their own times neither by their people. The acknowledgement that most of these artistes are getting today has come long after their demise, and many times in miserable circumstances. It is this that has made these artistes descendants today appreciative of art in ways where the Tanzanian would not give it a second thought.

"This is a little like telling a child that a fire is dangerous. Sometimes the child must go to the fire, get burned and then they will not go again, because they now have an inventive interest," Bukuku added. For him, what is being seen as holding-on to foreign culture, as opposed to originality in terms of production and creative works, is part of a reality but should be understood for it to be corrected, over time.

Part of the root for this he says is based on people not being open or interested in investing in a cultural foundation. Therefore, there exist a lack in infrastructure, unity and vision amongst the people. That is why lots of works come about and is lost. This is due to a combination of things, of which one is the mentality to generate quick profit. This is easily applicable to the music industry, where with modern technology, it has become very easy for someone to produce a song and have it played on the radio in a few hours.

Also, the idea that everything is better outside this country plays a hand in this. It is only when people get the chance to go outside of the country that they start appreciating the things they left here. Right now people are holding on to it but blindly. "The medicine for this is to be really open and truthful about ourselves to ourselves. We have a crippling culture of not saying things out in public, regardless of the enormity. It is only us, who know the issues so it's only us, who can put it right.

For this to happen, we need to open-up, so that there will be no more room left for beating around the bush and no more assumption," Bukuku explained. "Once we challenge ourselves, everything will be directed to perform. We have to take our boxing gloves off and just say it as it is," he suggested.

The Head of the Fine and Performing Arts Department at the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr Imani Sanga, brought a different angle to the discussion when he spoke to the 'Star' later on the same day. He does not agree that what people think is Tanzanian is only what they see as indigenous and not highbred with any other foreign culture. For him, in effect these are Tanzanian artworks but are products of interaction with other cultures. "For me, Bongo Flava is Tanzanian but a product that has come about after the interaction with other cultures.

Tanzanian music does not mean you have to isolate all foreign influences and only remain with local traditional music. This is part of the way culture generates itself," Dr Sanga simple puts it. Demere Kitunga of E & D Publishers says the copying that local artistes said to be doing is as a result of a lack of self-esteem. That is why they feel inadequate in many things, which is often blamed on external forces.

She admitted that she doesn't know why this is, for it is necessary to discover or reclaim the spirit that was stolen. This is blamed on a number of things including language, which is not the case, she maintains. "We tend to look outward of ourselves for inspiration. When looking for ability we're looking outside, so we have this divide between what we call traditional and what we call contemporary.

When looking for contemporary expression, we're not drawing sufficiently from our own resource," Kitunga said. However, she continued, even though people may copy they can't help drawing from inside. This can be seen in the Bongo Flava musical style, which draws from spoken word poetry but have a kind of outside appearance. This didn't start today neither but long ago, with the local brass bands, jazz bands, and Rumba musical styles, which is heavily influenced by translating imported cultural expressions combined with local to develop a second kind of homogenous music style and form.

She praised literature as having maintained a long tradition, including the spoken word poetry. As someone whose duty it is to conserve cultural material, the Senior Curator of Ethnography and History at the National Museum and House of Culture, Wilbard Lema, also had something to say on the topic.

Culture being a part of people's life means they take it for granted. This even applies to works produced by artistes, who feel what they experience everyday will not make good art, as drawing from outside. Lema used himself as an example when he referred to him being born and raised in Kilimanjaro Region but he has never climbed the mountain, simply because it's something that's always there, so is taken for granted. The same thing applies to all aspects of local people's life. No one is interested to learn more about local cultural aspects, which they live everyday, he added.

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