4 February 2013

Tanzania: African Dance Spreading Beyond Borders

Arusha — YOUNG people love music, except, just like their counterparts worldwide, Tanzanian youths would rather go for electronically synthesized tunes, that sound like ground missile testing complete with deafening explosions and crashing metals.

Enters one Freddy Ng'ang'a a 45-year-old, Tangaborn artist based here, who have just taken upon himself to teach the youth in Arusha the type of music which, if the truth is to be said, would normally scare the young generation rigid; Freddy trains school students to sing and dance traditional tunes.

"A number of schools in Arusha have expressed interest to have their students taught traditional music," said Mr Ng'ang'a, who is simply known as "Freddy!" Even as he conducted this interview, the artist was rushing to conduct drumming lessons at the Ilboru Boys High School.

"I have also been teaching traditional dances at Saint Joseph Girls High school in Levolosi area, the Arusha Modern Secondary School and the Braeburn International (Primary) School both located in Kisongo area, in the outskirts of Arusha City," revealed Freddy.

Between the four institutions, Freddy drills the tribal songs and dances to about 120 students, most just happy to learn the traditional tunes and moves, but even better, the lot belong to a tender age bracket of between 8 and 18 years, who under ordinary circumstances would have been busy trying their hands at the exotic "Rap," "Rythim N' Blues" or the local "Bongo Flava!"

The artist, a father of four, lives and breathes art and being his main occupation, what type of old traditional dances and music does Freddy teach the new generation of students?

"Coming from the Indian Ocean coastline myself, I do teach them coastal dances such as the Mkindu dance," said the artist, but his teaching catalogue also includes the "Mganda" traditional music from the Wakuti tribe of Morogoro, and the Sukuma dance known as Bugobogobo from mainly Mwanza' and Shinyanga, regions.

"What! You mean even though this scheme is done in Arusha, you have not included any Maasai, Meru or the local Waarusha dances?" To which Freddy replies by pointing out that Maasai dances have been rather too common such that they no longer attract much interest.

Indeed; because if the truth is to be said, then it may take the patience of a saint for one enjoy a full-length 'Maasai dance,' in fact unless the people involved in any particular dance know what they are doing, traditional music can be boring at times.

"We intend to change all that because of late imposters and pretenders have been forcing their way into traditional music, saturating it with feigned shows, staged to make quick money and as the result, the local music has been saturated and bleached down to cacophonic nonsense," explained Freddy.

But then, how serious are the students that he is currently coaching to dance traditionally? "They are very much deep into it because being young, it is a new phenomenon to them and since they don't do it for money, the whole thing is done with interest and curiosity especially when you tell them the story behind each song and dance," maintained Freddy.

Of the three main traditional dances that he teaches students, which happens to be the most complicated? "The Sukuma ballet, Bugobogobo, is the hardest to master because the dance involves many instruments as well as items," said Freddy adding that, the Lake Zone traditional dance is done with hoes, spears, bush knives, clubs and sticks and people have to be careful not to hurt oneself or other dancers in the process.

The easiest are the coastal dances, which are all about wriggling the torsos in slower motion when compared to the aggressive movements of the Sukuma, dancing, the Morogoro dance of the Wakitu falls in between. Also when singing, one has to be careful in intonation and pronunciations or risk the wrath of sensitive tribal members who may not like their tongues minced.

The interest of Tanzania's traditional music seems to be widening. only recently Freddy was invited to the United States to conduct similar folk dance lessons to the Rugby Middle School of Hendersonville, North Carolina from where he returned with pleasantly shocking revelation.

"Foreigners seem to be very fast in learning and adopting our cultural dances than most people here," stated Mr Ng'ang'a adding that Americans, especially the whites are very good at singing and dancing variety of Tanzania's folk songs than even the natives who live where the tunes originated. But how sustainable is the ongoing folk dance lessons in local schools? "Many institutions are showing interest and in fact I have advised teachers to include traditional music in their extra-curricular packages," said Freddy; well our fingers are crossed on that.

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