When he talks about reggae, he sounds like a preacher. Elisante Urassa embodies the music originating from Jamaica like hardly anybone else.
He is the new presenter of the TV show “Reggae Power” on ZBC (Zanzibar Broadcasting Corporation) and this is what he says about himself, “I not only love reggae music, I am also living a life of a rastafari.” [Rastafari, also spelled Ras Tafari is a religious and political movement that begun in Jamaica in the 1930s and was adopted by many groups around the globe]
A life close to nature
The 38-year-old artist lives in Kigamboni, south of the city of Dar es Salaam in a secluded area called Gezalole.
His living style is all basic. Brick and mortar were used to build the walls; a corrugated iron roof shields him from the rain. There is neither water nor electricity. In front of the house stands a wooden bench he has crafted himself.
Most of the food he eats, originates from his own organic garden. Mr Urassa is proud of not using any fertilizers or pesticide, taking advantage of the very fertile ground, thanks to the pond in his proximity.
He plants vegetables like maize, green pepper, spinach, cabbage and sweet potatoes. “It is an integral part of my Rastafarian ideology to lead a life close to nature,” he says.
Reggae is more than just music
For Mr Urassa, reggae signifies much more than just music. It means to live in harmony with nature and other people.
“Reggae is about love, peace, green environment and solidarity,” Mr Urassa tells Sound Living. “The big message is that we are all one, it is a message of unity.”
Mr Urassa looks at the television as a perfect medium to educate the people about the underlying ideas of the reggae culture.
Once a week – from 5 to 5.45 pm – he hosts a talk show where he converses to viewers about reggae. For him this is a great opportunity.
“I want to use this chance to spread the reggae mentality for the good of the community,” he says. The world would be a better place if more people were attached to the ideaology of rastafari, he strongly believes.
What is it like being a Rastafarian?
When Mr Urassa talks about Rastafarians, he is full of passion, and can even become melodramatic at times.
He would say things like, “If there is a Rastafarian, there is no need to worry. A rastaman would never harm you.”
On the contrary, he would give you his last bite to eat if you are hungry. And yet, despite all the exuberant rhetoric, Mr Urassa doesn’t miss the practical benefits of the spread of reggae culture. “Especially as a country that attracts many touritsts, as Tanzania it is, we would benefit heavily, if all the foreigners felt welcomed here,” he says.
When he arrives at the port of Stone Town, he becomes pensive, even a bit angry. “It makes me sad that this is the first impression the travellers get, when they reach Zanzibar,” he says.
He feels visibly uneasy amid the hawkers, harassing the new arrivals. “Everybody would be better off, if they would stop selling their services so aggressively, but welcome the people from abroad in a sincere manner,” he says. Again, it is obvious to him that more Rastafari culture would be beneficial for everybody.
For Mr Urassa, being Rastafari means first and foremost being friendly to strangers.
“It is about the perspective that every other person is a brother to you,” he says. And indeed, when he walks through the streets of Stone Town, people would regularly greet him saying, ‘Hey Rasta, what’s up?’
“They do that because they know that I will respond in a friendly way,” he says.
It is indeed hard to overlook that Mr Urassa is a Rastafarian. He is proud to tailor his clothes himself, and not just by them in a random shop.
There is just one distinctive thing missing when it comes to his Rastafarian outfit: the dreadlocks.
It is not that he would pass on them voluntarily. It is much more the result of an ugly incident that happened to him twelve years ago. Mr Urassa was on a nine month long trip on the so-called Rainbow Warrior, recalling a Greenpeace ship that was plunged by the French secret service in the 80’s when the environmentalists protested against the French nuclear tests.
Mr Urassa and his allies were fighting against the practice of dynamite fishing and sailed for that cause in the Indian Ocean.
When they were on the island of Mauritius, they were attacked by a group of robbers. When Mr Urassa declined to give his wallet and his cell phone, they pulled him out of his car by his long dreadlocks.
They pulled so hard that they tore out a fair amount of hair at the forefront of his head, his scalp was covered of blood.
Since this incident, his hair at the forefront wouldn’t grow as before. He now wears a cap, covering up his scalp.
Art, his second best friend
Besides reggae, Mr Urassa has a second passion, which is art. Right after finishing secondary school in Dar es Salaam, he immediately started working as an artist.
He was especially interested in visual arts; in drawing, painting and sculpturing.
While it has never been easy to make a living of it, Mr Urassa scored a big success when he was invited to contribute to the World Championship of Soccer 2014 in South Africa.
It was the first time the World Cup took place in Africa, and the organisers were looking for artists to push up their host cities.
Back then, Mr Urassa lived in Durban and was working as a street artist where the organisers discovered the talented Tanzanian artist.
He finally figured among 100 international artists that got commissioned to create art in the host cities.
For about half a year this art collective decorated dozens of pieces of art: sculptures in roundabouts, paintings on walls, dancing performances in the street and so on.
Mr Urassa felt especially pleased when at the final exhibition, one of his artworks got awarded with the third prize. The sculpture he submitted was a three meters tall giraffe he had created exclusively from trash.
“When the end of our collective approached, I looked at all the waste lying around us and decided to use it to do a final art piece,” Mr Urassa says.
It was mainly plastic material he used for this purpose: Bags, bottles, disposable tableware, containers, and so on. Since then, he specialises in sculpting wild animals out of trash.
At his house in Gezalole, there is always a stack of trash lying on the ground that he would use as working material.
Mr Urassa is not only a sculptor, but also a painter. He knows how to paint in Tingatanga style, but he actually prefers to depict landscapes that he draws out of his imagination.
He signs as Ras Gorotto below his paintings – an allusion to his birth at home, instead of a hospital. Most buyers of his paintings are tourists who enjoy the beaches of Kigamboni. That’s the way the paintings find their way around the globe.
And from time to time, Mr Urassa gets contacted by people coming from countries like France, Canada, Denmark who want to find out more about his style and the person behind the artwork.
And it happens that foreigners come to Gezalole to collaborate in a big sculpture or to get inspired by Urassa’s style.
Gezalole means a lot to Mr Urassa, and it is also the place he wants to build his life upon.
He dreams of building another house to host nature-conscious travellers and to teach them about the vegetation and wildlife in Tanzania. He is convinced: “The more we know about nature, the more we respect it.” As with reggae, he wants to spread the message to make the world a better place.