This week a social media clip interested many of us....
Village boy, everything indicating, poor rural surroundings, seated; chicken and chicks roaming and feeding freely in the background. The wall of the house behind the youngster; made of fading brown mud. The boy’s chair an old bench; its wood tittered with patches of mould. Mould is dangerous. Mould tends to be grey and black and green, sometimes yellow. Mould is mostly found in walls of houses that have not been looked after. Inhaling mould, warns an internet medical journal: “Can inflame airways, causing nasal congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and throat irritation. Prolonged exposure may reduce lung function and cause long-term diseases like asthma.”
But the bench is his only safety and the lad seems comfortable.
He is smiling and guess what? Despite the ragged T-shirt (with words that have vanished like the mouldy bench) and trousers that might have been pink many years ago but now dotted with dark spots, our six to eight-year-old child is singing. His eyes are shining, his manner and spirit, genuinely positive.
And he badly needs new clothes.
Abdi Sultan (my fellow columnist in The Citizen) forwarded the less than a minute video, and asked what I thought as a musician. I responded immediately.
The voice is a powerful tool.
When asked when he began singing, the late Jamaican musician Bob Marley quickly responded: “Started by wailing...”
Babies make a huge, shrilly yelp, soon after coming out of their mother’s castle. Automatically and naturally.
So using the voice is a God given fire alarm.
If we categorise, there are those who are not aware. Speaking loudly unnecessarily. No control. This type does not sing well. Not because they cannot but because they need training to be aware of where they are, vocally.
In music there is something called “tone-deaf” ...it means, when we hear a tune we cannot imitate it, verbatim. A colloquial description is “singing flatly.”
Vocal training teaches an awareness of our bodies and how the voice works. We are taught to recognize different parts of the body in using the voice. There are three different areas of executing the voice. Head voice, which in music science is “projection” (managing to make our voices heard far, without yelling); common with high calibre Soul and Operatic singers. For onstage Actors.... it is bread and butter.
Then we have the chest voice, which we normally use when we speak, day to day. If we are not coached we squeeze the voice and that is why we feel pain or irritation in the throat, after speaking too long or loudly.
This is because we are not doing right things like correct posture, correct diaphragm position and breathing properly
Third is the belly. This is where; the voice should be emerging, naturally. If you want to know why, hold any child aged below two years. Make them speak, shout or make any sound.
You will notice their stomach or midriff area moving, sharply.
This is how we should be speaking and singing.
Yet as soon as we “grow” - we are reprimanded, told to shut up, not speak loudly and so on. Fear, tension and apprehension make us lose natural reflexes. Instead the voice is suppressed and pushed into the throat. Vocal training aims at restoring belly muscle use. We re- learn to “support” the voice by introducing hip and pelvic area management, helped by correct breathing. All trained singers and actors (even public speakers) know this method.
So those are the physical aspects of the body and voice.
Second is talent.
Some of us have either inherited genetically or are just naturally endowed with a good voice. What is a good voice? A voice that naturally picks up any sound; effortlessly. Or a voice that easily projects without sounding irritating and strident. We can all reach this phase, by good training. We can also combine technique with a natural gift.
And that is why this unidentified rural boy is special.
He is singing without knowing the words. He is doing what we call “ad - libbing”, scatting and jazzing it up, i.e. making up words and syllables but singing “correctly” and in tune. He is not tone-deaf. He is naturally gifted.
Following day after Abdi Sultan had sent me the footage, he texted me saying there was “a flood of interest” in the rural child. Sponsors are crying for him.
Prof Aldin Mutembei of University of Dar es Salaam (“also a good singer”) was top of the list promising to educate him to an advanced level.
There were others too, keen to give this youngster a chance in life. Take him out of the mould ridden surroundings and make us all cherish his God given gift.
Every human being deserves a chance.
Freddy Macha is a writer and musician based in London. Blog, www.freddymacha-blogspot.com