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National challenge: Saving our native beats and knowledge

Sunday February 28 2021
Beat pic

Mr Joachim Marunda Kimaryo, popularly known as ‘Master J’.

By Saumu Jumanne

Famous veteran Bongo Music producer, Mr Joachim Marunda Kimaryo, popularly known as ‘Master J’, recently told a local radio station on how he was disappointed by current music productions which are too busy copying Nigerian and South African beats.

According to him, bongo music was concentrating too much on using the piano for music production (which is not a local instrument). There is a forgetting that, Tanzania has over 100 tribes; each had its music and beats, which they can borrow from. This would help to procure distinctly Tanzanian music.

His misgivings should be food for thought. Music plays a huge role in creating national consciousness. It is great that most TV and Radio stations in Tanzania are playing a lot of homemade songs, unlike in the past when the content was mostly foreign. But as Master J suggests, it would be great for our artists to look at our heritage, which is very rich, and make music that we can sell to the world as truly Tanzanians.

As we ponder about this, last Sunday was the Unesco’s International Mother Language Day 2021, with the theme “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society.” According to the Unesco, world over linguistic diversity is on the receiving end and more and more languages disappear. In Tanzania, we adopted Kiswahili as a national language, which since those days of our father of the nation, Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, it has played a great role in making our nation very united. We really thank Mwalimu Nyerere for that as through Kiswahili we have not spelt out tribalism in Tanzania, as compared to our East African neighbours, where negative tribalism is almost a way of life.

Many Tanzanians born in the 1980s only know Kiswahili as their mother tongue. Over 90 per cent of Tanzanians speak the language. For national identity and cohesion, this is great. Nevertheless, our original languages were full of knowledge and some components that need to be preserved for the future generations. For example, Master J has a great point about music beats from our mother tongue. If we fail to preserve the same, many will be forgotten forever. Language is knowledge, and a tool of power. Each indigenous people had their unique knowledge, and as their language disappears, so do part of that knowledge.

We need to have a conversation about documenting the languages. Reference publication Ethnologue: Languages of the World indicates that Tanzania has 126 spoken languages, with Kiswahili and English being institutional languages. It notes that about 41 languages are endangered while 8 are dying. Some three languages have become extinct.

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While I am unable to verify the above information independently, what I can say for sure is that in each of the language spoken by Tanzanians, it has passed on knowledge. For instance, in music, art, medicine (herbs) etc. The big question is, as a country, how do we preserve our indigenous/ traditional /local knowledge?

Perhaps, one of the ways of doing that we could go for Master J’s option, what if we document the sounds (music) of all our tribes, so that our today and future musicians can be able to use those beats? In the world of ecology, the role of indigenous knowledge in natural resources management include the use of cumulative knowledge passed on from one generation to the other.

The traditional people, in their own ways and language, know which plant, root or herb can be used to heal a particular disease. They knew the best food for expectant mothers, for the old and the young! In essence, there is vast positive knowledge in any language, and when that language dies, most of that knowledge is lost. Hence there is a need to document such knowledge for generations to come!

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Saumu Jumanne lectures at Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE)