Dancing with the Diaspora
Wired for Sound across Southern African Community Radio
Sadly for many, this life happens alongside poverty and lack of opportunity. Julio said, “Having this big dream to put your album out there and embrace your music as a proper career is a challenge when you are just surviving.”
In 2015 Wired for Sound took their second journey and travelled 12 000km through Malawi, increasing their focus of creating platforms for youth to discuss and debate their challenges.
Kim Winter said, “We feel strongly about being a part of Africa's shift to find its own narrative. Music is a wonderful way of giving young people a space to showcase their ideas and to spark conversation - illuminating the reality of people's day to day experiences.”
Their development focus was to install “off the grid” solar powered recording units at the OSISA funded community radio stations, where lack of resources and major power cuts prevent them from being able to do their work consistently and efficiently. Education through shadow learning for young producers was provided and community radio brought in 70 musicians to be recorded across the four districts, Monkey Bay, Mchinji, Nkhotakota and Karonga.
They came across a mellow call and response style of music named “Canada” by the locals after the Canadian road workers who were based in Nkhotakota in the 1970's.
Yet, it was the desire and dedication of The Shaibu Brothers that captured the imagination of the producers. The Shaibu Brothers come from the Western border town, Mchinji. After hearing an announcement on the local community radio station, Mudzi Wathu, the two brothers cycled five hours (one way) on one bicycle with their home-made, goat skin guitar to make their enjoyable recording.
The Shaibu Brothers and The Umi Gama Family Band, featuring talented youngsters, guitarist Joshua, and vocalist Memory were chosen to open the “Lake of Stars” music festival.
Wired for Sound attended and recorded the 6th annual Manda Wilderness Community Trust choir festival at the village of Cobue on the Mozambican side of Lake Malawi. They crossed the lake on boat and recorded the exciting choir festival, directed by Richard Stephano. Sponsored by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, each of the sixteen villages in the region sends a choir made up of the twenty finest voices to the festival. Choir development is supported by a choirmaster training run by a volunteer guest choir director from the UK. The festival concludes with all choirs performing together.
The winning choir for the second year running was from the Chicaia village, and the winning choir master was a women. This was great to see for the Wired for Sound team who had experienced a shortage of female contributions to their recording sessions.
Kim Winter said, “There are certain expectations of girls and young women, specifically in the rural areas, to perform certain duties at home. So they are limited in their time. Young women in rural areas can also be very shy. There is still a stigma attached to them performing on their own outside of a choir or group. It still seems to be a patriarchal society.”
Two fully solo powered recording studios are already active at Dzimwe community radio station in Monkey Bay and Mudzi Wathu in Mchinji, and the vision for 2016 is to install more in Malawi and Mozambique, as well as to install and record in Zambia …
ARCHIVE OF INTERVIEWS ...
Interview Julio Sidaque (2014)
I grew up in Maputo in this place called Beiro central. From the age of 14 I was surrounded by guys who were quite musical. They were more into rock, Metallica. We didn't have many options for radio stations, we only had RM, Radio Mozambique so that radio played all sorts of music, it was like a fruit salad, you could hear classic and rock. We were brought up listening to that mix. I was playing bass and heavy rock and a little bit of blues. From the start I did not know that I would end up joining a band. The bass player was busy and he couldn't pitch for most of the rehearsals and they wanted someone to fill that gap. He didn't know I was already playing because I was very shy inside. My brother had a guitar. He was not playing professionally. He wasn't aware that the time he would go away, I had a lot of time to steal his guitar and make up things. I wasn't aware what I was doing. That is how I got into music, locked indoors and no-one knew I could play. I said listen guys can I try because the bass player wasn't there and they said, ‘what since when you play,' because they were used to seeing me just sitting there and checking them. That was the start of my music career and at the age of 15 we start playing small gigs in small clubs in prominent places in Maputo, downtown. At home all I had was the acoustic guitar that belonged to my brother, that was the whole ignition of the whole thing. Slowly I start getting closer to playing more lead guitar instead of bass and freelancing and playing with a lot of musicians in Maputo. Most of the time I was the youngest one and playing with people I never thought I would be able to play with. I found myself playing next to the guy who was the centre of inspiration to get me into music. Just before I head down to Cape Town I was part of this theatrical company called Mutumbela Gogo . They have always been the top in the theatrical scene. That project we worked also with a Swedish writer, very well known, Henning Mankell . There is a theatrical piece called ‘The Blood Brothers' that involved a bigger production in terms of lighting, choreography, music. I was part of that band and we started traveling between Portugal and Sweden, back and forth. That was just before I moved down to Cape Town. I was part of this project with the drummer Celso Paco, which involved an Australian guy who lived in Zimbabwe. He is a nice singer, songwriter who played a whole bunch of traditional instruments like djembe, mbira. We did a tour we went to Johannesburg first and from Johannesburg we came down here in 2002. We played at Mannenbergs and West End and during that time I had friends in Cape Town. Some of them were studying music at UCT. Around that time I was touring with that Australian guy, it was the right time to audition for university jazz department. Moreira was still there at the university, Ivan Mazuze also. I took the chance and I went there for auditions and I felt very good about that. Two or three weeks after I went back to Maputo I received a letter from the University and they said I had made it. I didn't have any money to pay the fees for university and that so I got in touch with UM, Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo to see if they could sponsor a scholarship. Because of the protocol, the time was running out. In two months I had to come and fill in the applications and there was no answer from UM, so I thought I might just take a chance and see what happens. My dad did help me a lot for the first year, paying the fee. He said, ‘is this what you want to do,' because I had already finished high-school. I had a training in technical design and applied to UM but I couldn't make it through because I did not reach the required marks in maths. I would have to wait until the next year.
I said I was just going to come, so I did that I came here and I was doing a lot of freelancing. Before the end of the first year I already knew I was going to be able to cover the fee for the next year. Whenever I got a cheque I would put that toward paying the fee for school. In 2004 that is when I filled the gap for the guitarist in Freshlyground because he was going away for quite some time. I was playing with a very prominent Latin band here called Tucan Tucan lead by Frank Paco. Frank Paco happens to be the brother of the other Paco, I work with at the theatre. He is the same guy I travel with, touring in Joburg and Cape Town during the time I did the audition for the UCT music college. I joined Tucan Tucan and while playing with them I met Freshlyground. They said we can see you are quite versatile and play pop and rock, and those things. I find it difficult to define music. I say I play music. I did jazz, but it was so mixed up with my traditional music, blues and rock. That is what I bring when I play. 2004 I decided that I couldn't cope because Tucan Tucan is a very busy band. I had managed to fill the two months when Justin was away the previous guitarist for Freshlyground. And then when he comes back he had decided that he wanted to carry on with his studying in England. I carried on but found it difficult to balance things because both bands were busy and I was still doing my second year of jazz and theory. Without playing music I can't pay the fees, so I had to compromise. It was quite challenging. But I made it through. By 2005 I was done and committed my full time to Freshlyground. Now and then I can do other sessions and gigs as long as it is not something I am committed to for a long time.
I always have the willing to do something that is linked to my culture and reach out to places that I have not yet been. Mozambique is a very long country. All I knew of my country before I worked on the project Wired for Sound is just the South until the centre where Beira Manika is. But, I had not gone to other places. How isolated those places get, people don't get to know what happens there, in terms of music and the richness of culture that you get in that place. South side is privileged. Coming from Maputo I was lucky in that sense in the levels of opportunity are very wide. I would always talk to my colleagues like Simon. There is so much music in Mozambique but they don't get the proper recordings. One of my dreams would be to reach out to these places and collaborate with them and see how we could help them to give them platforms to have a proper recording in order for them to get some exposure. Those are the guys who want to embrace music as a career but can't afford to buy an instrument. They chop pieces of wood and make something that sounds like something you have never heard before. They carry on expressing their feelings with these instruments made from rubbish, like this place we went in Niassa. This is the kind of things happening. It is quite sad. You see these guys have a deep love for music but they just don't get the opportunity. There is no platform for them. The W4S came from having a connection with these talented musicians. We think the young ones have a long way to go, and the priority is to prioritise them to give them the motivation. The older guys are doing it to carry on, but when you are still young that is the dream. It is good to give you incentivation. One part of the incentive is to motivate to give them platform to have a proper recording. Even if it is a demo, it is something that they can present whenever there is an opportunity open. They have something to start from. One of the biggest things of this project is not only to cover the music but let them speak about the challenges they face and incorporate that with music. The music expresses that as they are talking about the issues that happen in the community with their lives. There are a lot of challenges and a lot of change to work on. The opportunity is not opening for that side of Northern Mozambique. We decide to cover that region.
Marrabenta is a music style that emerged in the South, I would say Maputo. The guys who mastered that style of playing, who came up with that style, they used to make the guitars out of the tin, like the square shaped five litre oil tin. They would cut it and put a piece of wood and then put strings with fishing line or bicycle wire, same as those guys in Niassa. Four wirings, not like a normal six strings guitar. And they would strum so heavily with a piece of plastic they use to make the pick. When they are strumming you say in Portuguese, Rashpar, they would strum that thing, playing heavily until they break the string. The word break in Portuguese, you say arrabenta. Or breaking is arrabentando. These guys couldn't speak Portuguese very well, so the way they would say arrabenta would turn out sounding like marrabenta. That is where marrabenta came from, but it is a South, Maputo style. Back in the day it was called Lourenceo Marques.
The guys from Niassa because of the region where Niassa is, next to Malawi. Further North, they have Tanzania. That influence of those sounds influences their sounds. It is more bubbly. It is different to marrabenta. Marrabenta is more Latin, Portuguese influenced type of music. Traditional music is marrabenta for sure. Marrabenta is the most privileged style of music in terms of getting the exposure because Maputo is central. Northern music is not really known like the Southern music. Marrabenta and the other style of music, they call it Mutimba, which is further North. The next province is Inhambane, Gaza, they have the Mutimba and other style of music and they use a lot of marimba, they call it Timbila there. They are quite similar. Those areas where Zavalha is, that sort of music is based on intervals of fifths. Those are the types of sounds that influenced a lot of guys like Jimmy, because maChopi people come from that area. Chopi music I knew the most before being able to hear those isolated sounds from further North, like Niassa for instance. Then when you get to Ihla, they also have the music influenced by Arabic music because the Arabs had been there long before the Portuguese went there for trading. They had their influence on the culture. It is Arabic influenced. On the opposite side next to Zimbabwe the sound gets changed because of the Shona, they speak the same language on the East side as the West side. They are influenced not only by the language but by the music as well, that style called Chimurenga. We also have Chimurenga in Mozambique, they call it sungura, it is quite bubbling. You can see those guys and think they are going to break their leg. You can dance that thing throughout the whole night.
We start the journey in Catandica. We drove from Harari and then we had one night to rest at the border. And then we drove to Catandica where we started the project. That place was so fill of Chimurenga music. They put the speakers outside and there was so much drinking going on. Speakers were pumping throughout the whole night and they were dancing. We couldn't even manage to sleep. We are staying in a guest house and outside there is music the whole night. I was so captivated to see how music actually influenced those peoples' lives. These guys are the most happy people. Even happier than the rich. They are living the life. You can see they are really happy even though there is a whole struggle. They have to think what they are going to feed their children. At the end of the day once they have covered their home, they are going to go out and joll. They take the family with, the kids are also there, dancing all night. That is the sort of life you don't really get much in Maputo which is more like a town there are restrictions you can't make noise throughout the whole night, the cops will come. Not that side, that side you are free to make music.
What about the music?
What of mbira?
They call it mbira in Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well. The mbira is very prominent and the shitembi, berimbau thing. That is typical of that region, not a South thing. Inhambane is Timbila. That region is more mbira which South Africans call kalimba. The Zim guys make that room, the calabash around it, so it amplifies the sound. The traditional instruments of Zimbabwe are so similar to Tete and Malawi.
Pankwe is a version of some sort of violin and you rub that string. The concept of that instrument is something to do with the influence of other Arabs, but the mbira is so Shona from Zimbabwe and started to spread.
The guys who influenced me a lot and are still part of my influence, Ali Farke Toure, Toumani Diabate, Salif Keita and guys from my home Fani Mpumo the king of marrabenta who passed away mid 80's but his music is still played. This is the thing about the music, even if you pass the music has a big impact in people's lives. There are still others of that generation, some of them are 90's, late 80's. They are the figures of that style of music. Ndil Gingie, what I can do is email you a list of names to give you more, some of the names I don't even know how to spell. There is very good well known bands that put the Mozambican flag ontop, like Ghorwan. They were the biggest band when I grew up. In my late stage being a busy musician, I end up playing with the main singer Sichondo Roberto. I was playing with a lot of prominent musicians. I did play with Salim Mohamed, Stuart Mikuba and Mingas, a couple of other names. When you are freelancing you are doing a lot of things. There is a very good vibe in Maputo and somehow I miss that a lot.
Malo is the blind guy. He is amazing. We wanted to prioritise those that were not known and these guys were not well known. These random musicians you see sitting on the side of the road and playing they have never actually been recorded. We were in Cabo del Gado, it neighbours with Tanzania. The main radio station there where the head of the session, Dona Maria Radio Fontara she pointed out for us to go to this village, Mbonje, two hours out of Pemba. We went to this place and you can't just go and meet the musicians and start recording. Even though the heads of the radio can point out that these areas are rich with culture. You can't go record without permission from the chief, the chef du community, where the flag is. You get there and explain the whole intention and then he is going to authorize you to do so. The funny thing is we get to Mbonje and the chief says he has to communicate to the people so he goes to a big tree which has the rim hanging and he has a piece of metal and he is kicking that thing and within four minutes people are gathering around the tree. He says the team, wired for sound, are here to give you opportunity to be recorded. If you feel to record and express yourself the opportunity is here. We went to a school nearby and were there for the whole day from the morning we got there until the sun went down. It was full of musicians in a very isolated village. We never thought to come up with so many contributors. We worked with 46 artists and big groups such as choir. We could have come up with at least three albums, it was tough to go through the selection. We were in the field and then coming here (Cape Town) we had to select. We had to filter it.
Everyone who was recorded we put a selection for them. The final 17 tracks we also had post production which we involved other artists here and we beefed up the sound quite a lot. Otherwise for those who did not make it, we did leave them with something. The radio stations have all the material, we are hoping this is not just a project that is going to stop just there but we can carry on, even channeling them something that can feel happy about. If you can do something to keep them moving, going somewhere. The guys from Niassa we managed to get them to go to Denmark. It all start from that project. I struggled a lot through that project to hear the challenges these guys go through and having this big dream to put your album out there and embrace your music as a proper career. These guys are coming to me and say they have a challenge that they are just surviving and asking of there is any light out there, can we really embrace this career? Judging where I have been and seeing thse guys who are incredible talented. I just managed to be lucky. They have no luck at all. Some of them are in their late 60's, like Liquissone. All he could say is house, if I could manage to make some money and build a proper house. Is there any green light ahead of us, is it worthwhile to embrace this thing. We would really love to. I felt down when working on this project, I couldn't even sleep.
Do you have a Mozambican musicians union?
Interview Kim Winter (2016)
OSISA investment in community radio?
We get our guidance and advise from OSISA our funders and they do a lot of work with community radio in Southern Africa. They put us in touch with PANOS, a community radio platform based in Zambia, but they do a lot of work in Malawi as well. One of the board members of Wired for Sound is Lilian Caifa and she is with PANOS. She provided us with research. She suggested the community radio stations we partnered with in Malawi. Anything we wanted to know we went straight through them. The thing about Malawi which was different to Mozambique is that there is no community radio forum that looks after all the community radio stations. I know they are trying to set one up at the moment and various players are trying to get involved to get this off the ground but it has not been set up formerly yet. There is no community radio forum that overseas al the stations to Malawi …
Next destination is Zambia for various reasons. It is on the radar for people like PANOS. Their HQ is in Zambia. Music in Africa one of our new partners that have come on board, they are very interested in Malawi and Zambia. And it made sense for us as we travelled home through Zambia and we connected a little bit with what is going on. 2016 will be Zambia.
No. That is part of the next leg. Is being able to go back and install recording equipment at the Mozambique radio stations.
Did you go off the beaten track in Malawi?
We made this incredible trip right at the end after we worked with the four radio stations. We travelled basically across the country, South to North, East to West. We partnered with radio stations that covered the entire country. We went right up to the North in Karongo which is an interesting place, a border town.
At the end of the trip we crossed over to the Mozambican side of the Lake to Kubwe and we worked the Amanda Wilderness Trust and that is the most incredible place. There is one road in and out of there. You can only get to where we stayed by boat or on foot. There are 13 villages that surround that area. And everybody travels to work by foot or by boat. It is the most beautiful wilderness. We recorded their annual choir festival where some choirs even walk about two days to get to the festival. There is a prize giving for the best choir and choir master. This year a woman won it which was quite something. We didn't work with a radio station out there.
Does the festival add to development?
The area is called Amanda Wilderness area. They get sponsored by the Andrew Lloyd Webber foundation and each year a young student from the UK stays with the Amanda Wilderness Trust and works with Richard who runs the choir festival. This young music student works with Richard and spends a month or so travelling to different villages and works with the choirs. He imparts his knowledge and the choirs teach him about the traditional kind of music they are going to perform. There is an exchange of knowledge that goes on. It culminates in the festival that takes place starting at 6 in the evening and going on to three in the morning. It is a big party. The Islanders, a band from Lokomo Island performed to open the festival. Village choirs are a fundamental part of the cultural experience there. With this festival the winning choir receives some money to buy uniforms, musical equipment. It all goes back into the choirs. It is about keeping the cultural identity and tradition going and sharing knowledge with this place that is really quite isolated with this international exposure. Amanda Wilderness project also has a permaculture project on the lake and they also are attached to the various hospitality, Nikichwe Lodge, who employ a lot of the villagers and they receive training at the lodge, so it is a really nice project.
You took in Itamar Weiss?
The sound set up is still exactly the same; it is still very simple, very mobile. We are a very small team. Julio is the music advisor, Simon is the producer and I am the project manager. With this trip because we were able to expand and install recording studios at each of our partner radio stations, along with that came running training with the musicians and journalists at each radio station in music production and documentary radio production. And we made two recording studios solar powered. Itamar is a very well-known producer. He is from Israel, Jerusalem. He works with Spoek Mathambo. He works with Beanstalk productions, they guys who put on the Cape Town world music festival, the Balkinology parties. He is well known for his field recording skills.
Festival on Lake Malawi how is it?
Lake of Stars is a much loved, very chilled music festival in Monkey Bay. They were very keen for us to suggest some people after our trip and kept open some slots. We made our selection and suggested some musicians for the opening slot. The Shaibu brothers are from Mchinji, a border town to Zambia. That was an amazing story because these two guys who are young, heard about us coming to Mchinji and cycled one way for about 5 hours on one bicycle with their home made guitar to come and record with us. They were so dedicated and their music is very cool that we suggested that they perform. And then the Umi Gama Band also performed. They are a musical family, everyone plays an instrument. They have musical voices. Memory the sister has a gorgeous voice although she wants to become a nurse, and Joshua is good on the guitar.
Was there a difference in music from North to South, East to West?
Not as much as Mozambique. There is a lot of gospel music, the music is quite bluesy. You get the influences, with Chinzi and Korongo they are border town so there are different influences coming across there. On this trip there were a lot of singers and guitar players, one man band kind of music. Nothing really stood out for me that was incredibly different from each other.
Were there rappers?
I get the feeling that Malawi is a still conservative country so rap, people are still wary of. I also saw the conservativeness that we worked with very few girls and it was quite difficult to actually work with girls. The community radio stations put out an announcement, so they had lots of musicians apply to be able to come and record with us and very few women put themselves forward. I experienced a similar thing in Mozambique with the young women and very few of them feeling comfortable to come forward. They also are certain expectations of girls and young women, specifically in the rural areas, to perform certain duties at home. So they are limited in their time. If they did come and record they would have to leave early to go and do the duties they have to do at home. It is still male dominated.
The social issues that you came across, anything outstanding?
We want to create a platform for young people to air their views, have conversations, have discussions and that is where we realise the vital role of community radio stations. It is undervalued. We don't understand the impact these radio stations have in their community. And they have a contingent of people working on a volunteer basis who are dedicated to supporting their communities, creating platforms to be able to speak out and have conversations that are perhaps not in line with the political governmental agenda's and are very brave souls. That is one of the focuses to try and allow music as a way to have conversations and create platforms to talk about things. In Malawi there are very limited opportunities for employment. Even if they had finished school, they felt that there was no opportunity for them to access employment and they are really disadvantaged to make money for themselves. And a lot of the time they were saying, if you are employed, things like police officer jobs, teachers, go to the people that you know. It is not a fair system. It runs along the line of nepotism so it is difficult to break through those barriers and access jobs for young people.
Digitisation of media … ?
Often the community radio journalists are phoned first before authorities of there has been an incident. They perform this watchdog protective role in society. The community really relies on having these accessible people to be able to assist them where the system is not accessible or turning a blind eye. A lot of our experience is in rural areas. And a lot of people who live in these areas don't have access to a phone or internet. It is happening more and more. If they do have access it is extensive. Community radio is an accessible system of communication that is working and trusted. I still see a vital role of community radio for a long time, on the ground in the community and getting an idea of what actually is happening. That information is incredibly important.