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Tribute to Gito Baloi
Gito Baloi is from Mozambique and he made one of the greatest contributions to South African music with his role as the bass player in the all star band Tananas. In an Interview in Johannesburg 2001, Gito Baloi said:
I was born in Maputo Mozambique I started playing at the age of 11 or 12 with a lot of other young musicians in Mozambique. I was fascinated by all music that existed around me that my father and mother bought. I grew up listening to almost everything. Until the war when we found that things were changing. At that time I was 16. I was very much involved with performing music with some elderly musicians in Mozambique, in the band Afro '78. That was my first big experience of performing with musicians of high calibre like Omar. He encouraged me to do what I did.
The day there were riots in South Africa in 1976 thousands of young South Africans went to Mozambique and a bunch of them are still there. There were local musicians in Mozambique like Wazimbo, Chico Antonio, Orqestra Marrabenta. There was a band called 1001. A lot of guys like Pedro Bem went to Portugal. After a couple of years of the revolution most of the ones who had a dream had to leave the country and try and make it elsewhere. I was not the first one to do that.
I have met a number of exiles like Tony Matola in England. In Holland there are some Mozambiqueans that are very successful.
The government of the time didn't believe music was important. Everybody had to go to the army. Me I don't believe in killing people. When there is that kind of situation that is where confusion starts. I didn't want to fight for anybody I wanted to live my own life. It killed millions of people and destroyed lots of young guys. 16 years of war destroyed everything because 16 years is a long time. There are a lot of kids born during those years and I don't think they heard good music.
John Hassan's original name is Emelio. This guy went to the army and saw horrible stuff. He told me the reason he is alive and around is because he was some kind of sergeant there. So he didn't get hurt. If he was any normal soldier he would be dead.
Some musicians left Cuba like Gloria Estefan, Tito Puente and some of those guys living in US. I love Cuban music too. It is the same kind of idea. Politics destroys a good thing. How old are the guys from Buena Vista Social Club? It is amazing they still have all that information to introduce to the next generation.
I don't think that there is an industry in Mozambique. Things now are much better than before because the war is over. There is a new light and people are looking forward and just improving the country and just trying to get what happened in the past and move away from that.
I left Mozambique in the early eighties. I was just happy playing covers or whatever I was hearing. I was not yet aware of my own style. That came when I came to South Africa. It was completely impossible for me to study in South Africa. I also didn't want to learn Bantu education. I was a kid enjoying life and experimenting. Things were different in Mozambique. The Portuguese had already realized that they had to give everybody equal education. So I survived through learning meeting people and reading magazines.
When I came here I came with nothing. I came with no English. I wanted to get some kind of universal knowledge. Which I got naturally! I went to the university of life. I consider that best. I learnt how to be who I am today. There was a chance of me getting lost. Music saved my life.
I got my own freedom to choose what to do with myself and a direction for myself to try and control my life. It is not easy at 16 years old when you have left your home and you just don't know what to expect. I was faced with a system that I was not used to. Our elders in Mozambique were not allowed to talk about politics.
It has been really great for me to see the transformation in South Africa. I can see where Mozambiqueans made their own mistakes. Today you see they are all sitting in one government and the war is over. All of this should not be happening. We should just respect each other as human beings and just enjoy life because life is too short to think about wars.
It was a good move because here I am today and I met so many beautiful South Africans who encouraged me to stick around. I do appreciate that. I am still friends with lots of those people. Those people have beautiful music. I grew up listening to Alesandro Langa, he had beautiful compositions. I used to cover one of his beautiful tunes. He wrote this in our tribal language Shangaan: a song about children not getting into drugs, and rather studying to be someone. I respect them they should be wealthy. Most of them are nowhere, because there is no industry there. There is something new that has to happen there.
They love their music. But the fact is, they have nothing, they have nothing to impress the people and look like ordinary citizens. Myself I have built my own career outside of Mozambique. When I go back people respect me. They play my music almost every day.
The first time I made a record with Mozambiquean guys was with Pongolo in 1989. We disbanded and I met Steve Newman and Ian Herman and we created Tananas which was a beautiful thing for me. Before that I worked with Simba Mori from Kenya and Mzwakhe Mbuli when he made 'Change is pain' and 'Unbroken spirit'. There were a bunch of records but the band that I worked with for 15 years was Tananas. We made eight CD's and we're traveling the world which is a good thing and that is how I learn life.
When we come to other countries people are scared to express where they come from because people are very aggressive. Governments have rules. If you are not from here you are not from here.
Whenever I go back I look at my school friends, they have all of those diplomas and all of that stuff, but no jobs. That scares me. Most musicians in Mozambique say, 'Don't come back yet. Look at us, what do we have?'
The war destroyed everything. That is why I am here. I love the place. I love the people. Whenever I go back and visit my family I feel that I could stay there forever but I can't because of the situation that is there. I grew up with Marrabenta the most famous rhythm that everybody plays. I am looking for world ideas, world music. The world is made up of different races. The music can't stay in its original form forever. People are mixing from different walks of life. You can't just play the same style of music forever.
My mother is from somewhere near Malawi in Mozambique and my father is from Shangaan. His tribe is from South Africa. The rhythm marrabenta looks like it comes from marabi. It is similar. Music is linked. Wherever there are human beings, there is music.
I sing quite a bit in Portuguese. I grew up listening to tunes by Brazilians. I thought they were white guys singing but they are black guys. They grew up there with all those influences and whatever they had from Africa. The slaves took some stuff there like the berimbau. It is linked to what is happening in Angola. Music has no colour. When I heard Gilberto Gill I thought it was a white guy. This was unbelievable. They would sing like Roberto Carlos. He's like Michael Jackson, he is the most famous musician.
Before I left Mozambique I used to hear beautiful live concerts. Guys like Hotencia Langa and Jose Macavela. These guys used to play in folk music festivals in Europe and they used to bring the information back. Mozambique has its own Mozambiquean roots music.
Mozambique promotes world music. The radio stations play everything, but Mozambiquean music first.
The music can't stay in its original form forever. People are mixing from different walks of life. You can't just play the same style of music forever. Even these days I go to a jazz festival and see a pop band playing there. I go for everything even classical music. And classical music is brilliant, if you listen to the dynamics. Elderly and young people can relate to that. They create new things. Music is old information we just have to try and improve what has been there.
I have a lot of Mozambiquean rhythms in me, but I can't play that forever. I just introduce one or two when I make my CD's. There is so much to explore musically. You just have to be curious and experiment. Nobody was doing what I was doing.
In Mozambique the musicians have no rights. There isn't any system in place to protect them. Lots of us outside Mozambique, we know about the rights of musicians. When I go one day back I will have to pack all my family with. And I have spoken to a lot of Mozambiquean musicians. And if we all go back one day we will have to set up something for the younger generation. I have a dream to set up a music studio and a music school and a nightclub, all of that stuff that can promote a musician to keep it happening.
Gito Baloi was murdered in Johannesburg in the prime of his career. His murder was a crime of no apparent reason and a crime that immediately followed the gun shot murder of Lucky Dube (reggae) and preceded the car accident death of Lebo Mathosa (kwaito.) Gito Baloi's death ended the global rollick of Tananas. South African music was at that point once more plunged into a state of critical affairs with only one explanation for these deaths, particularly that of Gito and Lucky where nothing was taken from them except their lives. The explanation given is jealousy. These great musicians were killed through jealousy! We overcome through forgiving and letting go.