YWW 007 – Tanzania's Farmer-Musicians

Hi Worksongers! Your Weekly Worksong this week will be a little different- I'm not choosing a specific song, I'm sharing a specific tradition. Namely, the musical farmers of Sukumaland, Tanzania. And I've uploaded a short bit of film that I recorded during my stay there to youtube so you can see it and hear it yourself.

Background In 2005 I spent two months living and working with a group of farmers who are part of a widespread tradition in northwest Tanzania: making music and dance in the fields, as they work.

It's a sort of singing, dancing, farming cooperative. One day they'll till or weed one member of the groups field, another day they'll move on to someone else's. Imagine getting together with fifteen of your friends and saying: okay, today we're going to weed Tom's garden, tomorrow we're going to weed Chrissy's and on Wednesday we're going to go over to Ellen's place.

It's called "reciprocal village labor" and that's exactly what they do in Tanzania only they sing and dance and have fun while they do it. It's a community party in the field and and it's amazing to behold- or event to try out in your own neighborhood. It makes your work seem so much more doable if you've got a mob of friends helping you out.

To top it off, many of these groups develop songs and dances throughout the farming season that they then use to compete against similar groups during harvest festivals.

There are many different styles of musical labor in the region: one style uses only bells on the wrist to accompany songs, some are purely a capella, others include drums or other instruments.

The first part of the clip (which is the title sequence for a longer film about musical labor that I will share with you over time) is a tradition called "magungulu" which only uses bells. In the second clip Hoja Charles, the group leader, plays the Kadete, a "spike fiddle", which is made from a small lizard-skin drum, bicycle brake cable, and a bow made of a stick and sisal fibers.

There is so much to say about these traditions, but I'll stretch it out over several posts. For now, check out the film and get inspired for your own work- maybe some reciprocal village labor is in order for your neighborhood!

Also- this is the first time I've ever posted this material to the web, so enjoy! Thanks to everyone who has signed up for Your Weekly Worksong so far, hope you're getting some inspiration and fun songs out of it.

Check it out: Here is a link to the tradition on worksongs.org - this is where I've posted the film.

Frank Gunderson, at Florida State, has spent years researching these traditions. Here is his book outlining the incredible diversity of musical farming practices in Sukumaland.

More soon- for now, enjoy!


PS. If you missed past weeks of Your Weekly Worksong, I've posted them here...