East African electronic, traditional musicians to collaborate at Zanzibar workshop

Goethe-Institut Tanzania, in partnership with the German cultural institution’s offices in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, will host a workshop featuring the newly formed collective Urban Music Rebels (UMR) in Zanzibar between 10 and 12 February 2020.

Singeli musician Msaga Sumu.
The workshop, which will take place at the Dhow Countries Music Academy in Stone Town, will be facilitated by Music In Africa’s East Africa content editor, Lucy Ilado. The participants, coming from four East African countries, will create original music that will be presented at the 13th edition of Bayimba International Festival of the Arts on Lunkulu Island in Uganda from 20 to 23 August.

UMR’s members include DJ Msolopa and Msaga Sumu, a singer who works in the singeli genre, which is defined by fast-paced, beat-driven compositions that incorporate various music styles from Tanzania.

Kenya’s representatives in the collective are DJ Mura and female orutu player Labdi Ommes. Representing Uganda is the Acholitronix duo comprising DJ and producer iZaya the Composer and multi-instrumentalist Lawrence Okello. Acholitronix fuses electronic beats with traditional instruments.

Rwanda’s Inanga – whose members include DJ Eric Soul, rapper Angel Umutoni and inanga player Deo Munyakazi – complete the UMR collective.

Goethe-Institut Tanzania director Frank Werner believes the idea to host electronic and traditional artists from different East African countries could not come at a better time.

“Throughout East Africa, we observed a trend in which more and more young musicians are rediscovering their roots and combining traditional instruments and local vocal languages with contemporary sounds and production methods of electronic music,” Werner said.

“This creative upheaval often leads to entirely new musical styles, such as singeli in Tanzania. However, we also observed that these quite similar artistic developments are lacking a personal, face-to-face and inner-regional exchange. Only at some festivals, like Nyege Nyege Festival, do musicians get a concurrent experience of these different traditions.

“Moreover, this quite often is limited by non-existing travel funds. One part of our cultural strategy for sub-Saharan Africa as Goethe-Institut is to offer platforms and mobility support. Therefore, it seemed a good idea to assist these fantastic musicians in getting involved with each other.”

Werner said the UMR concept was meant to reflect on the growing interest in “adventurous electronic music” from the continent that could compete with other electronic traditions around the world.

UMR’s nine members first met in August 2019 at an orientation workshop as part of the Ongala Music Festival in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, where they cobbled their previously recorded works into one performance that was showcased at the festival.

“Playing together felt like playing with long-lost siblings,” Msaga Sumu said. “Normally, interpreting what exists and creating something new are two different things. However, we discovered that all the sounds were somehow connected. In many ways, the three days we spent together served as a useful prototype for inter-genre collaboration, and, in turn, help the Eastern African electronic music scene thrive.”

Speaking about his experience in Bagamoyo, Eric Soul said: “The performance sounded magical, new and fresh when we brought diverse traditional instruments, vocal styles, flows and deliveries representing authentic cultures into the mix. We touched people in ways that seemed to be answering a need they were not aware of.”

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