Being a musician in Tanzania in the 1970s had its blessings and downturns. On the one side, the government sponsored several bands, allowing young artists to blossom even though they were penniless. On the other side, Tanzania was not the best place to be a musician. To put as the envoy of the Washington Post did, Tanzania was the only country in Africa that did not fight a war, and looked like he had just finished twenty years civil strife. Because of its socialist government, Tanzania was left out in the cold by major powers, and did not have the facilities to record music and promote artists. Tanzanians who wanted to record a vinyl had to travel to Nairobi or Mombasa. Selling LPs was another problem. Since the market was small, to recover costs, recording companies accepted to record a band only once the older recording had sold out. It could mean one or two years.
This is why, on the 2nd of January 1975. The members of the Vijana Jazz Band from Tanzania entered the Hi-Fi Studios at Pioneer House on Government Road in Nairobi, Kenya, and recorded 6 tracks under the pseudonym of the Koka Koka Sex Battalion. Along with Rumba and Kamata Sukuma, Koka Koka was a style of music, but the band's name was a scam. The Vijana Jazz Band had been founded in 1971 by John Ondoro Chacha. They received some support from the government to produce muziki ya dansi (dance music) but they badly needed the cash from recording to make a living. This is why they recorded under different names and with different labels. They are thought to be among the creator of different style of music: sindimba, heka heka, koka koka, watoto wa nyumbani and pamba moto. After reaching nationwide popularity in the 1980s, they almost disappeared after the death of founder Ondoro Chaha in 1990.
The recently released CD Vijana Jazz Band, The Koka Koka Sex Battalion, is the result of Doug Paterson’s research. "As I scoured the AIT Records archive for Vijana materials - he says - I was puzzled by a set of songs under the name Koka Koka Sex Battalion. As I suspected, Koka Koka Sex Battalion was indeed Vijana Jazz, but under an assumed name. This turned out to be a scheme of the studio producer who tricked the label bosses into commissioning more songs than budgeted".
Those recording are now republished in digital format, and they give an interesting retrospective of East African music in the 1970s. At that time, the common market of East Africa seemed to be a reality and people and goods moved freely between Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Music was one of the commodities Tanzania could export. Their Pan-African lyrics, the highly rhythmic music and the guitars loops always created a frenzy on the dance floor. The simple English and the exotic (to Kenyan ears, used to a different dialect of the language) Swahili did the rest. Listen to Koka Koka No. 1 or Gwe Manetu Fii to realize it.
The Vijana Jazz Band was not the only one on the scene. They were eclipsed later on by Congolese Jazz bands from Katanga, and lately by a growing musical scene. Their music, or at least that of their followers, can still be heard in small villages on the coast, near Mombasa and in Sheila, in the Archipelago of Lamu. They are played by people who seem to have remained in the 70s, anyway. This is a good record, if you want to travel back in time and capture some of the optimism of that time.
Vijana Jazz Band, Koka Koka Sex Battalion, Sterns, LC 15328.
2011 Zanzibar International Film Festival’s top winner was The Rugged Priest. The film received the Golden Dhow and won the Verona Award, the prize the African Film Festival of Verona awards at the Zanzibar’s event. It also won in eight categories of the Kalasha awards. The film premiered in Europe during the African Film Festival of Verona, last November. Southworld met the film Director.
“I am Bob Nyanja, and I am a film director. I live in Nairobi, where I have been working as a director for the last 12 years. I came to Verona with the film The Rugged priest, which was released earlier in 2011. The film is about a former American marine who became a Catholic priest. He lives in Africa for a long time, about 25 years. Suddenly he sees things that he does not like: people who are kicked out of their land, where they lived a lifetime, houses torched, women raped. He is not happy and realizes these people have been attacked by their neighbours. The reason behind the attacks is the incitement by politicians who want to get rid of those who came from other ethnic background; people who came in peace, bought the land and lived there for many generations. Politicians claim that these people must be sent away, what they really want is to retain power and influence in their constituency. The priest then starts telling politicians that they are wrong, but also tries to make people elsewhere aware of the situation. The politician gets angry and takes vengeance against this priest. This is the story.
Why did you shoot this film?
I wanted to tell a story. In Africa films still have a role for education. But they are also a form of entertainment. I wanted to give a chance to the public to see a story that is true and speak of heroism. This is a story about one such hero who lived amongst the Kenyans, but has never been really appreciated and recognized. This is why I worked for this film.
What difficulties did you find?
The first challenge, like for every other independent producer, was to find the money to do the film. So raising the finance has been a really challenge. I begged, borrowed, stole (he laughs) to make sure we did the film. The second challenge was that we had a big dream for this film, but we were not able to do all we had in mind. We had to cut corners and trim the story for the amount of money we had: a big challenge especially for me as writer and director of the film.
How did politicians react?
They did not try to stop me, also because I made sure that the full picture was not known in advance. When we released the film they were unhappy. This story is inspired by real life events. I should have said that earlier. Some of the characters copycat real life people. This is true also for the main politician featured in the film. These are people whose friends are still in power, or they are still in power themselves, in senior places of government. Of course, they were not happy we exposed them, what they did was to claim that this film is embarrassing Kenya, that we should not wash our dirt in public. But after a while, when the word got out to journalists, they stopped because they realized that pushing the issue was only making it more complicated.
How did people received the movie?
The people were happy and there was a lot of excitement in Nairobi and the other places where we showed the film. Many said it was about time such film was done, for it was reminding Kenyans of the crimes and murders, that have happened over the years and have never being resolved. So people were happy that someone was bold enough to tell the story.
Did you interview many people to prepare this movie?
We did a lot of research. Interviewed people who knew the characters of the story. Most of the material came from documents we found.
Isoke Aikpitanyi is one of the many victims of human trafficking. She was able to run away from a world of abuse, and now spends her energy to work for other victims. She has become well known in Italy for her courage to denounce perpetrators and the awareness campaigns she runs. She wrote to Southworld to give her testimony.
I was born in Benin City, Nigeria, 32 years ago, and I have been living in Italy since 2000. I left Nigeria to try and improve the quality of my life and help financially my family back at home. I was offered a job in a European supermarket and I immediately I caught the opportunity. I did that without realizing that I was being deceived and had become, for all matter, a slave. I tried to rebel, but I found no support. This is how, for two years, I was coerced into prostitution. I finally decided to say enough is enough. That very evening, when I faced the “ maman”, I was attacked and nearly killed. I survived miraculously and after three days in a coma and three months of convalescence, I began trying to piece together my life.
My partner, Claudio, in an attempt to help me, had begun to weave a web of social actions against human trafficking. I continued to do what he and his friends had done for me and the other girls: welcome, support and accompany young Nigerian victims of trafficking in what is now known as "The house of Isoke". It is not exactly a structure ... is the home of Isoke.
The principle that inspires my work – free and self-financed – is to accept these ladies without ifs and buts. This is something that many people could do if only they wanted to, and if only the law would allow it ...
In Italy, tThe law, unfortunately, does not provide support for girls who denounce the traffickers. Many Nigerian girls would do that, but they cannot for the lack of follow-up actions. Who will defend the families threatened by the trafficking cartel? Who will defend the girls themselves since traffickers are either free or in jail for only a couple of years?
Some in society are annoyed because my commitment is a living example that more can be done, even by those who claim they are already doing too much. Nowadays, only one in ten victims escapes the traffickers and this is too little; especially because it is possible to do much more.
So it seems that I am against governments, against politicians, against the accredited services, I am seen as a rebel because I have the arrogance to work and get results and write books without being an intellectual, an expert, a professional operator. All said and done, I am left alone and since I now am the spokesperson of an association of victims and former victims - and many Nigerian girls have imitated my example – they leave me and them out in the cold. In reality, I realize that many cannot accept the idea that women can help other women even though they are not professionals or with a specific role in some recognized institution, but simply as a former victim to victim.
I do not see big changes in Europe, politicians and the media speak of the problem of human trafficking when it pleases them, most countries give but a glimpse to this reality. I get much attention in Italy I get, actually, a lot of attention in Italy because I get invited at public events, conferences, etc. All this is very heavy for me. Some might believe that I write and present my books, when writing is only a tool for self-financing. Besides, books and articles give me the chance to keep in contact with readers, and especially with the girls victim of the trade. I reach out to them trying to assist them in their search for a way out.
My commitment is certainly appreciated in many quarters, I cannot deny it, but I have not yet succeeded in actually changing things, and this after a decade spent focusing on this fight. I am no longer the young girl who arrived in Italy in 2000, yet I am still a victim of trafficking, an illegal, a black, a foreigner. I did not bother to build a security for my future; I prefer to spend my time and energy to reassure victims of human trafficking hat they are not alone. This is what I wished I was told when I needed it most.
I was introduced to Malangatana Valente Ngwanya’s work a few years back. I had been impressed by what I saw. A year ago, a friend told me that the Mozambican artist was ill. He died shortly afterwards on January 5, 2011, while in Portugal for treatment. He was known by his first name, and he was a multitalented artist. The National Museum of Maputo recently presented a photographic display documenting his interest in painting, sculpture, poetry, cultural event, music, and dance.
Malangatana was born in 1936 in Matalana, a small village north of Maputo. He studied at Catholic mission schools and became a jack of all trades. As a young man, he met Augusto Cabral, biologist who later became director of the Natural History Museum of Maputo. Under his guidance, he learnt the rudiments of painting. “Draw what you have in your head”, was the advice that followed him all life long.
In 1958, he joined the Nucleo de Arte, the association gathering the avant-garde of Maputo. In 1961 he was finally able to show his work in a personal exhibition. In 1963, the literary magazine Black Orpheus published some of his poems. He would write poetry throughout his life.
Those were the years of independencies, but not for the Portuguese. They stubbornly stack to their empire. Magatalana joined the Mozambique Liberation Front, the movement waging an armed struggle against the colonialists. This attracted the attention of the secret police, and the young artist spent some time in prison. In 1971, he won a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, where he refined his ceramic and incision techniques.
After independence, he remained committed to social and political activism. He participated in several campaigns for literacy and popular participation. He also accepted government appointments in the fields of art and culture. Meanwhile, his works were exhibited in Africa, Europe and the Americas. In 1997, UNESCO nominated him Peace Artist. From then on, Malagatana dedicated himself solely to art, becoming the most known Mozambican artist. Today, his works are exposed in many contemporary art museum around the world.
To interpret Malagatana’s works one has to keep in mind his early experiences. He was initiated into the traditions and mythology of the Ronga culture. During the colonial period, he saw his work as part of the liberation struggle. “Liberation, to be true, must be rooted in popular culture, because art is created by the people, not by the artist”, he said. Malagatana’s paintings have strong colours, the space crowded by bodies, faces, animals, nature. These intertwining of images express the community dimension of traditional life, social commitment, the destiny of a people gone through slavery, the long and bloody civil war and the persisting poverty.
Yet, his works do not have signs of resignation, as his continue commitment to promote arts and culture testify. What really moved him was the need to attract attention to Mozambique’s plight. This was shown by using a dark red hue, at least until the mid 1990s. Malagatana always chose large canvas and vast murals. In time, the colours became softer, the lines less obtrusive, the faces smiling. This reflect Mozambique’s new phase, the one of hope.