Discussions about Collecting and Using Field Work Video
William G. Cowan Digital Library Program Brown Bag Series 29 October 2008
Mid-1970s to the present
Mid-1970s to the present
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Ngoma, which translates as dance, drumming and song, either taken together or separately, is considered the traditional music of Tanzania. Most ngoma groups consist of a leader (who composes songs and directs a group in performance), drummers, instrumentalists, song leaders (who lead the main call of songs), and dancers (who also backup the singers). The music and songs of ngoma vary by cultural group, yet there are similarities in the use of certain rhythms and the relationship of a dancerʼs movement to rhythms of drummers.
Due to the importance of ngoma in Tanzaniaʼs past, it is impossible to adequately summarize their historical development here, though such a study would be useful since no broad research on Tanzanian ngoma exists. Nonetheless, several key periods in ngoma history serve to highlight the development of the genre. The ﬁrst period may be explained as the period of trade. As early as 120 C.E., Arab traders settled on the East African coast, followed by Indonesians (though this is debated), Portuguese, Germans, and British over the next 1600 years. Each introduced new instruments to the territory, such as the marimba, zeze (a type of violin), guitar, and trumpet (Horton and Middleton 2000; Kubik 1980: 567).
By the 1800s, trade occurred throughout Tanganyika and between the countryʼs cultural groups. For traditional music, this trade brought exchanges in cultural ideas, musical styles, and musical practice. Iliffe in his work A Modern History of Tanganyika writes about these exchanges among various cultural groups: In Ukerewe the modes of specialized status groups were supplemented by dances borrowed from Sukuma elephant-hunters, Jita lion and leopard hunters, and Ganda traders, warriors and canoeists. Chagga adopted Masai dances. Safwa borrowed almost all their songs. Nywamwezi travelers introduced drums to Usandawe where the most famous composer of songs in the nineteenth century was Mugonza, a blind Kimbu minstrel. Slaves and colonists from Zaïre introduced their styles of dance and carving. (1979: 80) By virtue of economic, cultural, and material exchanges that occurred during trade, traditional music among groups adapted to new ideas and musical trends. The German colonial period in East Africa beginning from 1884 and continuing to 1919 also brought new musical inﬂuences, particularly military and brass band music (Ranger 1975). African musicians assimilated elements of the music and culture of these brass bands into a style called beni ngoma. Beni ngoma most likely began in Mombasa, Kenya around 1890 and diffused down into Tanga, Dar es Salaam and then other areas of East Africa (Iliffe 1979: 248).
Groups that performed beni ngoma used European military titles (king, captain, lieutenant, and judge), uniforms, and drill steps, but retained Swahili song texts and ngoma drumming. The groups were well disciplined, again modeled after the image of colonial military establishments, and were, “concerned with the survival, success, and reputation of their members, acting as welfare societies, as sources of prestige, [and] as suppliers of skills” (Ranger 1975: 75). Beni ngoma became an extremely popular and successful style of ngoma, and competitions and performances spread throughout eastern and southern Africa after World War I (Ranger 1975: 177).
The popularity of beni ngoma in Dar es Salaam and other areas of Tanganyika began to decline in the 1930s, but ngoma music, with all its variations of rivalry, competition, and entertainment continued. Ngoma in cities and towns became less about cultural or ethnic distinctions than about strengthening communities and overcoming adverse living situations. Laura Fair found that in Ngʼambo, a poor, African quarter of Zanzibar town that: [E]very night someone danced. In 1931, for instance, there were 2,450 licensed ngoma, or roughly seven different ngoma each night in urban Zanzibar. Many elders wistfully recalled the fun of their youths; following the performances of their favorite bands, hopping from party to party several nights a week, and in the process making friends and meeting lovers from neighborhoods across the town. (Fair 2001: 23) In other urban centers around Tanganyika, popular ngoma dances were being performed, including changani, unyago, and uyeyei, a snake-handling dance. These dances were held at clubs such as Silver Day and Golden Night in Dar es Salaam (Anthony 1983: 131). Another popular ngoma was lelemama, which was danced in towns and on caravan routes, and developed alongside beni ngoma. Unlike beni ngoma, however, lelemama remained popular well into the 1960s.
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