Santuri East Africa - Identity | Community | Innovation

From the blog

Songa Mbele / Moving On – Update

Back in August, Santuri initiated a project alongside the Tanzanian Gogo musician Msafiri Zawose. Supported by Pro Helvetia, the project has two main facets – an album recording, and a body of research that investigates something that’s key to the Santuri ethos – connecting East African artists with global networks outside of ‘mainstream’ routes.  Santuri was founded on the idea that collaboration and innovation can unlock opportunities both for individuals and the region, and the realization that the playing field has significantly changed in recent years.

The gatekeepers to the global markets are falling, (perhaps to replaced by others, but that’s for another time), and new formations are on the rise – World Music 2.0 – an interconnected mass network of micro-scenes, platforms, informal labels, events and hybrid styles and cultures – is percolating within music circles the world over, thanks to the internet.  Often driven by DJs or digging culture (the process of searching for and unearthing the rarest, wildest or just plain dopest sounds that few others have heard before) – WM 2.0 differs significantly from the previous music industry.

As DJ / writer Jace Clayton a.k.a dj/rupture explains:

“the first version of world music was like, ‘This is the superstar; this is the guy the labels are pushing; if you want to hear a great drummer from Mali, this is the guy.  But now there are inexpensive laptops everywhere in the world. Kids are making beats in internet cafes or on their telephones. They’re sharing them via Bluetooth, via YouTube, via Facebook. So there’s this unprecedented, amazing growth of musical activity all over the globe. Curious DJs and curious listeners can find it…….Kids in Europe are interested in what African kids are rapping about or in their production styles. Kids in South Africa are saying, ‘Hey, this new Nigerian is making great music, so maybe we can think about how that will influence our South African house music.’ … It’s a fascinating mix of hyper-localized music and global sharing.”

Extremely exciting as this is, does it bode well for talented musicians from East Africa dreaming of building a career and snagging that lucrative European tour?  Yes and and no seems to be the answer, and it’s a good point to bring in the recording project Santuri are undertaking with Msafiri Zawose.

Msafiri’s father, Hukwe Zawose perhaps embodied the original path to global success – perfecting his craft, tirelessly performing and developing a fervent local following, and eventually getting recognition globally under the patronage of a gatekeeper (Peter Gabriel in this case via Womad festival and his Real World label).  “World Music’ as a term and a genre was much newer then (only being codified in the mid 80s) and audiences were getting interested in sounds from around the world.


Msafiri – who saw that world as a member of the touring band with Hukwe in the 90s and early 2000s, has a different path to follow.  Traditional music such as that of the Wagogo can only find a very niche audience now – both abroad and even within local communities of Tanzania. Traditional musical practitioners are facing dwindling interest as globalization permeates even into the most remote areas, and the youth of East Africa have almost no interest in the ‘heritage’ music of their parents and grandparents.

In Europe and America, festivals focussed on roots / folks / world styles are (stereo)typically attended by a comfortable, middle class, leftist crowd – people with good intentions, open ears but zero ‘edge’. Not a scene where WM 2.0’s anarchic, lo-fi / high tech genre mashing extremes naturally flourish. The recent global upsurge of interest in African music culture among youth trends the world over has little to do with the scene Hukwe flourished in – and much more to do with cutting edge electronics, raw rhythms, dance-floor crossovers and sonic experimentalism.


In January this year, Msafiri arranged a meeting with Santuri, essentially proposing that Santuri collaborate on creating a body of work that represents his culture and upbringing, but transcends concerns of genre. Intuitively, Msafiri saw that in order for him to grow as a musician and reach audiences that would otherwise never hear his work, he’d need to engage with electronic music and the wider World Music 2.0 culture – and Santuri as an organization has the necessary understanding of both sides to make that happen.  Interestingly, his father was also the inspiration for this – having recorded the now seminal album Assembly with Michael Brook (electronic producer and Brian Eno collaborator) shortly before he died.

As such, Santuri has been working with Msafiri on an album of material with producer Sam Jones of SoundThread – and following teo intense weeks of recording in Bagamoyo in September, the focus now shifted to completing the material in London.

Once arrived in London, work began in earnest into shaping the raw material into a coherent collection of tracks.  Holed up in Sam’s studio in London Fields, the two were joined by various other musicians and the tracks began to find their shape and balance. The process is sometimes long and arduous, and at other times effortless – the two main creative driving forces each pushing the other to deliver something that treads that fine balance: something instantly and forever Gogo, but refracted into a myriad of other forms.  To these ears – which have heard a lot of different music – the sound is un-classifiable – fragments of Jamaican dub, electronica,  modal jazz,  experimental synth explorations, West African hi-life, spaced out balearic excursions and even raw UK-funky style dance-floor bangers all seem to co- exist in the same space. Each is shot through with the Zawose DNA – trance-inducing thumb pianos,  evocative zeze strings, and Msafiri’s beautiful and haunting vocals.   It may alienate a few hardcore traditionalists, but it will redefine the boundaries for contemporary music coming out of East Africa. Without doubt it will see Msafiri heard by audiences that currently have never heard of Zawose or the Wagogo, or would ever imagine themselves listening to ‘world music’ its traditional sense.

Msafiri Zawose’s trip to London was multi–faceted – aside from the recording session a very important factor was creating the various networks needed to see such a project take off. This meant lining up performances in very different environments,  meeting with labels and festival promoters, and generally soaking up some of the zeitgeist of a mega-city and its multitudes of influences and scenes.  During the two weeks in London, Msafiri performed sets in Brixton to a laid back music-hipster crowd, at Rich Mix in Dalston for a London Jazz week event organized by BBC radio DJs, a folky unplugged event, and as a part of an evening programme in a uber-hip record store in Peckham – supported by DJs spinning global sounds and electronic beats.

Each of these were different- and demanded different performances – some with electronics, some solo and unplugged, others as collaborations.  He also performed on Worldwide FM – an intent radio / live video stream site set up by ‘tastemaker’ Gilles Peterson – a key cult figure in DJ culture whose support for different global styles has brought a great deal of attention to forgotten and new artists alike.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding – how will the record be received both locally and globally?  Will it translate into earnings? Will his live bookings increase and will it open up opportunities into new markets?  Will it inspire others? Ultimately, what lesson can be learnt for other aspiring artists in the region? At the moment these questions remain open, but as the project develops, Santuri anticipates results that will offer insights into how better to connect with the global underground – and how to utilize it for East Africa’s own benefit.

By David Tinning
Santuri East Africa Director

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