Collections: Frank Gunderson - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Musical Labor Performance from the Sukuma Region of Western Tanzania (1994-1995)

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Sukuma Dancer, Kisesa Township, Tanzania, 2004. Image © Frank Gunderson.

In the Sukuma region of Western Tanzania as in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, rural life relies upon cooperative social networks that include and extend beyond kinship affiliation. These specialized networks include associations that allocate labor in various ways to include hunting, farming, and healing. All Sukuma labor associations in Tanzania have had a seasonal recreational component that highlights dance and dance competitions, thus, depending on who is watching, these "labor" associations have also been called "dance" associations or "dance" societies. The expressive culture of these associations is rich and varied, but with Mwanza becoming the fastest growing urban area in all of East Africa, and with the attraction and rapid spread of mechanized farming, many of the traditions documented in this collection are in a state of uncertain transformation. This video collection is culled from one field trip that took place in 1994-5. The collection includes a variety of Sukuma farmers' seasonal song and performance culture recorded at the farmsite; rehearsals for post-harvest dance competitions; footage shot at dance competitions; healing sessions between healer and patient which use music; Wigaashe sung narrative poetry performances; group discussions with elderly musicians about music history; and interviews with musicians discussing their music and lives.

This fieldwork documents the recurring domains of "musical labor," "music and competition," and ancestral song composition in northwestern Tanzania. These domains are most prominent in the case of the Sukuma people, whether in the specialized ritual-labor music of their elephant, snake, and porcupine-hunting associations that flourished in the pre-colonial era, in their nineteenth century long-distance porter associations, or in their farmer-musician guilds that have actively borrowed their musical repertoire from prior-existing labor associations during the twentieth century. Several particulars regarding usage here need to be addressed. In Bantu languages, the prefix ki- signifies "language." In KiSukúma, the ba- prefix signifies "people" or "ethnicity." The bu- prefix refers to an abstract noun or "state of." In reference to a dance group, such as the bagóbogóbo, the ba- prefix tells us that these are the people who do the bugóbogóbo dance.

This collection is peer reviewed and available online in the EVIA Project Archive.

Frank Gunderson is an Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Florida State University. He received his Bachelor's degree from the Evergreen State College, his Master's degree in World Music from Wesleyan University, and a PhD in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University (1999). He has taught at Ohio University, the University of Oklahoma, and has also for taught for several years in a secondary school in Kenya. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Tanzania, and has produced the CD, Tanzania: Farmer Composers of North West Tanzania (Multicultural Media, 1997). He is an active member of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the College Music Society, and the African Studies Association. He has published articles and reviews in Ethnomusicology and Africa Today, is a guest editor of the journal The World of Music, and co-edited the book Mashindano!: Competitive Music Performance in East Africa (2000, Mkuki na Nyota Press/African Books Collective LTD). He has just completed Volume I of a two volume series with Brill Academic Press, Sukuma Song Texts as Sources for Tanzanian History: Labor Songs.

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