Pride of art after 50 years of independence

Pride of art after 50 years of independence

In a conversation with the 'Daily News' during the week he explained how happy he was in 1961, when it was announced that Tanganyika had obtained independence from the British. And over the last 50 years since independence he has seen the arts sector grow, from individuals who earn a living from art to organised art groups; while furthering their artistic ideas.

"There is nothing better than having the ability to rule your own country. No one would doubt that on the whole an artist has a better environment to work in now than then. But for anyone to benefit from this he or she must be prepared to work and follow the rules passed-on to them by their teachers. The first thing you have to do is be precise and clean in your work. If the Government wants to help local artists they should try and set up markets both locally and abroad for them to exhibit and sell their works," Mzee Abdallah said.

Born after independence, the National Arts Council (BASATA) Director of Research Training and Information, Godfrey Mngereza, agrees with the elder's observation. He introduced another dimension to the discussion when the 'Daily News' paid a visit to their offices in the Ilala-Bungoni section of Dar es Salaam.

Immediately after independence, Mngereza said, art was used to promote political ideas (a propaganda machine) and for entertainment. Today things have changed and it is also seen as a business. There is a need for art to be recognised as an honest way of making a living  by society at large for its full potential to be realised.

"I maintain that art is much more lucrative now than it was before independence. Furthermore, art  can be used to bring about development to communities. When art is examined in its full perspective, it is impossible to separate art from development." Mngereza explained.

He is optimistic about the future seeing that there is a well developed curriculum to teach the arts in secondary schools. There are teachers available to handle the task. Currently there is a gap as art is not taught in primary nor secondary schools.

Another person who joined the discussion was the Director of Culture Development in the Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports, Professor Hermas Mwansoko. He maintains that there are a few theatres in the country today, as opposed to none before independence, 50 years ago. This is a sure sign of infrastructural development within the local arts sector, he suggests.  

"First of all, the Bagamoyo Institute for Arts and Culture is still functioning  and late last year the National Museum and House of Culture officially opened a state-of-the-art theatre, here in the City Centre.  A modern recording studio has been constructed at the centre to record performing artists at a subsidised rate. The National Arts Council (BASATA) has almost completed its amphitheatre," he said.

The Director of Culture Development  mentioned that at national level, the Government has started a project to build an additional theatre in Bagamoyo District in Coast Region. These facilities, he maintains, were not available to artists before independence but are contributions made during the 50 years of self rule.

This development within the sector has pleased him. However, he  told the 'Daily News' earlier this week he is not happy to see a number of  local performing artists, who produce original works not benefiting from their art. This is because a large number of people who are not talented, have 'jumped onto the wagon' and making money out of the artists.

It must be remembered, the Professor said, that when looking at the performing arts, most of the works produced before independence represented original local ethnic groups. There were no exchanges between the various ethnic groups, so their art remained original, distinct and solely represented one particular set of people. It's quite different today, when every community has been opened to the next and consequently to the world at large.

However, Professor Mwansoko believes artists in the filmmaking industry can get a better deal if they form active associations. The artists complain that there are too many middle men, like producers and distributers who benefit from their labour.

In the case of traditional ngoma troupes, original artists' regions are not getting the recognition they deserve. This is because many groups are actually formed from a mixture of other ethnic sects, which are based here in Dar es Salaam.

In fact, these people are copying the original art from, which they present, in their ignorance, with many imperfections. Professor Mwansoko feels District Cultural Officers (DCO) have a role to play towards rectifying this situation. He suggests that these DCOs should be encouraged to record cultural groups in their areas, then the recording should be sent to Dar es Salaam for storage.

That is one way to ensure that there would be an example of their original works stocked here. Then when there is a request for a particular type of performance at national or regional level, the specific group for this piece would be called to come and perform. This would keep the authenticity for the pieces intact. In the case of the visual arts, he said there have not been such changes.

"With traditional dances I envisage that if we don't continue recording and encouraging people to perform for leisure we will be overwhelmed by globalisation. There is a danger of these established works being affected as the general music has been. Here we are going very fast towards globalisation. It's only the traditional dances that still have a Tanzanian identity. With many of the other forms, it is too often that we see artists singing in Swahili but their regalia, movements and so forth has nothing to do with local culture. This way we're losing a lot," he said.

This also applies to modern Taraab music, which Professor Mwansoko  strongly believes is heavily influenced by Congolese Rumba. Most enthusiasts of the musical genre now-a-days are those who want to go out and dance, whereas traditional Taraab is meant to be listened to. This he maintains are signs that the music is eroding very fast, where identity is concerned. He would like the traditional dances to resist this trend because he sees them as having the responsibility to maintain the Tanzanian identity. 

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