“I simply love dancing. And after struggling to get the support of my family at first, this job is my life now. Dancing changed my life. While others didn’t have anything, I got something I was really good at.”
Brayson Silas, Dancer of the Cultural Arts Center (second from left)
‘From the day we are born until we are gone, it’s all music and dance’
By Katharina Stein
Africa as a continent was long known to be the colorful, vivid and aesthetic origin of art, especially of dance and music. A natural rhythm that melts into one with the heartbeat – a very idyllic picture. Nowadays this picture is not anymore part of the daily life of Tanzanian people. Traditional music and dance became more and more unimportant over the last decades.
To change this, the Cultural Arts Center (CAC) at Tumaini University Makumira has established a slogan: “Shiriki kuhifadhi utamaduni wetu” (Get involved in preserving our culture). The CAC project, which got initial help through a funding by the European Union, should help to keep the cultural heritage of Tanzania alive. The main idea is to bring traditional dance and music not only closer to tourists, but also to the people of Tanzania, students as well as families – everybody is welcome!
“What we are is not being done anywhere else in Tanzania”, explains Randall Stubbs, the Programme Manager of CAC, “we are providing employment opportunities for dancers and for researchers. We are providing access to information that people genuinely want to know!”
The Cultural Arts Center offers regular performances presented by a group of 18 trained dancers and musicians, workshops in dancing, instrument making and cooking, everything according to Northern Tanzanian culture, including Meru, Chagga and Masai. “We are trying to have a larger umbrella to show multiple ethnic groups and not just one. That makes us unique”, emphasizes Mr. Stubbs.
Dancers from all over Tanzania were chosen and trained in a special workshop by Cassius Mlewa Maganga, Music/Dance instructor of CAC at the time. “Our work was to see who could fit in our vision”, he says, “Our life is all about music and dance. People were teaching one another through art. So it is very important that we keep this alive, at least to restore our traditional education.”
In order to achieve this, the dancers were also trained for outreach programs. They are going to schools and teach students different traditional dances and songs to make them aware of their cultural heritage. “We see that an even more important aspect of the project is getting to the schools and into the communities to share about the culture and why the culture is important”, confirms Randall Stubbs.
“Many people don’t like traditional dance, they think it is something from the past”, says Oliver Mrema, dancer of the CAC group, “I believe that many people lost their traditions, but actually they would be interested. So if they see us dancing, they are happy and feel like we bring them home again.”
Outside the university a huge project has been completed about half a year ago. On the ground of CAC a huge building complex has been built. A performance hall for 300 visitors but also a dance studio, a music library, exhibition area, conference rooms and a big parking lot for visitors. “We are looking that in the big picture Makumira can be a place, a hub, for East Africa, if not even a bigger area, for things dealing with arts and research”, explains Mr. Stubbs.
However, like any other projects, CAC is facing some challenges. “Because our project is still growing, we are not very much known in Arusha area, we are still facing many challenges. But we are working very hard so we are also becoming popular and famous around the area”, explains Glory Ewald, administrative assistant to the project. That seems to be also a big issue for the dancers: “It is a challenge also for us. Having used a lot of time to prepare a performance, and then not having a big audience to present it to – that can be tough”, explains Naliene Omari, dancer and drummer of CAC.
But plans to overcome this have already started to be put into action. “I think there is so much potential out there”, assures Mr. Stubbs who is very positive about the project’s future, “I love the energy that we have in the group. And I love the quality of what they are doing.”
“We share one thing”, he concludes, “Responsibility to restore our culture. I am sure, in our spirits, we all want to do this, keep (our culture) alive”. It is a unique project, offering a mixture of traditional dances and music, providing support for young artists and continuing Tanzanian culture preservation.
Regular performances take place Tuesday and Thursday at 4pm on CAC ground behind Tumaini University, Makumira.
More information at http://www.cac.ac.tz
by Katharina Stein