[between the lines: i, s(ista) i(n) s(olidarity) give thanks for yesterday, today and tomorrow,our true love stories make I and so many others extremely happy…]

Dar es Salaam is abuzz. It’s giving birth to a novel artistic landscape. Well, at least new in scope.

A cursory look at www.everythingdar.com/ and other calendars gives a glimpse of what is happening in Dar on a daily basis. Of particular interest are the originality, novelty and locality of oratory and literary expressions. They remind one of the making of the Harlem Renaissance.

Just to recap, the Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that partly swept New York City in the early 20th century. It produced music luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday and Duke Ellington. The movement also produced great poets such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay. It was in these times that the famous Apollo Theater came into being.

pamoja tunafika!

The works of these artists and artistes are still immortalized in the African imagination. Langston Hughes’s poem ‘A Dream Deferred’ continues to inspire critiques of the post-colonial ‘African condition’ – no wonder one voluminous biography is entitled ‘Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred.’

It is also not surprising that the Ella Fitzgerald jazz song ‘Drop me off in Harlem’ was also used as a soundtrack in the movie ‘Malcolm X’ starring Denzel Washington. And even today writers are still grappling with Countee Cullen’s poetic question: ‘What is Africa to me?’

Such is a fervour one finds in Dar to the extent that at the risk of engaging in a stereotypical linear comparison it is tempting to refer to all this as ‘The Dar es Salaam Renaissance.’ Of course the term ‘renaissance’ is not as innocent, especially when viewed in the context of what happened to Africa and the then so-called ‘New World’ after the European Renaissance. Yet it is a term that captures well the cultural awakening that tends to usher social change in any society.
It is in this regard that we need to pay close attention to what is happening in Dar’s cultural space, for in it are seeds of a social transformation-cum-revolution. What do you see when you encounter youngsters with locally produced t-shirts with Kiswahili or ‘Kiswanglish’ messages such as ‘Harakati…’ and ‘Na-struggle…’? Or what do you hear when you listen to them rapping about societal injustice? Mind you these artistic products are not made by NGOs or donor money!

What is interesting is that this renaissance in Dar es Salaam is pulling people from all walks of life and age as it crystallises a social consciousness necessary for societal transformation.

The ‘maiden’ Pen & Mic event attests to that. It featured poetic expressions from the likes of Vitali Maembe, Saida Yahya-Othman, Fid Q, Langa Sarakikya, Walter Bgoya and Mzungu Kichaa. You can read a bit about the event or relive it altogether at http://vijana.fm/2011/02/09/pen-mic/

Yet that is not the only space in Dar. There is the Fanani Flava poetry club that meets every last Tuesday of the month at A Novel Idea Bookshop in Slipway. Who knows, maybe a century from now its blog athttp://fananiflava.blogspot.com/ will be one of the leading archives of the Dar es Salaam Renaissance. Surely such a space needs to expand, lest it become, if not remain, elitist.

Last but not least there is Soma Book Café at http://www.soma.or.tz/ and its Soma Literary Magazine, among yet many others, is a space for fusing oral and literary consciousness. Interestingly, the upcoming issue of the magazine features Maya Wegerif, whose poem ‘Who tells our story?’ at http://mayawegerif.blogspot.com/ is a recipe for an African (cultural) revolution.


* Chambi Chachage is an independent researcher, newspaper columnist and policy analyst, based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.   * This article was first published on the Udadisi blog.
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

[feel like I can’t blog it enough…..infinite gratitude for all those spreading love, hope and positivity in abundance…infinite gratitude for our true true hadithi]

Who tells our stories?

I’ve heard that the stories of hunting will remain weak
Unless the lion itself learns to speak.
If it is he who exploits us that tells our story you see
Then we will always be spear-hurling savages you and me

Because during slavery when we were forced to work for the white
This is the story they told
‘We are doing those Negroes a favor bringing them from the Dark Continent into the light’
And with that story we were sold.
They convinced themselves that ‘these negroes are beasts without the capacity to feel pain, shame or sorrow’
And slaves are fed and clothed, ‘we’re giving them a far better deal than they know’
And so the stories of hunting remained weak
because the lion was whipped if he tried to speak.

And when that lie became transparent and it became apparent that Africans were not like children who needed a parent
They began a new lie that would keep us subservient
Through their media they began to portray us as primitive and uncivilized
And thus announced it their burden
to come here and rescue us, to make us believers as though we were uncertain
Their holy book was the only book they allowed and forced us to read
Taught us to pray while they preyed on our meat
Throughout this purgery, they proudly named this converting we
Then went back and told of our tears of joy, when actually we cried and we’d bleed
They called us Pagans and heathens and tried to make us forget what gods we did know
Stealing our ancestors’ land because their God told them so? NO
And so, if it is he who exploits us that tells our story you see
Then we are spear-hurling savages you and me

And thus it went on through the colonial era
Stole our food and fed us lies that the smarter were fairer – A historical error.
Until we ourselves believed that we were inferior
And then they didn’t have to do so much of the story-telling
Because blindly we became mouth pieces still viewing ourselves through white-eyes
Judging ourselves on white standards, these were our white lies
And so we bit our mother tongues, after all how else could we survive?
And so the stories of hunting remained weak
Because the lion itself could not speak.

And so they observed us till we became blind
They spoke and spoke until our own words we couldn’t find
Now we wish our black eyes would reflect the sky
We want hair that follows orders from the wind
Because they preached that black was scary, and ignorant and death
No one has taught us that black is the color of endlessness, the universe and of depth.

When they told our story they spoke of primitive people with no organization
They spoke of our fields that seemed to be unused, with no signs of cultivation
We did not explain that we had empires with kings and queens and courts and tribunals and religion and music and love- We failed to speak of our kingdoms and complex early civilizations
We did not explain why we didn’t plant our crops in rows and so our fields appeared jumbled or untended, of form productive intercropping that we used for stopping the soil from over utilization
and so no one reached this realization
And so the stories of hunting have remained weak
Because the lion never did speak.

For too long we have allowed stories to be told for us!
Let us not speak on behalf of the West, let us speak from within us.
W’Afrika tujenge hadithi zetu wenyewe za kuhadithia
Zile hadithi zetu za zamani, tusisahau kuzisikia
Listen to the stories bibi tells not just the stories BBC sells
Let us revive our storytellers of old, let us sing the songs we sang and retell the stories we told
And as we move along let us create our own standard, our own beauty. Revive our historians and revolutionaries, let us be bold.
Let’s take walks down memory street
Retrace and teach the beat of our ancestors’ feet
But also move to the groove of our own emancipation
Casually let’s speak our native minds with no care as to who this will suit
Let the lion speak of how the hunter trembles in his boots before he shoots
Those old tales, they rendered us weak


As performed at the Tedxdar conference on 22 May 2010

the revolushun will (not) be televised, dis revolushun is live 🙂