Collections: Alex Perullo - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Generations of Sound: Popular Music, Genre, and Performance in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (1998, 2003)

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Dancers from "Double Extra" performing at Leaders Club, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2005. Image © Alex Perullo.

This collection of videos represents a broad cross-section of popular music found in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. During fieldwork between 1998 and 2003, Alex Perullo worked with artists from different musical genres to learn about their relation to popular music and the contemporary music industry. The many videos recorded during this fieldwork, a portion of which are included in the EVIA Digital Archive, provide an important record of performance and practices spaces, festivals, dance movements, musical techniques, singing styles, and urban nightlife. The value of this collection is that it provides an important glimpse at urban, African musical forms in the neoliberal period.

Several themes run through each of the eleven events that appear in this collection. The importance of social interaction—the ways in which people act, respond, interpret, and assign meaning to a social event—is a particularly significant quality of each recorded performance. Performances that do not inspire people to dance, sing, talk, and otherwise interact with one another tend to be poorly received. In 2001, for instance, many attendees of a classical music concert mocked the "selfish" or "tiresome" ways in which the performers sat on stage without engaging the audience who sat motionless throughout the event. Social interaction, then, is about creating a participatory experience where the performers, audience members, club owners, and general community believe that they are interacting with one another to heighten their engagement with the event.

Musical borrowing is another important theme for this collection. In most of the genres presented here, artists borrow, consciously or not, sounds, timbres, techniques, and vernacular from other styles of music. Sometimes referred to a muziki wa changanyika (mixed music), music borrowing is a key form of establishing credibility for music in urban areas. It establishes a bands/ artists musical knowledge and their/ his/ her cosmopolitaness, which is a highly respected quality in many forms of urban popular music. In this collection, musical borrowing, whether in dance or music, is only occasionally discussed with a specific song or dance that is exemplary of muziki wa changanyika, since it can be found in the majority of the songs presented here.

Finally, a subtle theme pervades this collection of generational distinction in which various age groups relate to their music, audiences, lyrics, dances, etc. differently. For instance, in several of the recorded interviews with elder statesman of the popular music scene, they debate the approach, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively, that youth use to engage, compose, produce, and sell their music. Often a subtle distinction is made in the ways elders and youth approach social responsibility in musical compositions and performances. See, for instance, discussions of "old is gold" by Ndala Kasheba and Kassongo Mpinda. The younger generation, while acknowledging their elders, often approach music, entertainment, and leisure in a much different way—less informed by the country's nationalist and socialist past than a sense of global connectivity to youth in other parts of the world. See, for instance, the Mambo Club event.

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

Image © The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Alex Perullo is an assistant professor of ethnomusicology and African studies at Bryant University. He received his PhD from the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University in 2003. The video deposited in the EVIA Digital Archive is drawn from his research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, carried out between 1998 and 2007. Many details about the history and current situation of Dar es Salaam popular music scene can be found in his dissertation "'The Life That I Live': Popular Music, Agency, and Urban Society in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania," and in publications found in Africa Today, Ethnomusicology, Popular Music and Society, as well as several edited volumes. Perullo is currently working on an ethnography of the Tanzanian popular music industry, including performances, radio stations, recordings studios, and copyright law titled Sounds of the City: Popular Music, Creative Practices, and Tanzania's Music Economy. Perullo is also co-editor of the EVIA Digital Archive.

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