A Cultural Trip to Africa
by Jess Hayden, SFMS Executive Director
In early 2007 I was fortunate to receive a fellowship from the York County Community Foundation for self-guided study that would help to renew and educate me both professionally and personally. With the funds from this program I choose to travel to Tanzania, a country in East Africa. This was an area relatively unknown to me, but one which had a profound impact on early civilization, early cultures -- and today, on folk music and dance.
So many of the CDs that cross my desk are influenced by the music of Africa... Celtic bands, blues musicians, string bands, percussionists, even children's musicians. There seems to be great interest in the beats, harmonies and instruments of Africa. I was fascinated with the music of Tanzania in particular because I wanted to learn how the predominantly Muslim culture and early influence of Arab traders impacted and merged with the music of the region's many tribes. My family and I spent nearly three weeks in Tanzania this summer, visiting five different distinct tribal areas. Everywhere we went, we met incredibly welcoming and friendly people.
We drove over mostly dirt roads to villages where everyone seemed anxious to help us learn about the culture of their region. In hardly any time at all, a group of dancers or musicians would converge in a field, in a village clearing, or once on a bluff overlooking the Indian Ocean, to give an impromptu dance performance for our family! I got the chance to take some dance lessons, learn a few songs in Swahili and even tried to play a tune on a ram's horn.
The trip included visits to sites where relief workers were active in improving educational and health facilities, and where local woman were being empowered by Heifer International. We squeezed in two safaris (definitely the renewing part of the trip!) and saw absolutely stunning landscape and a large number of animals.
During our trip, we experienced just a little piece of the rich and complex fabric that represents African culture. I am very appreciative to the York County Community Foundation and particularly to Bob Pollo from the York Federal Foundation for making a glimpse of this fascinating continent possible.