The Recording in Tanzania: June 2012

I’ve been trying to find words for the recording experience; as it is beyond words, especially mine…but I will try.

To start,  I’ve met many people through the my days, those being initiators, articulators, stabilizers, jokers, complainers, balancers, participators, a dynamic and wide variety. But once in a great while you meet a dream-maker, those who quietly walk along and sprinkle their magic on others. Dream-makers are very resourceful and believe and trust in others, they are willing to take a chance and don’t slow down when in the face of obstacles. I was sitting on the plane, nervous as hell, and realized that I have not only one, but a few dream-makers gracing me with their wisdom and patience. I allowed that thought to comfort me and to help ease my nerves. I repeated the mantra “Jessey, get done what you set out to do”…even though I wasn’t quite sure if all the remote coordinating was going to fall into place once on the ground.

I landed in Moshi on June 30 and was relieved and warmly welcomed by a friend who arranged to transport me to my hotel in Arusha. I arrived two days  in advance of the studio time to help shake the jet-lag of the 20 hr trip and to prepare last minute details for the studio.

The Choir’s (22 individuals) journey started Monday July 2 at 4:30 Am as they loaded into a daladala (small bus) for over the 4 hr trek to Arusha from Remiti Village. For many of the choir members, ages ranging from about 10-35, this was their first experience away from their village. They arrived, with a seemingly endless flow of bodies from the small bus, ready to go and dressed in their beautiful blue cloth, new shoes and traditional jewelry (cloth and shoes were provided as part of the project budget). We took a few minutes to greet , shake hands and exchange some courtesy’s before we entered the metal door of the studio. There were many nerves as this was the first time I had seen the choir since our initial meeting in summer 2011.We all marched up the stairs, removed our shoes and made our way into a welcome room for introductions. Once we were ready to get started, we instructed the choir to remove their jewelry and dress cloth as the jiggling of the beads could not be in the studio. Once this process completed, the choir made their way into the recording room and were given instructions on how to use the microphones and headsets. Everyone had their gear, instructions and positions, I stepped out to the control room and the sound technician cued the choir. The words of song #1 harmonized through the air so magnificently I was spellbound. Overcome with happy emotion, the team exchanged a congratulatory glance and I felt my first wave of relief that it would all come together. The day churned by as studio time is aggressive. It was around noon and I noticed the choir’s energy was fading. At that time I was informed that the choir had not yet eaten. It was time to improvise, so a few of us trekked outside just as a street vendor carrying loaves of bread on his bicycle was passing by (timing is everything). We flagged him down, negotiated ten loaves of bread and ordered tea from a small shop down the road and called the first break-out session of the day.

After the refresher, the choir continued as we knew time was of the essence. A few more hours of recording elapsed, then the meal for the early evening was delivered. We still needed to complete a few more songs, some recorded much quicker than others, so we continued. As I watched the clock, I knew we needed to arrange the rides before it got too late.  The determination to complete the songs of the full-choir in day 1, so day 2 could be used for solos and duets, became the commanding decision maker however. It was going on about 7:30 PM when I mentioned to the team that I really needed to call a taxi because I was to take it by myself, already after dark, back to the hotel. We agreed that I should be going and mama would call the transport for the choir. As mama called, turns out the original bus we scheduled for the choir wouldn’t pick up any longer that night because it was too late. With the help of those at the studio a taxi was arranged but it took 4 trips back and forth to the hostel to get everyone there. As the clocked turned on 11:30PM, everyone was finally to their place of rest before having to get up and start again for day 2.

Day 2 we arrived at the studio at fragmented times, but eventually everyone showed. The studio manager was a bit late so we utilized that time to have a photo-shoot outside. As I photographed, and requested the choir to say “cheese” (meaning crazy in Maasai language) we all laughed. I of course just practiced humility as I didn’t know if they were laughing at me or with me. They loved posing for the photos and we managed to use the time well. It was fun and everyone loosen up a bit after the long day we had just experienced. Once the studio manager arrived, a meeting with the choir master, mama, myself and the recording technician commenced and we decided it was practical to try and finish the choirs time at the studio that day and hire the transportation to get them back home that evening. After speaking with the owner of the hostel, Mama and I decided that it would be best if we could avoid one more night at the hostel. There was nothing specific that lead us to this decision, it was the combination of cultural differences that assured us it was best to get them back home sooner than later. Our goal was to have the recording completed by 3PM, at which time the transport would arrive and return the choir to their home.

The choir again started in the recording room. As Mama and I got seated in the control room she informed me that she was not feeling well. Her and I called a taxi so we could go to pick up her medication town as we also needed to stop by the hostel so we could settle up the room contract with the owner. As we were out, the choir worked tirelessly for the day and successfully recorded the remaining songs and the solos. Late afternoon, we returned to the studio and exhaustively wrapped up the day by 3PM. The members of the choir exhibited tremendous patience and hardwork and although they were drained they performed with no complaints or signs of yielding. Fanuel’s (choir master) energy and ability to lead was exceptional as he not only instructed the choir but sang all the songs with the choir and had multiple solos to perform.

Before the choir departed, Mama, myself and Fanuel discussed the follow through and what would be required to complete production. It was unclear at first, but eventually after an hour or so of discussing and translating, we settled on a close. We all said our thank you’s, honored everyone involved, reviewed the budget and I handed off some shillings to Fanuel for the transportation and food for their journey home. Everyone was relieved to have completed phase 1 and we placed trust in one another to follow through with the completion of the album.

The recording was phase 1, now the production and creative process continues for me. What is already accomplished is an initiative that has instilled a sense of hope, confidence and belief. The members of the choir had their eyes opened, were exposed to new ideas and we helped them to understand that they have choices. They returned to their village with a new perspective and can share with the other members of their community. The next steps will be determined by the success of the sales of the soon to be released album, but I can tell you now, summer 2013 has Tanzania on the calendar.

The launch of the album, Voice of Maasai,  is scheduled for early September with firm dates to be announced soon. I will be busy busy busy doing my part in making this a SHINING success and please, if you feel you can be part of providing contacts or networking within the music, distribution or licensing industries….don’t hesitate to send a note my way. Please visit us on FB to view the pictures of the recording.

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