Preserving Music and Culture in Saharawi Refugee Camps

Ethnomusicologist & Project Leader Violeta Ruano writes about Stave House in the Sahara early childhood music education project and the socio-cultural landscape of the Saharawi refugee camps in Southwest Algeria.

Anywhere I go, few people know what on earth I am talking about when I mention that I teach music in refugee camps in the middle of the Sahara desert. Wait, what? Refugees? Western Sahara, is that a country? But are they Algerians? Nevertheless, despite being rather unknown, the Saharawi is one of the longest protracted refugee stories in Africa. The country where these refugees come from, ex-Spanish colony Western Sahara, is still pending decolonization since Morocco annexed it to its territory after Spain left in early 1976, forcing more than half of the population to flee and seek refuge in the nearby harsh Algerian desert. And there, daily battling with extreme temperatures, sandstorms, dust and lack of resources, the resilient Saharawis have been building their own nation in exile for the past 40 years.

stave campView of the Saharawi refugee camp of Boujdour, by Violeta Ruano

One of the most important survival strategies for the Saharawis has precisely been to preserve and bolster their traditional oral culture, which has always had music at its heart. Closely linked to the musical traditions of other parts of West Africa, especially Mauritania, traditional Saharawi music combines powerful poetry in Hassaniya – their local Arabic dialect – with a musical system based on modes, usually sung accompanied by instruments such as the tidinit (lute) and the tbal (drum). Throughout the past decades, the Saharawis have introduced many changes to their music, including revolutionary lyrics documenting their struggle and new instruments such as the electric guitar and the keyboards.

In addition, the Saharawis have also worked hard to provide as many varied educational opportunities for their children and youth to grow strong and independent. Since 1976, they have joined international grant schemes, built and managed local primary and professional schools, and supported a vast number of collaboration projects such as children’s libraries, art residencies, film festivals, concerts and much more. Stave House in the Sahara, officially launched last February 2016, is one of the newest additions to this list.

This project consists on the facilitation – and by facilitation we mean working collaboratively, without impositions – of early childhood music education through the English language in primary schools in the camps. Our methodology aims (we’re still developing it!) to combine oral traditions with innovative and fun music teaching method Stave House (www.stavehouse.co.uk), which has already been successfully implemented in many schools around the world. This method is based around captivating stories and light and portable teaching materials; it doesn’t need electricity nor fancy equipment, which is ideal for the living conditions in the camps.

stave children

Between March and April 2016 I worked alongside 3 Saharawi teachers – Gejmula Mohamed, Fatimetu Melainin and Tekwen Mohamed – to develop lesson plans and activities that link in with and enhance the Saharawi children’s daily study routines, while teaching a pilot project with a group of 30 children. It has been wonderful to see the children thrive with the stories in the lessons while learning basic music concepts and a few useful words in English. Apart from the music curriculum, we also aim to develop a full English language course that draws on poetry, stories, and song lyrics.

Stave House in the Sahara has a simple, but very powerful idea at heart – every child should be able to experience the joys of making music (any music!) no matter the circumstances.

Stave House in the Sahara is a collaborative partnership between Stave House, British charity Sandblast, the London College of Music, the Saharawi Ministries of Culture and Education, and the primary school of Lal Andala, in the refugee camp of Boujdour (although we hope to be reaching other schools soon!). If you want to get involved, visit our recently launched JustGiving fundraising campaign, and please consider making a contribution if you can!

http://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/sandblast/stavehouseinthesahara

Find general information about the Stave House here: http://stavehouseinthesahara.weebly.com/

 Or check out their “sponsor a child” campaign where you can give a year’s worth of music education to a child in the refugee camp: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1Nvmu8QFRGgRmZOSmJndGlDTGs/view

Rocking Icelandic Music – From Inside A Volcano

There’s a new band from Iceland that’s recently been getting a lot of well-deserved attention.  Mixing their own original rock-oriented music with traditional Icelandic songs, this group of 4 friends from the town of Mosfellsbaer; near Reykjavik, is taking the world by storm.  And shaking the foundations of the Earth.  By performing inside a volcano.  Yes, you read that right.  Their last video took about 26 hours to shoot and was filmed inside the Prihnukagigur volcano, which thankfully has not erupted in the last 4,000 years.

You can see the video shot of the song “Way Down We Go” here.

 

And if that song sounds familar, there’s a good reason.  Its been used widely in television programs such as HBO’s The Leftovers, NBC’s Game of Silence, Fox’s Empire as well as for FIFA 2016. But the song that’s most caught our ear is their haunting cover of an Icelandic ballad titled ‘Vor í vaglaskógi’. Says band leader, Julius:  “It’s a love story between a couple.  What’s beautiful about it is really how it describes a moment. This spring night that they’re having in this forest. And how they describe the nature and everything that’s going around on this beautiful spring or summer night. I think that really lead people to start listening to our other songs and discovering the band itself.”

You can hear Kaleos studio version of that song along with a video montage of Icelandic images, here:

Is Kaleo a multicultural phenomenon?  Although from Icelandic roots, they chose a name that means “the sound” in Hawaiian and have relocated to Austin, Texas in the United States to prepare for recording more music and touring. Members of the group include bandleader, Julius Son, David Antonsson (drums), Daniel Kristjansson (bass) and Rubin Pollock (guitar). For more information on the band plus schedules for upcoming shows, check out the official Kaleo website at http://www.officialkaleo.com/.

The Irish Music Daily – All Things Irish From A Musical Point-Of-View

Irish Music Daily iconAlthough St. Patrick’s Day is a time when the world’s attention is drawn to all things Irish, there’s a resource-rich online site called The Irish Music Daily that’s dedicated to sharing and promoting Irish music year-round.  The Irish Daily shares lyrics and chords for popular Irish songs as well as news and articles about Irish musical figures both older and upcoming.  Recent posts cover popular musical sensations such as U2, Enya, Celtic Thunder and beloved Irish flutist, James Galway.  Aside from block-buster talent,  there’s also a great section called “Showcase” that spotlights amazing new talents and interpreters of Irish music from countries all over the world.

Even if you’re already a fan or devotee of Irish music, this site provides you with so much information, you’ll want to bookmark it and return often. Here are some of our favorite links from that site:

Irish Performers Choose Their Favorite Songs For St. Patrick’s Day
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/st-patricks-day

Who’s Who and Who’s New in Playing and Interpreting Irish Music Around The World
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/video-showcase

Top Irish Musicians And Instrumentalists
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/irelands-top-instrumentalists

Links and Related Resources

IRISH MUSIC DAILY – Home Page
http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/

playing on bodhran at a traditional session

MYO Bodhran and Tipper tutorial: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Irish-Drum-Make-and-Play-Your-Own-Bodhran-and-Tipper-2410657

Whistle a Merry Tune – With A Tin Whistle
http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/early-learning-with-music/whistle-a-merry-tune-with-a-tin-whistle/

Morris Dancing Bells For Kids
http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/early-learning-with-music/easy-morris-dancing-bells-for-children/

Easy Introduction to 10 Irish Instruments
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/an-easy-introduction-to-irish-instruments/

Irish Videos on Multicultural Kids Music Vids  
http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?cat=512

Modern Rock Songs from China

Omnipotent Youth

Can you imagine impassioned rock songs in modern Chinese Popular culture?  Tyson Gibb just did a great blog post with his 10 top rock songs from China along with translations and language suggestions.

Drop by his post to hear and read about these powerful songs that comment, question, protest and generally turn rock music into a vehicle for mainstream Chinese voices.

http://tysongibb.net/?p=419

(Pictured above is lead singer and guitarist from a modern Chinese band known as Omnipotent Youth)

The Story Behind The “Dry Bones” Song

delta r boysAlthough it’s often mistaken for a folksong, this popular spiritual that often pops up around Halloween was written by African-American author and composer, James Weldon Johnson.   The song has no exact date of composition, however, it was first recorded by the Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928 and some versions of this song also give writing credit the author’s brother, J. Rosomond Johnson.  Since that time, it has been rerecorded and made popular by a wildly diverse group of musicians and performers including Rosemary Clooney, Tennessee Ernie Ford, The Mills Brothers, The Kingsmen and even Phish.

Although the song has spooky overtones, the lyrics are taken from the Biblical Book of Ezekial (Ezekial 37:1-14) where the Prophet Ezekial visits the Valley of Dry Bones and prophesies that the dead will one day rise again at the command of the Lord.  Although dry bones cd delta r boysthere are quite a few variations of the song, the format is pretty much the same.  The song starts with an introductory verse, tells the sequence of bones (from the toe upward) and almost always ends the command: “Now hear the word of the Lord.”

You can read one version of the lyrics and check a video of the Delta Rhythm Boys below.  The Delta Rhythm Boys were a very popular musical group that made this song well-known through their performances on radio, television and on Broadway.

LYRICS

•    Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
•    Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
•    Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,
•    Now hear the word of the Lord.

•    Toe bone connected to the foot bone
•    Foot bone connected to the heel bone
•    Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
•    Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
•    Shin bone connected to the knee bone
•    Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
•    Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
•    Hip bone connected to the back bone
•    Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
•    Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
•    Neck bone connected to the head bone
•    Now hear the word of the Lord.

•    Chorus

•    Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
•    Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
•    Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
•    Now hear the word of the Lord.

Horagai – A Conch Shell Trumpet From Samurai Times

A while ago we did a post about conch shell trumpets that date back to ancient Aztec times.  While researching Asian-Pacific Instruments, we found similar shell trumpets in Tibet, Korea, the Pacific Islands and Japan.  Here’s more about the Japanese version of this unique instrument.

Although shell trumpets can be found in various locations around the world, the Japanese versions – Horagai (法螺貝) or jinkai (陣貝) are a bit unusual.  They consist, not only of the large conch shell but also of a wooden or bronze mouthpiece that allows the instrument to make a series of sounds, as opposed to only one loud blast or note.  Most closely connected with Buddhist monks such as the Yamabushi Warrior monks in Japan, each group or school would learn to play the instrument in different ways and to produce different melodies.

Historical records show that horagai was used in various Buddhist rituals that date back at least a thousand years or so.  These shell trumpets can also be seen in present day Japan in religious ceremonies such as the omizutori (water drawing), which is part of the of the Shuni-e rites at the Tōdai-ji in Nara.  When used by the Yamabushi (Ascetic warrior monks of the Shugendo sect) the instrument would both accompany the chanting of sutras or prayers as well as to signal their presence or movements throughout the mountain region where they lived.  Because the temperatures in these high mountains could easily drop below zero, it is said that the wooden or bronze mouthpiece was added so that the trumpeter’s lips would not freeze to the shell in the extreme cold.

When used in Samurai times, the jinkai, or “war shell”, would play different combinations of notes to signal troops to attack, withdraw or change battle plans.  It was sometimes used to confuse the enemy who might misread the number of troops attacking or what the various battle signals might be.  As you might guess, an experienced trumpeter; called a kai yaku (貝役), woudl have to be an adept musician and would be valued greatly by the Japanese fuedal lords or Samurai for their talents.

To learn more about different shell trumpet traditions or to hear a beginner horagai player learning the instrument, check out the links and resources below.

Links and Resources

Instruments From Ancient Mexico – The Conch Shell Trumpet
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/instruments-from-ancient-mexico-the-conch-shell-trumpet/

Wikipedia’s Horagai Page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horagai

Learning to play the Yamabushi Conch-Shell Trumpet (Horagai)
http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?p=1466

What’s the National Instrument of Bhutan? Find It Here!

ukulele color imageThe internet has some really handy compilation sites.  We’ve recently discovered a Wikipedia page that shares the national instruments from a variety of diverse countries of the world.

What’s a national instrument?  It can be an instrument discovered or played in a country, like the South African vuvuzela horn.  It can also be a musical instrument that holds cultural and symbolic importance for a state, a nation, culture or a particular race or ethnicity of people.  Included in this list are distinctive drums, percussion instruments, stringed instruments and more, each one representing the unique character of the country and culture it’s identified with.

Think of the balalaika of Russia  Or the ukulele of Hawaii.   And if you take a moment to check out this list, you’ll notice that each instrument has a clickable link to a more detailed page with additional description, pictures and musical information.  In short, this is an amazing place to begin any study or exploration of world music and world music instruments.

charango full color imageCan a country have more then one “national instrument”?  Yes, you’ll notice that several countries have multiple instruments listed as their national instruments.  For instance, Peru has both the Afro-Peruvian cajón (box drum) and the Andean charango, a stringed instrument made from the shell of an armadillo.

So what is the national instrument of Bhutan?  It’s a long-necked, seven-stringed lute called the drayen.  To find out more, you’ll just have to check out the link, here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_instruments_%28music%29

Links and Resources

Vuvuzela – South Africa
MYO Vuvuzela Stadium Horn
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Vuvuzela-Make-Play-Your-Own-South-African-Stadium-Horn-1242716

Balalaika-Ill-ColoredBalalaika – Russia
Balaika Poster and Coloring Page
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Balalaika-Mini-Poster-and-Coloring-Page-917136

Wooden Spoons – Russia
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/playing-the-spoonsin-russia/

Cajón  – Peru
Hear, Color or Craft One At:
http://www.dariamusic.com/cajon.php

Ukulele – Hawaii
Poster and Coloring Page
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Ukulele-A-Stringed-Instrument-from-Hawaii-Mini-Poster-and-Coloring-Page-1095283

Charango – Peru
Poster and Coloring Page
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Charango-An-Instrument-from-South-America-Mini-Poster-and-Coloring-Page-613417

Sistrum posterSistrum – Egypt
Color or Craft One At:
http://www.dariamusic.com/crafts.php

Didgeridoo – Australia
Hear, Color or Craft One At:
http://www.dariamusic.com/didgeridoo.php

You Can Help Preserve and Share Indonesian Children’s Music

Screen shot 2015-04-14 at 6.26.25 PMAlthough we don’t generally cover news about crowd-sourced projects, this one is so different and so special, we wanted to share it here and encourage you to participate.

The project is an Indonesian children’s music CD and book set, a compilation of  best-known songs along with a book filled with beautiful notes and illustrations.  The songs are easy to sing and have gorgeous, memorable melodies.  Feel free to go to this direct link for project and funding details or watch the video below.  In addition, we’ll have the story behind this project in our next post, so please stay tuned and consider donating $10.00 for all the songs on the cd, $20.00 for the songs plus the physical book or even more to help this wonderful folklore project become a reality.

Indiegogo Page for Indonesian Children’s Music CD And Book Set

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/indonesian-children-s-music-cd-book-set

Meet the Creators and Musicians From This Project

“Weeping”- An Anti-Apartheid Song Written By South African Songwriter, Dan Heymann

sowetoWe’ve just reviewed the new Bala Brothers cd on Warner Brothers records which showcases two of the most widely known anti-apartheid anthems.  Our last post shared the background of the song: “Something Inside So Strong”.  Here’s more about singer-songwriter, Dan Heymann and his powerful song: “Weeping” which appears on that same cd, but has also been covered by a host of artists both in South Africa and around the world.

Although it’s hard to find a great deal of information on the author of this song, we do know that Dan Heymann is a South African citizen who spoke out against apartheid and recorded a 1987 version of his song, “Weeping” with his band, Bright Blue.  That original version played on the radio in South Africa and included a refrain from the “illegal” anthem of the African National Congress.  Checking out Dan’s webpages, you can see he was actively involved with many artists, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Vusi Mahlasela, many of whom risked life and limb to express their desires for freedom and equality.  In 1999, readers of the South African Rock Encyclopedia voted “Weeping” the “All-time favorite South African Song”.

You can see two video versions of the song below.  The first is by popular American artist, Josh Groban, performing live on the David Letterman show.  The other is from Dan Heymann’s band, Bright Blue.


2008 – Josh Groban’s Performance of “Weeping” on the David Letterman Show

Bright Blue’s Version of “Weeping”

Lyrics – Weeping
Written by Dan Heymann/Copyright Bright Blue)

I knew a man who lived in fear 
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near


Behind his house, a secret place 
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face 


He built a wall of steel and flame and men with guns, to keep it tame 


Then standing back, he made it plain 


That the nightmare would never ever rise again


But the fear and the fire and the guns remain

It doesn’t matter now 


It’s over anyhow 


He tells the world that it’s sleeping 


But as the night came round 
I heard its lonely sound


It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping

And then one day the neighbors came


They were curious to know about the smoke and flame


They stood around outside the wall 


But of course there was nothing to be heard at all 


“My friends,” he said, “We’ve reached our goal 


The threat is under firm control 


As long as peace and order reign 
I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain”

What Does The Lyrics Mean?  

Although it’s easy to grasp the concept behind the song, the author explains the symbolism behind the lyrics in his own words:

“I’ve been asked many times about the symbolism in the Weeping lyrics, so maybe I should say something here. The man referred to in the Weeping lyrics is the late P. W. Botha, one of the last white leaders of South Africa before the end of the Apartheid regime; The demon he could never face (in the Weeping lyrics) refers to the aspirations of the oppressed majority, while the Weeping lyrics also refer to the neighbors, literally the journalists from other countries who were monitoring the situation in South Africa.”

Check out Dan’s webpages, resources and other songs which can be found at the links below.  He is an incredible writer with a wealth of talent as well as powerful songs and valuable cultural resources.

Resources

Dan Heymann’s Webpage for “Weeping”
http://www.weeping.info/index.html

Dan Heymann’s “Compressed History of Apartheid”
http://www.weeping.info/anti-apartheid-movement.html

Background of the Song: Something Inside So Strong

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/something-inside-so-strong-a-powerful-anti-apartheid-song-and-much-more/

The Bala Brothers – New CD release on Warner Brothers Records
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/do-you-know-the-bala-brothers/