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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Soundscapes of #Tanzania by John von Daler

                We were touring Tanzania, playing concerts for the good Danes who give a helping hand there. In Arusha the hotel restaurant was to be our auditorium. Kilimanjaro loomed in the distance, too big for our horizon.

                We had not taken along our own mixer, amplifiers and loudspeakers. Traveling light, we borrowed equipment everywhere we went.
                Here in Arusha we were to use the gear owned by the hotel's own orchestra, young Tanzanian men who played every night from twelve to five.
                On the afternoon of our concert we went down to set up our instruments and to try to find our usual very, very natural, acoustic sound on the new equipment.
                We entered the restaurant and went to the little three by four stage at one end of the concrete room. Everything got plugged in all right and we started playing while we took turns flipping switches and turning dials, trying to find that imperceptible sound that leaves the audience almost ignorant of there being any amplification at all.
                We were just about to find the right setting when one of the young musicians walked in. He listened a few minutes and then came up to us.
                "Look," he said. "Go up to your rooms and relax. When you come down to play, it will be perfect."
                As we had been on the verge of success, we accepted his offer to run the last mile for us and went up to take a nap.
                When we entered the packed restaurant at eight o'clock we plugged in our instruments and started what in concert usually is a sort of quiet introduction, like the first movement of Mahler's First Symphony, but metamorphosed into a folk trio with violin, accordion and guitar: morning on the Danish coast, Sweden in the distance half hidden in haze, seagulls swooping down in graceful glissandi.
                Tonight, however, the Danish morn had turned into Woodstock, as if Jimmi himself were puffing and panting out the feedback, interference, distortion and bad-ass echo of a stock-car race in a thunderstorm.
                We threw everything down and worked feverishly to regain our usual sedateness. Our audience seemed to be understanding and patient.
                It occurred to me later that what we had experienced probably was not so much a difference in international tastes, as a difference in ways of being between the rich and the poor. Perhaps this sound equipment was one of the very few to be found in Tanzania. Perhaps the band had been saving for years to import it from Cairo or Johannesburg. Who were we to talk about sound? If you have been waiting for years to get a magnificent bang, then there is no reason to disguise it as a whimper. Perhaps that band had thought, Let the Tanzanians know that we make sounds like nothing they have ever heard before!
                And let the boring Europeans keep their good taste in a locked case deep down in their bank vault. Oh, but watch out; there might be an echo down there, too.


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