HELPING young up-coming local artists get on the professional stage has become Randall Stubbs’ main concern these days. Mind you, this is not listed as one of his responsibilities for being Head of the Music Department (MD), at Tumaini University Makumira (TUMA), in Arusha Region.
Neither is it because he also holds the position of Programme Manager at the Cultural Arts Centre (CAC) there. It’s more to do with the fact that as a keyboardist and vocalist, he had climbed the stage many times in the past, both in the USA – his original home – and other countries.
However, he had put this previous lifestyle in the background back in 2006, when he became Head of the MD at TUMA. This is when the university was established. Now,Stubbs tells the ‘Daily News’ that he is happy helping others get those opportunities, which he had before.
His responsibilities increased in 2014, when the CAC was established. Actually, this Centre started as a special programme, which has since become a non-academic programme of the university. He explained that it was deemed necessary when staff of the MD were getting lots of requests, especially from people outside of the country, to see performances of traditional music, which is being taught there, as part of a music degree programme.
“So we had a challenge with many visitors coming, which would interfere with our class schedules, trying to set-up performances for them. Then we thought if we had a separate group that could just be performing, there would be enough opportunities to do exactly that,” Stubbs told the ‘Daily News’ while in the amphitheatre, in Stone Town, Zanzibar, waiting for the troupe to start their performance, earlier this month.
“Secondly,” he continued, “it is to have facilities where we can do different kind of performances to showcase the local culture. Right now we’re near the completion of four permanent buildings plus the renovation of another performance space and a number of more informal outdoor spaces.
” From the conversation it was also learnt that the CAC troupe includes graduates not only from TUMA, but also the Bagamoyo College of the Arts (TaSUBa) and the Kilimanjaro Talent Group. To sum it all up Stubbs says the university had purchased 13.5 acres of land, to build the CAC and the MD on.
They expect official dedication of the first four buildings to be at the beginning of this coming April. Most of the money for the buildings and the initial programme, he says came from the European Union (EU).
They were one of eight local projects funded by the EU. Currently, the challenge in front of them, having built-up the infrastructure and a professional group, it’s now left for them to generate enough revenue, through their performances and workshops, to help towards being sustainable.
He had come to the SzB festival with a troupe consisting of 11 men and four ladies. The versatility of all fifteen on stage is one of the easily noticeable factors. Not only do the instrumentalists move from one instrument to another with visual ease, the music and dance produced also shifts from one region or ethnic group to another, with a professionalism that kept some members of the audience dancing throughout their repertoire.
“Performing at Sauti za Busara (SzB) is good for us to get some additional exposure. We’ve also performed in festivals in Kampala-Uganda and Nairobi-Kenya but I think SzB is the largest live music festival in East Africa and so we’re very happy to be seen on stage here,” he said. Currently, the troupe have regular performances there, at the Centre twice a week and workshop in drumming, making drums and even cooking traditional foods.
They also do performances for visiting groups coming through Arusha and in short are trying to use the local culture to generate revenue, not only for the Centre but also for the 15 artists and 10 supporting staff, there.
After their performance at SzB, the ‘Daily News’ had to quickly get to the Mambo Club in the other side of the Old Fort, so as to catch the Nairobi-Kenya-based Sarabi band’s performance. It was not until the following evening (Saturday) that there was an opportunity to hear what three of the CAC Fusion troupe members had to say.
In fact, two of its’ young ladies were moving around the Old Fort taking snippets of the other acts on stage. The first of these ladies spoken to was Sarah Masaka. Born and grew in Dodoma Region, she was introduced to Art from when she was very young -six-years-old - by her parents. Both of them are artists of the local Kigogo music and dance style.
Sarah talked about crying whenever she saw her parents dancing because of her desire to join them. However, it was not until she reached Form Four that they saw it fitting to send her to Art school at Ta- SUBa. It is from there that she came to CAC.
That was two years ago. Now she’s proud to say that she “dances, sings and creates concept for pieces”. She told the ‘Daily News’ that she cannot imagine her life without art and cannot see how she can ever be stressedup when she has her art.
“I see being involved with art as a very good life. First of all, it’s a life free of all stress because you’re happy from enjoying what you’re doing. You should be in a happy mood when you’re doing art,” Sarah said.
One of the reasons, which she singled out why she prefers being at the CAC Fusion, as opposed of conducting a solo career is having the opportunity to build-on the areas in art where her strengths lay. This is not the case with all groups, she professed.
There, she says they have a unity, which allows them to grow stronger together. Sarah boasts coming there only knowing dances from the Kigogo ethnic group, whereas now she knows much from many other groups. Performing at the SzB stage has given her much experience, from rubbing shoulders with other artist, who have many years in the industry.
This has made it easier for her to recognise what level she is within the entire Art world. Her colleague, Fatnah Mwasha, from Kilimanjaro Region, started her artistic life, at the age of 10 in acrobatics. Her small frame was quite suited to this.
However, her mother was not too pleased for she worked hard at learning the art-form together with performing but never earned anything for her efforts. Therefore, when a fellow traditional drummer and dancer came to the house, her mother asked for her to join his group.
This didn’t bring any money neither but broaden Fatnah’s artistic scope. It was from her response to an advertisement, seeking artists to join CAC Fusion that she was successful, and has never looked back since. Like her colleague, Sarah, Fatnah says playing at SzB has given her more exposure, on top of what she got performing in Uganda and Kenya.
While at the festival, it was also possible to get a few comments from Lingwana Chande Lingwana, who not only plays drum-set, but also traditional drums, bamboo flutes, dances and sings in the troupe. Added to this he teaches.
Originally from Morogoro Region, he has over 25 year’s professional experience, having started at the age of 10 years of age.