Alhji Mohammed Abubakar, Allah Yar Hamu- May his soul rest in peace, passed away a few days ago in Bida, Nigeria. He was a small man with kind, steadfast eyes. He had a tribal scar on both sides of his face and carried a brass kettle filled with kola nuts that would be distributed throughout the day.
I knew him for only a few hours that day. He took his position near my side in confidence and pride. I depended on him. That afternoon when we stood together to take a photo, I knew we would never meet again. Today, when I heard of his death, I remember Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar in deep gratitude for his presence.
Thanksgiving, in every culture from antiquity, is a time to take a breath and accept what one has. It may not be pretty or it may be fabulous but most likely, it is a moment in time to remember moments lived in joy, grief, and relief… and hopefully, there is space to celebrate thankfulness…
With gratitude to Dr. Abidemi Babatunde Babalola whose EMKP grant gave the opportunity for me to showcase an element of the Masaga glassmakers’s story. Dr. Babalola took my project under his wing and along with his archaeological work in southern Nigeria, we collaborated on this article, “Rituals, Religious practices, and glass/glassbead making in Ile-Ife and Bida, Nigeria”. Read the article HERE.
Memories of the past are attended with a certain pain called nostalgia…Nostalgia is a kind of growing-pain, psychically speaking. It occurs to our sorrow when we have decided that it is time for us, marching to some magnificent destiny, to abandon an old home, an old provincial setting, or an old way of living to which we had become habituated. – John Crowe Ransom
Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture, p 30.
The above describes how I feel when organising a drawer of family photographs, browsing in a vintage shop, or, in Cairo, meandering through the (now demolished) Friday Market. The Friday Market once crammed with what many would describe as junk, but for a material cultural enthusiast, those objects were treasures…objects of ordinary life.
Objects tell stories: the interaction of those who made them, received them, used and sold them, even worshipped them and of those who collected, conserved, and curated them. There is a relationship between objects as a primary source material and how we understand history. History is formally based on words of academia while objects bring to light histories of those marginalised—working class, ethnic minorities, women.
The following photographs of tin cut outs depict musicians, dancers, villagers, and a bird were collected over years of living in Cairo. Some I found from the Friday Market, some were purchased from an art collector, and others from an antique shop near Khan el-Khalili. These tin cut-outs, each approximately 60 centimetres in height, were said to be made from recycled tin sheeting in the Delta area during the 1920s-30s and sold to decorate walls of coffee shops. But this information cannot be confirmed. Yasmine Dorghamy, founder of Rawi Magazine, states, “Judging by the artistic style and the style of the bellydance suit I would place them in the 60s or 70s.. You don’t see that puffy skirt with the slit all the way to the top before then… this design is iconic of the ’60s in fact.”
I am in search of information about these objects. If anyone has information, please leave a comment and I will add it to this post.
October 7, 2020: Laura from London says, “I remember buying a set of tin dancer + music team (flute, tabla, male dancer with stick etc.) from a souvenir shop in Alexandria in 1980s. Unfortunately, I gave it away as a present. I thought it was a delightful present – I have not seen these tin figures since.”
The Emir of Zazzau and Chairman, Kaduna State Council of Traditional Ruler, Alhaji Shehu Idris, passed away at the age of 84, Allah Yar Harmu. Alhaji Shehu Idris, the 18th Fulani Emir of Zazzau was appointed on 15th February, 1975 and spent 45 years on the throne.
The Zazzau, also known as the Zaria Emirate is a traditional state with headquarters in the city of Zaria, Kaduna State. Read about the 2015 Zaria-the Zazzau-Durbar : Here
Thank you, Tango, for including Lebanon in your survey of worldwide indigenous music. Fairuz’s ionic voice of longing for what is gone… whether a people, a nation, or a love… is like an arrow to the heart. Thank you for this recognition and to all Lebanese,: we mourn, we commiserate, we want answers, and we want change. -nomad4now
I originally had a different song in mind to share today. However, recent events have led me to change my plan slightly. On August 4th, the people of Lebanon experienced a massive tragedy when explosions rocked the capital, Beirut.
As Lebanon grieves their losses and begins the process of picking up the pieces, I wanted to acknowledge their suffering in some small way. I don’t have specialized knowledge of Lebanon or their music, but with a bit of research, I discovered a rich tradition of songs of lament.
The name Fairuz came up as of critical importance. Her song “Li Beirut,” released in 1984, was an homage to a city which, at the time was being torn apart by civil war. Though the recent explosion was a different sort of tragedy, the emotions and imagery of the song make it seem a fitting tribute to a city in mourning.
If asked to pick a song that represents Afghanistan as a whole, I’d probably choose something by Ahmad Zahir or Farhad Darya. They are the biggest names, though I could list dozens of other outstanding singers. Maybe that’s a subject for a later post.
Today, rather than selecting something popular, I want to highlight a style of music that is not well-known, either in Afghanistan or abroad.
Nuristan is a remote, isolated, and mountainous province in the eastern part of Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan. The people of Nuristan have a unique culture, and even within the province, there are multiple languages and music traditions.
There are many theories about where the people of Nuristan originated. Some say they descended from the soldiers of Alexander the Great. Other scholars disagree. What is clear is that they are ethnically and culturally distinct from the rest of Afghanistan.
August 4, 2020, Beirut suffered the largest non-nuclear blast, behind Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that the world has seen in modern history. We are completely heartbroken and devastated to witness Lebanon and its people crippled further amidst a global pandemic and crushing economic crisis.
The Lebanese people are creative and resilient but in the face of such a massive tragedy, support from the global community is necessary. I would, thus, kindly invite you to donate to NGOs whatever small amount you can and to spread the message. Below are a few suggestions of reputable agencies.
As a graduate student in ethnomusicology, one of my assigned readings was Seize the Dance! by Michelle Kisliuk (1998).
Kisliuk conducted research among the BaAka people of Central African Republic from 1986-1995, documenting their song, dance, and way of life. I found Kisliuk’s ethnography to be a compelling read, and I deeply enjoyed the music that came with the book.
Frequently referred to as “pygmies” by outsiders, the BaAka have faced widespread persecution and forcible removal from their ancestral lands.
For further reading, here is an interesting article on the challenges these people face:
Today I am sharing an example of BaAka music. This polyphonic style of singing is known as “hocketing.” One singer begins a melody, then leaves a gap which other singers take up to complete the phrase.