By Jana-Mari Smith
Music forms an essential part of world cultures. It is something through which a culture
breathes and expresses itself, something without which humans would not survive. Values,
understanding, beliefs and knowledge are channeled through music in every culture. – Sakari Löytty | People’s Church – People’s Music, Contextualization of liturgical music in an African church.
Have you heard about The Dogg? Lady May or Gazza? Probably. But have you heard about Joseph Tjinana and Naimbundu Shilengifa? Do you know what a Okambulumbubwa or a Otjihumba look and sound like? These are the guardians of ancient musical traditions, gatekeepers of an important ritual form of storytelling that predates writing and books by many, many years.
These two men, and others like them, are masters of ancient traditional instruments, man-made objects designed to satisfy the most basic of human emotions and needs – to keep loneliness at bay and to satisfy the human enjoyment of a good yarn.
Both Joseph and Shilengifa performed an eye-opening joint jam session with Finnish musicians hailing from the Sibelius Academy of Finland this week.
The musicians displayed their technical skills on their respective historical instruments. The result – harmony and a striking example of how cultures can bridge their significant differences with the pick of an instrument.
The performance took place following a seminar attended by a delegation of musical historians from Finland’s top music institution, the Sibelius Academy, who joined hands with Namibian musicians and historians.
The Sibelius Academy delegation included Dr. Sakari Löytty, professor emeritus Heikki Laitinen, professor Hannu Saha and research assistant Vesa Norilo. The Finnish representatives performed together with Dr. Francois Tsoubaloko aka Papa Fransua and lecturer Jabulani Moyo who are lecturers at the University of Namibia. And of course, Joseph and Shilengifa.
The musical partnership between the Finnish Sibelius Academy and the University of Namibia (UNAM) started in 2007, as part of a cultural exchange deal that was launched in 2000 between Finland and Namibia. The goal: to create a Namibian museum to research, document, preserve and revive ancient Namibian folk music, instruments and history.
Sakari Löytty explained that music and the study of it, provides people from different backgrounds the opportunity to understand their shared humanity.
Pastor Johannes Tolu, a keen student of Namibia’s ancient musical traditions, noted that one of the key elements of the project is to introduce the notion to a younger generation that a connection to the past can tell you who you are by identifying where you come from. “It belongs to you”.
Research assistant Vesa Norilo, a Sibelius research assistant, said that their work in Namibia revealed a rich diversity of musical traditions and that the project’s goal is to safe-keep this aspect from “disappearing”. Many of the traditional instruments are now hard to find, and as part of the revitalisation of these traditions was to build the instruments. As such, the Academy approached Finnish instrument maker Juhana Nyrminen, who was tasked to replicate a traditional Namibian instrument – the Otjihumba.
The true test of his work came when Joseph was shown the instrument earlier this week and finally, when he played it.
His verdict: Some difference in the structure and build, but overall, he gave the thumbs up to the cue of an 80% test score.
Sakari Löytty, who was born in Namibia during his parent’s missionary placement here, said the project is an opportunity to address the neglect of appreciating local traditions. He noted that following Namibia’s independence, the enthusiasm to establish a modern democracy opened up a gap in exploring, and preserving, past traditions. This project is a way to exercise a responsibility towards ancient traditions and to strengthening the link between the past, present and future.
Löytty concluded by saying that ultimately, “a musician is a musician. We share a common humanity and even if we don’t share a language, we share the music”.
Music is a universal language.
DID YOU KNOW (Sourced from Sakari Löytty | People’s Church – People’s Music, Contextualization of liturgical music in an African church.
The objectives of the Namibian / Finnish musical project are as follows: