Anne Hartman 2014-02-10 17:29:02
For Rebecca Corey, it was love at first listen. She first heard Tanzanian music in 2007 on a crowded public bus, squished between two women and with pecking chickens at her feet. She could only focus on the music blaring in the background, though—it was unlike anything she’d heard before. She was volunteering at an orphanage in Tanzania at the time, and returned to the country again in 2010 to pursue a master’s degree in international development. But tragedy struck when she was hit by a car; the accident shattered all the bones in her right leg and nearly killed her. She survived thanks to strangers who stopped to help. The accident forced her to return to the United States, where she’d remain bedridden for the next eleven months. But before leaving Tanzania, a friend handed her a gift: Twelve Cds recorded at the Radio Tanzania studios from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s. During her recovery, she again fell in love with the music, enamored with the blend of dance music combined with a variety of influences, from Afro-Cuban rhythms and Congolese guitar techniques to rock ’n’ roll. “Listening to this music, I was comforted by its smooth melodies and warmth, but [I was] also excited because I got the sense I was listening to the sounds of a nation’s history,” Corey says. “Naturally, I wanted to get my hands on more.” But that, she learned, was a near-impossible task. Most of Tanzania’s recorded music was on reel-to-reel tapes, stored at the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC). Only a small fraction of the tapes had been digitized. The tapes at the TBC were, for the most part, well-organized and labeled, and there was sufficient metadata. But there was dust, mold and insect damage, inadequate shelving and space, and no humidity or temperature regulation save for an unreliable air-conditioning unit. The Tanzania Heritage Project Corey emailed Benson Rukantabula, a Tanzanian student she befriended, with an idea. She wanted to find a way to digitize and preserve the tapes. Together, they hatched the plan for the Tanzania Heritage Project (THP). It wasn’t just about her love for the music Well-versed in Tanzanian history, Corey knew these tapes were some of the few records in existence that documented Tanzanian cultural identity. The country wasn’t introduced to television until the mid-1990s, so for many years, radio was the primary form of entertainment. Radio Tanzania was the nation’s only station from its birth until the mid-1990s. Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, created Radio Tanzania and a Ministry of Culture to encourage musical expression and conjure a sense of national pride. Nyerere’s tactics for controlling cultural expression weren’t admirable—he banned private broadcasting, censored artists’ lyrics, and restricted the playing of foreign music—but from this approach came music undeniably unique to Tanzania. “After privatization, the airwaves were flooded with Western pop hits, the strength of the uniquely Tanzanian musical sound was diluted, and the archive was mostly forgotten, left to molder under lock and key in a few small back rooms of the [TBC],” Corey says. To save the archive, Corey learned everything she could about preservation and digitization in the United States. Rukantabula began visiting TBC to speak with its chief librarian, Bruno Nanguka, to forge a partnership. Nanguka knew firsthand the challenge they faced but was open to the idea. He’d slowly been digitizing the tapes himself, but for him to copy all of the 100,000 hours of material in the archive was estimated to take 15 years—if he worked nonstop. Rukantabula and Corey, who later returned to Tanzania to see the project through, partnered with other key groups, including Tanzania’s Ministry of Information and Culture, the Copyright Society of Tanzania, and the National Arts Council. To establish THP as a trusted organization, they registered it as an NGO with the Tanzanian government. Using Kickstarter Corey and Rukantabula put in countless hours of work, but they wanted others to feel as connected to the project as they did. They envisioned a collaborative project that encouraged engagement as much as preservation. To raise funds, Corey turned to Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform, and spread the word about the project through updates on Kickstarter, Facebook, Twitter, and emails and phone calls to family and friends. They launched the project on Kickstarter in December 2011 with a $13,000 goal. Donations came in from around the globe. One backer had visited Tanzania on his honeymoon. Another had served in the Peace Corps there. Others simply had a passion for music. They also were embraced by the Tanzanian community, who craved reminders of home or a way to reconnect with their past. By February 2012, THP had 235 backers and had raised $17,040. For Corey, the money was icing on the cake. The real reward, she says, was finding the supporters and forming personal connections with them. “Some people pointed out to me that with all the time we spent running the Kickstarter campaign, we could have made the same amount [of money] if we just worked full-time jobs,” Corey says. “But I think doing that would be missing the point. Kickstarter is about much more than just the money—it’s about involving people in a project you care about and want to share with the world.” Digitizing the Tapes The funds are being used to provide TBC with equipment needed to digitize the tapes, cover a Radio Tanzania digitization workshop to train locals on the digitization process, and pay royalty fees to Tanzanian musicians and the government. They also plan to release a “Best of Radio Tanzania” CD with liner notes and photographs. THP has teamed up with UNESCO to complete digitization of the reel-to-reel tapes, with TBC taking the lead in managing the project. Digitization is expected to begin this year and will take between three and Four years. As the music is digitized, THP will make it accessible online to bring the music to audiences who already love it and those who have yet to discover it. THP has grown from a lofty idea that Corey thought up to a full-fledged operation, complete with a “business guy,” “social media guru,” and other team members. The heart of the operation, though, remains giving Tanzanians—and the world—a way to learn about the country’s cultural identity. “The initial vision Benson and I shared was that the Tanzania Heritage Project would be about much more than preservation for preservation’s sake,” Corey says. “Rather, [it was about] preservation as a means to an end—to ownership and pride in Tanzanian culture; economic development; community access to the archives; and an invaluable historical resource for scholars, educators, and researchers.”
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.