Gervas is a Tanzanian artist who sings traditional folklore songs from his Haya tribe in the northwestern part of Tanzania. His music laments about societal problems that surround his friends and relatives such as declining morals, diseases such as HIV and the ever increasing economic imbalance between the rich, the powerful, and the poor majority.
1. Where is Bukoba Town located?
Gaspare was born few minutes from Bukoba about 72 years ago. Bukoba is a small town in Tanzania, East Africa. Read more details about Bukoba.
2. What kind of an instrument is Gaspare playing?
The big round object is a dried gourd. Usually farmers let the gourd grow to a desired size then it is harvested and dried out in the sun. After it is dry, all the seeds are taken out. The gourd is used to amplify the sound that is made by strings and wood attached to the gourd like a guitar.
3. How did he learn to play this music?
Gaspare learned the music from his father. Of all his siblings (7), he is the only one who showed interest in learning this traditional music and so his dad taught him. He explains that he gets most of his song ideas from his dreams and also by observing what is happening around his community.
4. What exactly is he singing about?
Most of his songs are about life in general, life around his village and also his family life. His topics span from religious matters to politics to teenage behaviors. In one of his songs he chronicles the main events that took place when the president of Tanzania was about to command troops to invade Uganda due to a border dispute with the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
In another song, he laments about the people who have contract HIV but go out of their way to fatten themselves and try to dress sharply so that no one would suspect that they are infected with HIV. He warns them, “What you are doing is a waste of time, you have no room to hide.”
Gaspare is a folk singer. This type of music, like most folk music, tries to capture the past and the present then tries to make sense of it. There many other folk musicians in Tanzania who concentrate on singing about the past. These are the ones we are trying to reach and showcase. Gaspare sings more about the present, but then tries to project how the future may look. In essence, using his wisdom to warn the current generation to make changes accordingly. Otherwise, he warns, ” a high price will be paid.”
5. Does he make a living from this music?
Gaspare uses his music to supplement his meager faming income. He lives on a farm which he inherited from his parents. From his farm he grows food to support his family and sells the extra crop.
The main products from his farm include bananas, corn, coffee and some seasonal beans. Occasionally, he would travels from his village to the city where he performs different songs for a price. After he has earned enough money, he returns to his family in the village. We found him in Bukoba town performing in the street for donations.
6. How was Gaspare discovered? See short video here.
7. Is his music known throughout the country?
Not really. His music is mainly for the people of Bukoba because it is sung in their native tribal language called Kihaya or Haya. This language is one of over 100 tribes found in Tanzania. Each tribe has its own traditional or folk music which is usually region based.
8. What is the future of this music?
With the advent of YouTube and Autotune, this kind of music is dying fast. Folk music is an instrument that captures community news and history. This music tells about the early days before the Europeans set foot in
Africa. It tells about the tribal kings, the territories and how the laws of the land were enforced. It is an oral account that needs to be preserved if we want to document the people of Bukoba’s identity and history.
This is the main reason why Kibira Films International is starting to showcase these kinds of musicians in the hope that it would inspire others to pay attention to to their message, because once they are gone so is our history unless we work to preserve this ancient tradition.
Josiah Mwesi Kibira
Josiah Muta Kibira