The Mask

Paulo, Viscent, and Garetta were street musicians, drummers to be exact. We met by chance when we stopped to listen outside a friend's store in Arusha, Tanzania. Nobody spoke anybody else's language, but we had a good time. Pretty soon, we were recording in a mud hut. We bought the boys some bicycles so they could get there.

Mud hut accoustics, if the walls are thick enough, are great. Traffic and chicken noise doesn't come through. You can't hear the cows, unless they come in. But mud huts are hot and we did our fair share of sweating.

We recorded and experimented and sweated for close to a year. It took a lot of dry runs to figure out how to meld tribal drums played by true tribal drummers with modern recording gear. There's a lot of extra noise that we had to rope.

We scratched our heads to come up with songs for modern listeners. They guys knew without me telling them that tribal drum songs aren't for everyone, especially in their raw sound. In the village, most songs go on for long stretches, sometimes 30 or 40 minutes, with the same beat while listeners gets hypnotized and drunk or more.

The homemade instruments rattled and buzzed. We shimmed them up with sticks and grass. Some of the sounds still stayed out of the reach of our recorders.

Towards the end of the year, Paulo started looking tired. He played though. He played his heart out and panted and leaned against the hot walls of the hut between songs. We figured he was working too hard at night. But that wasn't it. He faded as we went through the weeks.

One day we got a call that he was in the hospital. He never woke up before he went to the other side. They said he had malaria and typhoid and a host of other things. But that wasn't it. He had the big African disease that gets so many people these days.

We got together enough money for transport and burial. Garetta and Viscent took Paulo to Tanga, the land of drummers, and laid him to rest.

We finished the Mud Hut Sessions with another fellow known as Bwana Matako. He was great. But we missed Paulo.

Our crew went on to work in West Africa. But we returned to Tanzania often and always visited Garetta and Viscent. It wasn't too long before we noticed that Viscent was fading. It was the same story as Paulo. He went to the other side quietly.

Garetta still plays drums on the streets of Arusha. He plays with his friends in front of my friend's shop. He'll go anywhere someone wants a drummer. He teaches drumming and he teaches how to make drums. He's supporting not only his own family, but also, when he has enough money, the families of Viscent and Paulo. He is a true gentleman.

Listen to samples of The Sangoma Band's last project, The Mud Hut Sessions.




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