It is a sad and tragic fact that those with albinism living in East Africa are persecuted and literally hunted, based on the belief that their body parts can transmit magical powers and that they are in some way “demonic”. Because of this prejudice and hate they are regularly dismembered— often while still alive— or killed, which has led most to understandably live in fear. Estimates are that over one-hundred Tanzanians with albinism have been murdered in the past decade, many of them children. The murder and mutilation of six children this past week in Tanzania is another sad and grisly reminder of this.
The Tanzania Albinism Collective’s story alone though is not enough. The songs must stand on their own. And they do. (It would be convenient, but misguided to dismiss them all too readily as a novelty and miss the point entirely of just how avant-garde and original the sounds that these artists have made are.) Instead, they should be identified as the genre defying, psychedelia-tinged, and DIY, street-level music that they are.
The StandingVoice.org NGO staff have worked with the members of the collective for over a decade. They said that seeing individuals that had been unable to make eye contact or raise their voices above a whisper when they first met them, today twerking and rapping onstage in front of thousands in a foreign land was beyond their wildest imaginings.
All but one of the Tanzania Albinism Collective were previously non-musicians. In fact, the majority had been actively discouraged from singing, even in church. In spite of this, they have gone on to release two albums— both produced by Ian Brennan— and their story and music have been covered around the world.
Brennan states that, “The greatest triumph, though, is that by their own initiative the collective continues to gather and meet two nights a week on the island, with no goal other than the sheer joy of making music together.”
Ian Brennan is a Grammy-winning music producer (Tinariwen, Malawi Mouse Boys, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, The Good Ones [Rwanda], Zomba Prison Project) and author. His seventh book, Muse-sick: a music manifesto in fifty-nine notes will be published in the fall of 2021.