Globally acclaimed music group storms the U.K.
Last week, four individuals completed the journey of a lifetime. Coming from Ukerewe—a remote island, four hours from the mainland in the heart of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria—they travelled to the UK to share their songs and stories with a world of captive listeners.
Birth certificates issued, passports obtained, visas secured and instruments in hand, they boarded a plane and left their homeland for the first time. Landing in London, they commenced a whirlwind press tour, before taking the stage at an international music festival where they sang for an audience of hundreds.
Scroll down to see how their extraordinary story unfolded.
Two years ago, Grammy Award-winning US music producer Ian Brennan contacted Standing Voice expressing his desire to work alongside people with albinism in Tanzania: to lift their voices and shine a light on their lives, through the vehicle of music.
Immediately struck by the alignment in our philosophies—providing platforms for otherwise voiceless communities to share their stories—and by Ian’s previous credentials—including socially engaged music projects with Vietnamese war veterans and prisoners in Malawi—we embarked on an exciting and collaborative journey that has only recently reached its climax.
In the summer of 2016, Standing Voice supported Ian and his wife, the photographer and filmmaker Marilena Delli, to fly to Tanzania to meet the people we have known and worked alongside for more than a decade. Travelling to Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria, Ian encountered some of the most vulnerable people in Tanzanian society: individuals who had never before picked up an instrument, had been banned from singing in church, and were routinely shunned from public life. He heard stories of isolation, hardship, resilience, and hope.
There was an overwhelming response to Ian’s visit, with one third of the albinism society’s entire membership base registering to participate in the project.
Over the course of one week, people with albinism and their families congregated at the Umoja Training Centre, built by Standing Voice, to share their experiences and intuitively express these in songs: what transpired was a collision of skills, and worlds, as Ian encouraged participants to experiment with their voices—and makeshift instruments like tables, bottles, and water tanks—to forge an authentic and organic sound. Weaving riffs and melodies together through call and response—with participants intuitively echoing and diverging—Ian was able to galvanise a richly layered collection of music.
The music group—signed, now, as the Tanzania Albinism Collective—has meanwhile embarked on an extraordinary journey to share their music internationally. Obtaining birth certificates, passports, and visas, in July they travelled to the UK: their first time on a plane, and first time outside Tanzania.
Touching down in London, the group performed a warm-up gig in Islington, before touring the city with the Standing Voice Team, and visiting the BBC for a series of interviews and performances.
The next day, the group travelled to Wiltshire for the climax of their trip: WOMAD festival. Here, their music found its largest audience yet.
Proceedings kicked off with a panel in the World of Words tent, where the Tanzania Albinism Collective was interviewed alongside Standing Voice Executive Director Harry Freeland and the record’s Grammy Award-winning producer Ian Brennan. The interview was conducted by Dr Oscar Duke, the TV presenter and NHS doctor who travelled to Tanzania with Standing Voice for the recent BBC documentary Born Too White. The group were invited to reflect on their experience of having albinism in Tanzania, and their journey toward self-expression through the power of music. Later, audiences queued up as the group signed copies of White African Power.
In the afternoon, the group geared up to deliver their main performance on the Ecotricity Stage before a packed festival crowd. With Standing Voice's Tanzanian Operations Manager Alex Magaga on hand to share the meaning of different songs with the audience, the band sang of their experiences in life and love, and their histories of rejection and violence. During one song about childhood isolation, they invited children from the crowd on stage to share the spotlight. Their closing number, 'Happiness', looked forward to the future with positivity and ambition: proof that the Tanzania Albinism Collective is, more than anything else, a testament to the resilience and strength of its members.
The following day, the group took to the Yalumba Taste the World stage to share their stories through food. In the past, many members of the Tanzania Albinism Collective have been forced to eat separately from their peers and families, with different bowls and utensils: a reflection of the severity of discrimination faced by people with albinism in Tanzania. In a wonderful reversal, our performers were now invited to prepare food on stage, and to share it with the audience as a window into their culture and accompaniment to their music.
Standing Voice are immensely proud of the Tanzania Albinism Collective, and all the other groups to have emerged at the Umoja Training Centre on Ukerewe.
To Ian and Marilena, thank you for your tenacity and belief in the power of this community to raise its voice.
To the Tanzania Albinism Collective, thank you for having the strength to share your stories with such bravery and honesty.
And to the audiences worldwide who have been captivated by this story: thank you, too, for opening your ears (and hearts) to these inspirational individuals. Together, we can ensure people with albinism, in Tanzania and across the world, are seen and heard and understood like never before.
All images credited to Harry Freeland, Imogen Freeland, Marilena Delli and Jamie Walling. Go here for a full list of credits.