Spiritual and uplifting, Maasai and Swahili gospel songs, based on ancient and traditional tribal tunes which float out of the heart of the sweeping African grasslands, are the roots of rhythm which will affect East African music for decades to come.
Maasai women are noted for their crystal clear voices. Tumshangilie, though it’s an entirely East African song, is sung with the vocal clarity heard in cathedrals in Europe. It’s a song that cuts across all borders. A Muslim man once said it’s so beautiful it could make him fly.
Maasai Men have incredible vocal ranges. Take special note of the bass. Then listen to the highs and trills. It’s the same men.
Maasai sing. Often. About everything. And, on the savannah, never with instruments. Maasai warriors watching their cows sing about happiness with their girlfriends with milk-white teeth. Maasai women sing about legendary warriors. Warriors sing to their cows to calm them. They sing to the landscape so nature will be happy and nourish their livestock and their entire lives. And they sing to God.
Led by Hezron Abel and his wife, muse and sometime composer Miriam, the Loruvani Choir, singing its own songs, is at the forefront of Maasai and Swahili gospel music. Choir members come from all walks. Some have jobs and some don’t. A few, like Catherine who trades the female lead with Miriam, are still young enough to be in school. Most are from the Warusha Tribe, a splinter group of Maasai which is starting to farm on the cool slopes of Mt. Meru, one of Africa’s highest mountains. But some are true Maasai herders from the plains. All of the families of the choir members have at least a few cows and as many goats as possible. Whether they’re farmers or herders, they all consider themselves to be true Maasai.
Recorded in Spartan conditions, these magical songs have raised eyebrows all over the world. The pilots at Flying Medical Service graciously donated their storeroom so we could have a quiet place to record away from the cows. We moved massive propeller crates around to block sound and divide the room. A battery powered recorder was indispensable, since electricity in East Africa is unpredictable. Sometimes it’s weak enough that light bulbs won’t glow and sometimes it runs at bulb popping strength.
More than special thanks go to John McEuen, our Executive Producer, who said right away that this music is bigger than us; Sayne Studios in Boise, Idaho, for key technical assistance; HCT; and our good friends from Fotografx in Switzerland who still have the key to our house in Tanzania.