American Hans Johnson was planning a backpacking trip through Europe in 2001. Then he listened to some old tape recordings his father made while on a trip to Kenya a few years earlier. "He met some Maasai people and brought back some crude tape recordings of their music. I was immediately taken back by what I heard," says Johnson. Wanting to hear more Maasai music he searched everywhere, including the Smithsonian and Library of Congress.
He did not find much. Just a few samples here and there. He decided to go to Kenya and record Maasai music for himself. A self taught audio engineer, Johnson quit his job as a record store clerk, purchased a plane ticket and a pair of hand crafted stereo microphones especially made for professional field recordings.
A month later he was walking from mud hut to mud hut in search of Maasai music. He met a Maasai man named Simon Saitoti who shared Johnson's vision of documenting Maasai music. Saitoti understood the importance of preserving this important part of the ever changing Maasai community. Saitoti, a school teacher fluent in English, was able to help Johnson gain access to people's homes, warrior encampments, schools and churches. Anywhere there was Maasai music, contemporary or traditional, they went. Between 2001 and 2003 they collected over 300 Maasai songs.
'Rhythm of the Maasai' is a 15 track album of hauntingly pure Maasai music recorded in surround sound. It's a rare look inside at one of the world's last indigenous communities.
When you listen to the music you feel as if you are right there in the heart of Africa. You will find yourself in the center of a large group of warriors as they sing about their adventures among the wild animals of the savannah. You will visit a homestead in the evening when women sing as they milk cows and sing lullabies to their children as they fall asleep in their arms. You will hear love songs, young boys practicing chanting at night, church choirs, children's play songs and the Maasai version of a blues musician (akin to the old delta blues man Mississippi Fred McDowell, but with a Maasai flare).