WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE - Goan Jazz Musicians in Dar es Salaam

Volume 14, Issue 3  | 
Published 01/02/2018

Author: Judy Luis-Watson

Publ: Judy Luis-Watson + LilyJen Books, USA

          Golden Heart Emporium, Goa, India, pp 124

Reviewer: Adolfo Mascarenhas


Whose Autobiography?

Judy Luis Watson’s book ‘WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE - Goan Jazz Musicians in Dar es Salaam’ is more than an autobiography of the self and of her parents. In a sense it is also more than an inter-generational biography.  The book is about values, friendships, togetherness and creativity that manifests in music from Dar es Salaam, performed in Tanganyika, East Africa and which seamlessly migrated to the Americas.  It is a tribute of a daughter to her parents and their friends.

St Joseph’s Convent School was the place where, both father and daughter spent some time, though in different decades.  Circumstantially it also brings to the forefront my own life as a boy in the same neighbourhood and in the same school in the same town. The convent school seems to establish values and priorities beyond the family. 

An Array of Bands -The  Persistence of Jazz Swingers 

This book could be considered a brief anthology or an autobiography of bands, the Jazz Swingers themselves: Tony Ferns, Remy DeMello and the Impressions; The Modernaires, Harbour Lights and several nameless bands. The cast of the book are the dozens of named musicians that the author knew in Dar es Salaam and who literally spread to the far corners of the earth with the largest cluster located in Canada. Her father and his friends helped Judy - how else could she have put together the rich tapestry of experience?  The author traces the evolution of a unique explosion of Goan bands from Dar es Salaam and who shared their music with many others when they visited Zanzibar, Mombasa and several towns in Tanganyika like Morogoro and Iringa. Almost audaciously they trumpeted their way into the core of the couple of segregationist and class-obsessed Goan fiefdoms in Nairobi. Distances did not intimidate them even if it meant driving from Dar es Salaam to far-away places like Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja in Uganda.

The author,  introspectively raises questions of family and growing up, self- realization, race, decision making and livelihood, The reviewer found the book so easy to relate … Dar es Salaam Harbour is a good setting for the book: deep blue in the centre and on the shore transparent water  and like life, forever on the move! 

Yet, moving from school to adulthood, the shift from the core family and recreating one’s own core are changes that are emotionally and physically enormous. However, the changes are unprecedented when the shift is from the cultural context of  Africa to North America.  Consistent in the book are the themes of Goan-ness and Music.  Not surprisingly, this book has several different perspectives for me.

The Almost Unknown Community and Their Musical Heritage

Compared to the Goans of Uganda and Kenya, little is known about the Goans of Tanzania. For instance Goans of Uganda, came to prominence when the Makerere-trained author Peter Nazareth, published his books In a Brown Mantle   and The General Is Up. While doing his Masters in Great Britain he became   aware of the links between colonialism and exploitation of the people. As a committed individual he tried to be a responsible citizen but had not reckoned with Uganda under Idi Amin.  Fortunately for him his African friends enabled him to escape from Uganda and he subsequently took refuge and stayed in the USA, as a Professor in International Development Literature.  In Kenya too, the likes of authors like Braz Menezes (University College Nairobi) and the prolific Selma Carvalho, partly based in USA/Uganda/Middle East have done the same.  The fact of the matter is that many Asians played a crucial role in East Africa.  Indeed some like Pio Gama Pinto, J M Nazareth and Fitz De Souza contributed in the struggle for independence.

Judy’s book does not pretend to fill the void.  It gives character to the Goans, a very small but otherwise anonymous community. The community is so small that everybody seems to be related to everyone. The book is more than a historical reminiscence and although the author in many parts of the book illustrates why music is so important to herself and others, nevertheless so much has changed and will change that based on contemporary and past events it is worth putting the book in a contextual note, especially since neither Nazareth nor Judy Luis have returned to their land of birth.

Contextual Relevance

 Few in Africa appreciate the physical, natural and cultural diversity especially in East Africa.  It is not a question of skin colour, language or religion.  Reductionism, especially by politicians, has played havoc, irrespective of whether it was Hitler’s agenda for Europe and the world or Boer-led apartheid, or the genocidal events in Rwanda or Burundi or the maniacal behaviour of Idi Amin.  These few should not be an excuse for latent spread of crassness that tramples on the dignity and life of other humans.  At another level there is racial profiling and now the emergence of some dramatic class based oppression.   Time to return to music . . .

Race & Music

Jerry Luis apart from being an accordion man and a sportsman, also took upon himself other responsibilities including scouting. In 1952, while on a Jamboree in Northern Rhodesia, the group experienced racism and discrimination that really hit him hard. 

Judy documents what happened to her father. The Commissioner of Scouts in Tanganyika, Gordon Clinch and Jerry Luis went to get supplies, after which they stopped at a restaurant. Nobody came to serve them but after a while, the restaurant manager came, pulled a chair and told them that this was a ‘Whites Only’ restaurant!   In Judy’s account:

Since there was no ‘Whites Only’ sign on the restaurant, the Commissioner, a white man, felt insulted and angry. Jerry, a brown man felt, the cruelty of rejection and discrimination. Black Africans, who were forced to regularly endure this type of injustice, needed no signage to remind them of their place. 

 Sabestian Chale from the Teachers Training Centre in Peramiho, who was with the scouts, wrote in Jerry’s autograph book:

The greatest need in the modern world is great men and great women, who by their noble deeds and upright lives, try day by day to make the world a better place to live and to be socially desirable. I wish scouting had achieved its aims, and its ideals warmed the world.

In a recent study, Winfried Ludemann draws attention to the fact that it is not, as is so frequently assumed, that race or genes determine our taste in music.  In a world so beleaguered by race, religion and best illustrated by massive dividends amassed by an international cabal that capitalizes on discrimination and violence; it is easy to overlook other virulent forms of violence. 

Prejudice based on gender, skin pigmentation or even interpretation of holy books requires only a few paranoid individuals.  All, this because it is so easy to link music to one’s genetic make-up.  But as Ludemann so amusingly puts it ‘We should take delight because in respect to music there is only one race: the human race.’ Africans so maligned by their enslaved race have every reason to be proud of their culture and to communicate with music and poetry.

The Great Transformation

Traumatic as Jerry Luis’s experience was in Northern Rhodesia, there was a more subtle change that took place in the late 1950’s.  It is important to mention it here, because it reflects how intellect, appreciation of culture and diversity brought significant changes in the political leadership and future governance of the three countries.  The epicentre of the other transformation evolved in Makerere. The seeds were innocuously germinated shortly before the wind of change swept Africa and which led to the independence of the three East African countries and the Protectorate of Zanzibar. Basically, Africans, Asians and a few Europeans, staff and students had a common cause … call it challenges about freedom and independence. Judy traces in a tangible way another perspective about awareness.

Judy’s book itself makes one aware how our own decisions have an impact on our lives and perhaps on others with a shared interest, because at the end we have fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.  We can relate to a wider community even if we are not relatives.

Just as in Makerere, the impulsive boycott of South African-manufactured  cornflakes was a mere symbolic gesture, the social getting together of writers and artists was important.  Goan youths, disproportionate even among Asians, created a band that performed on demand, be it at picnics or just a jam session. Three walls were pulled down: race, religion, gender.  For me and several others it made no difference whether one was a Acholi or an Arab, Zigua or a Zanzibari, a Kikuyu, Baganda, Chagga, Makau or Yao,  an Atheist, Christian, Hindu or a Zoroastrian. 

Many from Makerere would be the cream of the politicians, professionals, medical doctors and lawyers. Right on top were a few who became presidents, chief justices, ministers and CEOs.

Where the Pulse Began to Beat

 In Dar es Salaam, within a circle of a radius of about 500 metres based near Kirk Street and a lane, a revolution was enkindled. Teenagers, a couple barely out of their teens, took   to ‘Jazz’.  My recollection is that Jerry Luis, the author’s father was an accordian man but Judy states that although Jerry owned an accordion, his father, PJ Luis insisted that he take classes in playing the violin.  Fortunately, for Jerry his gentle mother, Lily, allowed him to use her husband’s accordion. Jerry was able to cultivate other talents and became a person of many parts.

Simultaneously while skills were domestically sharpened, at the junction of a lane/Market Street, hardly 100 metres away, three brothers and a sister used their second floor flat to practice music. Their father, Mr Fernandes, owned a bar at the corner of Ring/Kirk Street.  The evenings were spent performing what the three boys had practiced in the afternoon. What made them catch on to Jazz?  I suspect it was a Goan osmosis of a kind.  Unknown to most of us was that the patrons included the teenager offspring of the British Governor of Tanzania. The town of separated triple colours was somewhat being breached by music!  

Mature Goan Classical Musical and Drama Society Displaced by Versatile Youths

The Tony Ferns band still in formation and Jerry’s Jazz Swingers was the ‘Dawn of a New Age’ started by the Goan youth.  There were seven or so elders who for years played classical music in a society known as a Goan Musical and Drama Society (GMDS). 

The trademark of GMDS, was that at all performances the artists were formally dressed. They mainly played in the Goan Institute especially over Christmas, New Year and Easter.  However, they also performed for the public at the Empire Cinema. The theatre, operated by a Goan, J M Fernandes, (also the President of the club) was conveniently located opposite the Institute.  In 1947 there was a dispute between the management and GMDS; when Banu Colaco who played the violin and the drum was asked by the President to play for the New Year’s Ball.

That was the start of GI Jazz Swingers.  It was such a success that the President asked them whether they would play on other occasions. The deal was signed, the Club agreed to buy the equipment … from the only music store in Dar es Salaam known as Souza Junior Dias!

Success led to success and within a decade, despite other Goan bands, they could drop the name ‘Goan’ and simply called themselves the ‘Jazz Swingers’.  Music belongs to people, not to a tribe, race or sect.  Not surprisingly, they performed in all the leading hotels: Metropole, New Africa, Ocean Breeze, upscale to the annual functions of the Caledonian Society and St Georges and even at the Yacht Club where the elite English families came to sail and relax. In less than a decade, the versatile Jazz Swingers were on the cultural stage ready to migrate beyond the shores of Africa.  The connectivity, between Goan families was striking.

Continuity & Change

The Swiss nuns at St Joseph’s Convent School (SJCS) were part of the story of music in Dar es Salaam.  The author and her father and this reviewer are alumni of SJCS.  Although the majority of pupils were Goans, it was the only interracial, interreligious school in Dar es Salaam.  There were Arabs, Comorians, Seychellois, Greeks, Italians, Chinese and Mauritians, Sunnis and Shiaites, Hindus and Sikhs.

A Journey of Awareness

Judy’s entire life seems to have been a journey of awareness and sensitivity. This only happens if we allow ourselves to listen and reflect on the poignancy of life. It also means leaving the highway and discovering nature in the trails and meadows, stopping by the ponds and the crags.

The climax is the penultimate chapter, ‘A Daughter’s Musical Journey’. It encapsulates the beginnings in Tanganyika and then shows the maturity that took place in Canada/USA.  Some aspects from the chapter were new to me and it was disturbing.  In part this was because it was a transition for several of us. Between 1956 – 1966, I spent more time in Uganda, ( The Makerere years); then moved to  California after only a short time in Dar es Salaam. The racial profiling continued and indeed was made superefficient as it was used as an instrument for ruling and exploiting.  In a ‘Prosper and Caliban’ situation, the one-time victim takes the role of the oppressor and uses the very instruments left behind, including the pecking order: white, brown and black.

In Judy’s own words:

Many years after these life-altering experiences, it was blue music that was a force for healing tragedies. The lyrics and music reminded me time and again that there was healing work to be done.

Music did not just fill the void or replace loneliness. It did not just serve as a distraction from anger or the shame of discrimination and injustice , regardless of whether I was the victim or the perpetrator.  [It] pried open a tightly shut box … and there was space for something new. Only then could light shine in so joy and love, compassion and forgiveness could grow.  I believe that music, whether it is secular or religious has the power to heal and bring people together.

There is so much in the book to ponder.  There are things that we should condemn but despite all change there are aspects for celebration.   To conclude, Judy shares her future plans: ‘I’d like to meet, in person, the people I’ve associated with while working on this book and that will involve some international travel.’

Last modified on Monday, 05 February 2018 00:40
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