Shishani & the Namibian Tales | Itaala

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World: African- South Avant Garde: Experimental Moods: Type: Acoustic
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by Shishani & the Namibian Tales

Many worlds flow smoothly together in the unconventional music of Shishani & the Namibian Tales as they combines the little known but rich tradition of Shishani's native Namibia with such western influences as soul and jazz.
Genre: World: African- South
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Mpa Wa Za
4:51 $0.99
2. Kuku
5:21 $0.99
3. Desert Blues
6:24 $0.99
4. Ndapandula
5:23 $0.99
5. Salifa
7:03 $0.99
6. Itaala
5:04 $0.99
7. Seven Steps
5:22 $0.99
8. Moondance
5:08 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Itaala means "Believe" in Oshiwambo, language of the Aawambo people in Namibia, my mother's tongue. Our music is a dialogue - looking into both my personal past and the country's history. In a way, we're also whispering to the future. A future where the idea of the ‘global village’ is coming closer and closer; where the whole world is exchanging all sorts of influences, while we still celebrate particular artistic and cultural practices. Coming from Christianisation and apartheid in Namibia, where so many of the local beliefs and practices where shunned, Itaala is also a way to praise Namibia, its people, its languages, its traditions.

As an acoustic quartet we are integrating musical elements from Namibia with a new set of instruments, rhythms and harmonies. Each one of us was raised in different cultures and our sound is a meeting place of all the musical styles we have brought along on our personal journeys. The music has become a marriage between dusty archive material, field recordings from Namibia done by the likes of such musicologists as Minette Mans, other rhythms and sounds from the African continent, Europe and our own interpretation of these sounds and stories as we meld them with contemporary influences. This recording feels like a birth: from the long-felt need to create an identity that encompasses both African and European roots. As has been my personal quest over the years.

In 1992, I arrived in the rainy Netherlands from the arid desert lands of Namibia. I’d spent the first five years of my life in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital. People always ask whether I can still remember anything from that time. And yes, a million stories flash by. From my aunty Ndapewa telling us bedtime stories and always playing with me and my sister, to driving down the hills of Windhoek with my Belgian dad in his old white Mercedes, my very first English classes at the pre-primary Montessori school run by the famous Mrs. Theresa Anstey, the violin lessons at the College of the Arts, the travels to ‘the north’ visiting my mother’s village Oshigambo - where I always felt a bit strange and very ‘light’ compared to all my cousins, to seeing my mom and my aunties sitting around our kitchen table making jokes, speaking a language I didn’t quite understand. I also remember screaming for my dad after I lifted a stone with a scorpion underneath it. He came and smacked it with a shovel.

I have a vivid memory of my grandmother, kuku Maria, when she visited us in Windhoek from the north when I was four. She kept talking to me even though I didn’t get it, but I enjoyed it. That was one of the few times I saw her. I can still see the endless blue sky, the beauty of the sun that never seems to stop shining, the mountains, the vast landscapes, a life on bare feet, the sand, the smiles, the eyes of the people, the smell of the earth when it finally rains. Somehow I took this all with me when we left to the Netherlands. And I kept longing for it. The music on this disc has been a journey back through those memories that have stayed dear to me. It’s for all the people who told me: “Ino dhimbwa mpa wa za!” (“Don’t forget where you are from!”)

Growing up in the Netherlands, there was no access to Namibian music. In over twenty years, I found but a single CD from Namibia: a recording of the Ju/‘Hoansi Bushmen in a library. I decided to study musicology so I could learn the tools to study Namibian music and the history around it myself. The motivation behind “Namibian Tales” was to explore the largely unknown cultural heritage from Namibia and use those elements as a ‘treasure chest’ and inspiration for original contemporary pieces. During my stays in Namibia I found very few people actively engaged in these traditions. The music scene was largely inspired by such modern-day styles as house, reggae, kwaito, hip-hop and RnB. I felt a strong need to delve deeper into older ‘Namibian’ musical traditions, since I had grown up without it.

I don’t believe in coincidences. After having gone back to live in Namibia again, I returned to the Netherlands in April 2014, on the eve of my next birthday. I had reached yet another crossroads: what was I to do with my life? I didn’t want to leave Namibia, but I still had many things to do in Europe, most of all finishing my master’s degree in musicology at the University of Amsterdam. I’d spent several years travelling back and forth doing research about contemporary urban music in Namibia, interviewing fellow musicians in Windhoek. I returned to Amsterdam with the feeling of having to start from scratch again; friends had moved on, life had changed, I had changed.

My birthday arrived and I organised a little event inviting friends. The friends I’d expected to come didn’t show up, but some other acquaintances did. Among them was Sjahin During, one of Amsterdam’s most happening percussionists, known from his group Arifa. We’d met a few times some years back. Every now and then he’d get in touch and ask about the possibility of playing together, but I laughed at him saying I wasn’t interested in working with musicians who were always on tour. To make a long story short, he showed up at my birthday that day and I was quite surprised. He even got there before I did; I chalked it up as a sign of good timing.

Sjahin had brought a sufi drum and like most parties with musicians; we all ended up jamming throughout the evening. He complimented my “rhythm” and gave me his sufi drum for my birthday. That’s where the friendship started.

Some months later he offered to guide me in my musical journey. Time passed and one day we were chatting about my activities in Namibia and he asked me: “Why don’t we start a project around your Namibian roots?” This was something I’d always wanted to do, but somehow I was also hugely reluctant. I had not been raised with Oshiwambo, my mother’s language and I felt very hesitant to go for it, afraid of making a fool out of myself. But Sjahin’s resoluteness persuaded me to cross my boundaries and we eventually made our first song called “Ndapandula” (“I am thankful.”)

We now embarked on the adventure of finding the right team of musicians, soon having the pleasure of playing with Ana Carla Maza (cello) and Mamadou Dramé (kora) before forming our current steady ensemble with Bence Huszar and Debby Korfmacher. Sjahin had toured with Bence previously and said he would be the perfect fit for this group. So we invited him for a jam and the chemistry was obvious: what an incredible groove machine coming out of this classically trained cellist! Our quest to find a kora player in the Netherlands came to an end when it turned out that mbira player Debby, whom we had approached because of her great knowledge of African music and the various musicians performing it in the Netherlands, also played kora! So, once again, we invited her to join us for a jam and everything took off from there. There was and still is a great deal of chemistry between the four of us both on and offstage, and creating this music together has undoubtedly been quite a ride. We held our first gig as “Shishani & the Namibian Tales” in the Mezrab club in Amsterdam on May 12, 2015. This happened to be the place where Sjahin and I had met for the very first time. As I said, I don’t believe in ‘coincidences’. The following week we performed at Europe’s biggest African music festival in Würzburg, Germany, and since then have never looked back.

Onkalamwenyo otayeendelele. Life is changing extremely fast. When the elders pass away, the music does too. Modernization leaves very little space for indigenous peoples to live like they have done for so many centuries. It is with this feeling of urgency that ‘Namibian Tales’ also came into being. Of wanting to learn and absorb as much as we can about this heritage. So that it can hopefully live on in other ways, new ways, and perhaps be passed on from there.

In the year and a half we’ve been working together there have been many challenges to overcome. First and foremost was finding the right acoustic sound and instrumentation we were after. All of us came from very different musical backgrounds: my vocal style was mainly influenced by a school of Neo-Soul, Hip-hop & RnB, while Sjahin was steeped in Afro-Cuban, ‘oriental’ and jazz music; Bence was classically trained on cello and Debby studied mbira traditions in Zimbabwe and went to Senegal to learn kora. Combining these traditional African instruments with western approaches to harmony has been highly demanding. Many songs came and went until we started to develop repertoire that felt suitable to us. Slowly but surely the dust is settling and the path becomes clearer.

We look forward to collaborating with the Ju/‘Hoansi, also known as the San or ‘Bushmen’ people, based in the Kalahari. Our aim is to meet, share and learn from these ancient civilizations to see what we can create together! We want to celebrate the beauty of art and the fact that it knows no borders; a celebration and perhaps re-definition of meetings between Africa and Europe.



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