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From Maasailand to comMUSIKey

The first time I went to a Music for People workshop, I came straight from the airport after two months in Maasailand, Kenya. Although Maasailand was differenter than anything I had ever experienced in my life, there was a sense of seamlessness between the Maasai and the Music for People cultures. What they both had i

common was music as a first language. In each culture, I could see people being comfortable communicating without words. One of the first Maasai words I learned was Osingolio which means singing and dancing. The body is the instrument of the Maasai people. Jumping is part of the dance. Landing on the ground is the percussion part of the body. You must know when to jump and how high in order to land on the right beat. Singing and dancing, like space and time, cannot be separated.

When I first visited the village of Ngong'u Narok, the entire village came out to give us their Osingolio. No one in the village considered themself unmusical. A few days later we returned to party. You can hear what that party sounded like on the album Osingolio. If you download the album, all money goes to The Maasai Education, Research and Conservation Institute (MERC) and the Village of Ngong’u Narok

The CD was recorded one day and one night within the village of Ngong’u Narok, Maasailand, in July of 2007. Using a handheld recorder my intent was to capture the community spirit that is contained in and sustained through the singing and dancing of the Maasai. If you hear my voice in the recording please consider it part of that welcoming community spirit.

This music epitomizes the message of comMUSIKey. After that first trip in 2007 I continued to go back to Kenya throughout the same four-year period I was studying how to facilitate music groups back home with Music for People.

When you listen to this album, you are listening to the sound of a village welcoming a group of people from another land with customs very different from theirs. You hear the voices of me and the college students I was with. You hear them mention my name, Enjolis, which means hedgehog, given to me for mistaking a hedgehog for a sheep. They changed my last name too, from Best to Sidai Pii, which means Completely Good. They don't have the word Best in their language. You hear my attempts at singing along and their invitation for me to take the lead. You hear the laughter of everyone.

The first song Enta Supa Oleng kind of means “gigantic welcome to everyone.” The second song Nai is a prayer. It kind of means “amen.” The rest of the titles are just the numbers one through six. These jams happened spontaneously. I hear some words I recognize but I really don't know what they're singing about. I know they are singing about life. Notice how Kaika asks us if we enjoyed the music and dancing. Then he asks us to clap for ourselves, for the warriors and the women. This is a very important piece of the whole puzzle that led me to comMUSIKey.

This is true folk music. Sony Music would never know how to market this. It goes back centuries, constantly evolving, as the stories of warriors, of mothers, and of oppression, change. This music provides a listening experience nothing like a pop recording or even a live classical or jazz performance. The laughter and conversation of the village is interwoven with the music. One of the biggest honors of my life was to be welcomed into this community and to have the opportunity to create this album that has forever changed my life.

So far, close to a thousand CDs have been sold on behalf of Maasai communities. This new online version is available for a minimum donation of $7. The hard copies are $20. You can always add more to the donation. This in particular is a time when Maasai communities can really use your help.

It’s also a time when we can use their help. As a society, we are in so much trouble that we don’t even know it. Every time we let an indigenous community die, we lose another part of our collective soul. The music of this album reminds me that there was a time when music was interwoven into every facet of human life.

All profits from the sale of this CD will go to the Maasai Education Research and Conservation Institute and the Village of Ngong’u Narok.

All photos are by Rick Noss

If you want to see some videos showing some of what I saw go to the Maasai Youtube playlist of EveryBodyMusic.Rocks

This one showing young boys in a Maasai run middle school is one of my favorites. Siana School Osingolio.

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