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Stories: Akoul Diing | Sista She | Karinda/Lion King singer | Aloysie Second Chance |
Gunnedah soccer | Liberia Australia independence celebrations | UN Population Award | Gallery manager Richard Lubner | Marathon broadcaster Anton Enus | Club Mombasa entrepreneur |
Sudanese Australian Abraham Aleer | SBS Football's Francis Awaritefe | Former Miss Australia Zambian-born Nalishebo Gaskell | Advocate Matthew Albert | Super RailBand | Singer Ajak Kwai | Edison Yongai author profile | Ethiopian Nile academic Kef Mekonnen | Rwandan Australian Marie-Benedicte | Performer & writer Sheela Langeberg |

Africans in Oz since 1788...
Africans have been in Australia since 1788 when around a dozen African men arrived here as part of the First Fleet - according to renowned Australian non-fiction author and historian, Dr Cassandra Pybus.

Dr Pybus, an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow based at the University of Tasmania, began researching the subject a few years ago, uncovering material on over 800 convicts and free settlers from the African Diaspora. Dr Pybus is currently researching the history of Australia's 'first bushranger', an African man known as Black Caeser, who was eventually confined to chains on Garden Island.

Caeser came out to Australia with the First Fleet in the 1780s. Other Africans came to Australia during the 1800s. According to Dr Pybus, many were freed slaves who had gone to Britain after the American Revolution - only to fall on hard times, and to be sent to Australia as convicts. Others came out during the 1830s, when slaves and ex-slaves were transported from the West Indies and the Cape Colony, or during the 1850s Gold Rush. The Sydney landmark Blues Point is said to be named after William Blue, a man of African descent who was a confidant of Governor Macquarie.

According to Dr Pybus' research, most convicts of African descent stayed 'clean' and eventually won their freedom. Many were given land grants like other convicts, and married local women and had children. Their descendents blended in as white Australians or as Aboriginal Australians.

For more information on Caesar, see the University of Wollongong's First Fleet Online site.

For Dr Pybus' biography, see University of Tasmania site. You can also see a list of her publications on African Australian history (previous and forthcoming).

Other interesting facts on African diaspora: The MCU university (US) education site has mini histories of African diaspora around the world:

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Strength and grace in Akuol Diing
AfricanOz chats to one of Australia's leading models. (Photo credits: Akuol modelling Bowie Wong. Image supplied by Mercedes Australian Fashion Week, photograph by Alex Zotos

Akuol

Fresh off the catwalks of Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in Sydney - Australian Sudanese model Akuol Diing has just embarked on a busy international schedule. First she’s off to fashion week in London, then fashion week in New York - where she’ll parade down high society catwalks, appear on billboard advertisements, and adjust to the demands of the international fashion scene.

Far from being ‘dazed’ by the glamour of international modelling, Akuol is modest, even reflective about her catwalk success.

Already she is talking about returning to study next year, assisting her brother with an aid project in South Sudan and building up support for her local community.

Akuol says, “With modelling, it’s important to be aware of your future. "You need to think five years ahead or you’ll get carried away with the glamour of it all...”

She says the people around her help her keep a perspective on things, “Spending time with my family and community keeps me well grounded,” she says, “so I don’t lose sight of what’s important in life.”

Akuol meets up with people from her Dinka background on a regular basis. “We now have a big family here, with strong communal bonds. We meet up for get-togethers, food, music, and cultural dancing…(I’m not good at the dancing,” she laughs, “but I’m practising!”)

The dancing will help the community raise funds for people still facing civil war in Sudan. In future Akuol, passionate about the plight of her people, wants to help provide education for children whose schools have been destroyed in conflict.

Education is important to Akuol and she marvels at the opportunities a ‘free education’ can provide in Australia. At the age of eight, Akuol had to leave her parents in Sudan, and move to Egypt, where her sister and brother helped bring her up. As she grew older, they worked hard to pay for her education in medicine and science. Part way through her studies she was granted a visa to come to Australia.

Once here, she enrolled in further studies. But it was challenging to begin with. “Adjusting to a different language, different culture was hard at first. I had to relearn everything in English – including chemistry and maths.”

By this stage, modelling was the furthest thing from Akuol’s mind – she’d heard of famous models of Sudanese background such as Alek Wek, but never thought modelling was for her. (“I was too shy!” she says.)

In the end, it was modelling that discovered Akuol rather than Akuol discovering modelling. One day while shopping in Sydney’s Ashfield Shopping Mall, a woman from a modelling agency approached her. “I didn’t take it as a big deal,” says Akuol. “We exchanged phone numbers and I carried on with my life. Then she phoned me, and suddenly I was on my way to modelling training school.”

To begin with: “I was scared going out on the catwalk with all these cameras flashing – I thought ‘I’m going to fall!’ But then I grew more confident. However, even now, sometimes, deep inside I feel shy.”

Akuol has a strong, elegant presence on the catwalk. Like many South Sudanese, she is tall and slim. “But my height of 5 foot 11 is nothing compared to my family’s. My cousin, who plays professional basketball, is around 7 feet!” she says.

With a similar height and beauty to Akuol, some of her relatives are models in Australia, including the well known Akeer Chut-Deng.

Akuol says Australia is a small market for models, particularly darker models. “But if people have seen you before and like your work they will book you again and again.” Akuol began modelling clothes for Australian designer Morrissey, before others saw her talent. The list of designers she’s now worked with reads like a Who’s Who of the Australian Fashion industry with big names like Nicole Finetti, Akira and Zambesi – to name a few – and she is currently signed on with one of Australia’s leading modelling agencies, Chic.

While modelling can be a busy and highly competitive career, Akuol says she handles the pressure as she had to endure a tough life when she was growing up. What also gives her strength is having people believe in her - and being able to believe in herself. She says, “If I can offer any advice to people who want to get into modelling, it’s important to be who you are – don’t try to be someone else.”

....Inspiring words from the inspiring Akuol Diing.

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What a sista!
AfricanOz chats to the 'sista' with South African roots, Rasheda - one half of the sensational Australian comedy, hiphop duo 'Sista She' (continued from front page)

sista she AfricanOz: Can you explain a little bit about your African heritage?
Rasheda: My mum and dad are South African (coloured South African for y'all out there who know the bizarre racial segmentation of South Africa). On mum's side, there is a bit of Malay and Chinese, which is pretty common among the mixed people of South Africa. On dad's side I got some Scottish blood and African too. Apparently my great, great grandmother was a princess in Java and was taken to South Africa when the Dutch took over. The history of mixed or coloured people in South Africa is really interesting and not very well understood on a cultural level in Australia and probably across the Western world. I get the feeling I'm gonna have to write a Hollywood script about the social history of "Coloured" South Africa so the world gets a notion of where my people have come from and how they experienced South Africa during Apartheid and beyond.

AfricanOz: Is there anything in your African heritage that might have inspired your path to stardom?
Rasheda: I feel very much inspired and nourished by my family history and the hardships my family went through. My grandfather was Sonny Leon the first coloured leader of the Labor party in South Africa in the early 1970s - and mum was the party secretary. Papa travelled the world and spoke on Nelson Mandela's plight and asked for trade sactions against the South African government until Apartheid was abolished. In our show, 'Inna Thigh', I talk about being "part of a family of politics, but who is Rasheda, a brown hip hop star-some sort of sista leader?" Having a South African background and continually being confronted by the history of Apartheid and dealing with the issues of racism in Australia both drive and crush me. I think l work so hard because of these things.

AfricanOz: How do your parents feel about having stars in the family - (Rasheda's sister, Kim Bowers, aka 'Busty Beats', also performs with the Sista She duo)
Rasheda: My parents had three daughters and they all ended up in music and performance. I think it really worries them at times because the industry is so inconsistent (money) but they love that we are three strong women who need and want to create cutural waves in Australia.... and across the world! Actually my other sister is also a star, she is Via Tania and recently released an album called "Under a Different Sky" on Trifecta records, so it's not just Busty and l!

AfricanOz: Any tips on maintaining a good afro?
Rasheda:I am still looking for the perfect fro-dresser. Australia don't stock the products to keep up the 'fro, they just want to straighten and braid hair.... and it is tres high maintenance!

AfricanOz: How do people find their inner MC?
Rasheda: I think finding the inna MC can be literal or metaphorical, like literally bringing your voice on to the stage or perhaps allowing yourself the freedom to live your personal dreams..... l just cannot think of a cooler way to say that. What l'm trying to get at is that l see a lack of confidence in young women and men and most people every day, people are always being conquered by fear. By listening to the voice inside that has always been strong, always told you what you are here to do - ie. rap, or teach or dance or bake cakes or whatever - by actually listening in and then taking on the challenge (and the obstacles will come thick and fast cos we in the cruel world y'all) you slowly realise you've made the connection with your inna MC.

AfricanOz: Do you have any tips for people who can't dance?
Rasheda: For those unfortunate peeps who can't dance, find Salt N' Pepa, Janet Jackson and any Mowtown videos that are out there and start observing the moves. Listen to soul and travel the world - cos it difficult to get the groove in the Western world!

AfricanOz: What are some of the joys of being a female superstar?
Rasheda: It's ace to be a role model for young women and old women alike... It is pretty cool to be in magazines and that cos you don't see many brown faces with vuluptuous bootys! It's also fun confusing all those fellas who thought thin was hot and now see another possibility - l think it's confronting for them sometimes.

(In future) there are plans for some new songs that use South African music, contrasted with the Celtic music of my partner in rhyme, Sheila MC Eila's heritage. I look forward to a new period of creativity.

For more on Sista She, see their website at: www.sistashe.com.au



On Stage with Karinda...
AfricanOz chats to Lion King talent, Karinda Mutabazi

karinda Australian singer, Karinda Mutabazi, is several months into performing The Lion King in Sydney. Despite eight performances a week, and several costume changes a show, Karinda can't get enough of the Lion King's music... And her enthusiasm is contagious. Talk to her for longer than a minute and already you're floating around on stage with lions, hyenas and plants of the savannah, while the chorus of South African music sends you off with the clouds.

"I feel really lucky to act and sing in the Lion King ensemble," says Karinda - and as for the music, "I could listen to it all day."

Part of the appeal, Karinda admits, is in the style of the music. "It's challenging to perform," she says. "The way you use your voice is different and the language is different - Zulu and Xhosa."

While Karinda has African roots (her father originally comes from Uganda), the Zulu and Xhosa sounds were new to her. She had to learn the shape of vowels and the rhythm of the language - something that fellow cast members from South Africa were more than willing to help her do. "It's been really important to have South Africans in the ensemble," says Karinda, "They have been great tutoring people and, in terms of music, you just can't beat that authentic African sound."

Karinda delights in the Lion King's multinational cast, with performers coming from diverse Asian, Australian, Pacific and international backgrounds. "We learn a lot from each other, about each other's cultures, how things are done, different people bring in different dishes - it's been really great," she says.

The audience, too, are a source of inspiration. "The energy from the audience is amazing," says Karinda, "And to have them appreciate the show is the best thing about singing - it's like giving them a part of yourself."

A love of performing has always been with Karinda, from acting in primary school productions to theatrical ambitions in high school - a time when The Lion King had just started on Broadway, and Karinda recalls thinking, "I'd love to be in that!"

Several years later, after completing a Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash University and landing a part in the stage musical, Hair, Karinda finally had the opportunity to fulfil that dream. After a few auditions she was selected to play Sarabi and to perform in the local Lion King ensemble.

While the cast were preparing for the show, she was impressed by the presence of Lion King creator Julie Taymor, whose intricate designs and costumes are the hallmark of the show. "She really made everything authentically African," says Karinda, "right down to the make-up, which is designed from tribal make-up and African paintings, to the ornate costumes - the corsets we wear, for example, are so ornate and accurate with beads from Africa."

And what of Karinda's future after the Lion King, with its rich African flavour - is she worried about being typecast? "When I first started I thought that my background might be a disadvantage in the industry - but I've come to learn it's an advantage - there's a lot of work for people like me in new theatre areas" And she advises other performers facing similar doubts to go for it: "This is our time!"

For more on the cast and story of The Lion King, see www.thelionking.com.au

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'Second Chance' - inspired by culture
A new charity inspired by the positive influence of African culture was established in Sydney this month
Aloysie Second Chance was launched on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide in April. The charity’s founder, Aloysie Mpiriwe, lost family and friends in the genocide - but says she survived its traumatic effects through her love of traditional culture.

“Having nothing to hold onto but a love of music and dance taught me that being happy is the most important resource in staying alive,” she says.

“I really want to share with everyone how I held onto joy. Small things like taking a moment to smile, to be happy and feel love and friendship cost nothing and take no time but are everything.”

Aloysie and her colleagues will spread this inspiring message through educational presentations and cultural performances in schools, hospitals and other locations. Their program will include traditional dancing, music, story telling and instrument playing.

It is these types of activities - handed down from her mother - that helped Aloysie survive the pain and loss of genocide.

Aloysie was just 14 when civil war broke out in Rwanda. In the following 100 days, 800,000 people died, including Aloysie’s family and friends. Aloysie managed to escape to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), where she drew strength from her traditional culture. She feels that without this she would have died. It gave her a second chance in life. Aloysie's aim for the new charity is to help people appreciate the values and cultures that hold communities together - and for people to bring these back into their daily lives.

To learn more about Aloysie Second Chance, or to show your support, email its Director, Jilian Mulally, at: jilian@asecondchance.com.au

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 Watching the Art of Nelson Mandela

What's a surfer and former professional tennis player doing running Australia's Nelson Mandela art gallery? Simple, really... he's been inspired.

Nelson Mandela gallery interiorNot far from the glittering waters of Sydney Harbour, you go up the stone pathways and into the gallery of Nelson Mandela. The warmth of the interior is a long way from the oppressive views of Robben Island where Mandela was held captive for many years. But the prints on the wall are something close to all of us: humanity inspired. The man who set up and runs the gallery, Richard Lubner, said, "People do fine art and people do memorabilia, but these lithographs by Nelson Mandela are really special - not only do they look beautiful, they are very powerful, strong, and emotive - they really reach out to people."

The aptly-named 'Touch of Mandela' gallery features dozens of charcoal sketches, artistic hand prints, and other fine art collectables by Mandela. This includes his 'Robben Island Series', depicting his life behind bars during the apartheid era in a series of original sketches with striking, bold colours. It is Mandela's ability to see the 'colours' in life that Richard finds the most profound: "One of Nelson Mandela's defining traits is his ability to look at life with such colour - to go into prison for so many years, to go through hell and then to come out so optimistic and enlightened - that is an incredible trait," said Richard.

Optimism is also a trait familiar to Richard Lubner's South African family -- who worked through the challenges of South Africa's apartheid era. Richard's father, South Africa's chief rabbi, Rabbi Harris, (currently visiting Australia), helped establish charities to aid the impoverished. One of these charities was the Ma Afrika Tikkun Foundation - an organisation that so impressed Nelson Mandela he eventually asked if he could be its chief patron. They gladly obliged.

At around the same time, Richard Lubner was busy touring the world as a professional tennis player. He played Wimbledon, the US Open and other international tournaments, reaching 250 in the world rankings - playing with Boris Becker, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras to name a few. However, even mixing with the tennis greats was nothing, suggests Richard, to meeting Nelson Mandela for the first time.

"Often when you meet a 'celebrity' or famous person, your expectations are so high, you're inevitably let down," said Richard. "But meeting Nelson Mandela was different. He had a very powerful presence - he was very soft, very gentle, and very, very humorous - but very powerful all the same."

And so began a friendship that would lead to Richard setting up one of the world's only three art galleries to exhibit and sell Mandela's work.

Sydney was a logical choice for Richard. He'd come to Australia to study an MBA after retiring from tennis and "just couldn't leave." As well as being an ideal location for the art gallery, it allowed Richard to indulge in his 'secret passion' of surfing. ("I go two or three times a week if I can make it," he said).

But even the great outdoors can't distract Richard from his major focus - managing the art gallery. It remains a big success - still popular with overseas and Australian visitors, even seven months after opening. "It definitely has an international message and appeal," said Richard of Mandela's work. "It's about the spirit of human endeavour, it's about humanity -and they're important messages whether you relate it to Indigenous Australia, Europe or anywhere else in the world."

To see the sketches for yourself (and maybe even purchase a picture or two) - visit Touch of Mandela gallery, at the ASN Building 1-5 at Hickson Rd in The Rocks, Ph: 02 9252 1000. For more details and previews, see the Touch of Mandela website at www.touchofmandela.com.au

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Liberian Indepence Day Celebrations in Australia
(Image: Map of Liberia from CIA factbook)
Liberian Australians celebrated Liberian Independence Day last weekend, with feasts, performances and community celebrations around Australia. Around 250 people joined Brisbane-based celebrations, with music, dancing and a fashion show.

[CONT FROM FRONT PAGE]
According to President of Queensland’s Liberian community association, Albert Doe-Nunnah, the program showcased the diversity of Liberia’s culture, with influences from Kpelle, Kru, Grebo and other Liberian indigenous groups, as well as influences from Liberia’s strong American heritage.

Liberia (whose name was derived from the Latin word for ‘free’) is a country in West Africa founded by freed American slaves in the early nineteenth century. Descendents of this group now make up around 5% of Liberia’s total population.

Albert says the western influences on Liberia have, in some ways, made it easier for Liberians to adjust to life in Australia. “The similar weather and social attitude and western influences on Liberia have helped us to feel at home here. There's also a diversity of cultures here. So local Indian and Chinese groceries, for example, stock many of our favourite herbs and spices.”

There are around 70 Liberians in Brisbane, and many more around Australia. Albert says most community members arrived here in the last two or three years. Many - who were forced to flee Liberia after the tragic civil war in the 1990s - spent years living as refugees in neighbouring regions before gaining resettlement in Australia.

There are now general elections proposed for next year in Liberia, and the country has been run under the United Nations UNMIL program. While there is hope for the future of Liberia, there are many challenges ahead. For more information on Liberia's political situation, see:

- Rebuilding Liberia: Prospects and Perils (International Crisis Group)
- Liberia: A Country Study (Global Security)
- AllAfrica Liberia latest

On Culture see: Liberian cookbook on www.sas.upenn.edu

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UN award - recognises Australians' work on Africa (Posted 29/4/04)
Australians dedicated to working on some of Africa's greatest challenges have been honoured in the 2004 United Nations Population Award, announced this week. The individual award goes to internationally acclaimed Australian demographer, John Caldwell who has done extensive research on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, while the award for an institution goes to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital - a vital service that Australian Catherine Hamlin helped establish in Ethiopia many years ago.

The Award (to be presented at a UN ceremony later this year) is given annually to award outstanding work in the field of population and in improving the health and welfare of individuals. According to a statement from the United Nations Population Fund, Mr Caldwell's work to frame the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa as a demographic, epidemiological and sociocultural phenomenon is unparalleled.

Mr Caldwell is the first Australian individual to win the award. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has congratulated Mr Caldwell, saying he is regarded as "one of the world's most influential, respected and prolific scientists in his field" and "His mentoring of young demographers has enhanced the capacity of demographic research in all regions of the world."

The other award recipient, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has provided an invaluable service to Ethiopia and East Africa. It has also become a teaching institution for surgeons around the world. Since it was set up the hospital has treated and cared for over 25,000 women living with obstetric fistula - a debilitating childbirth injury that damages a woman's birth canal and leaves her incontinent. Each year, the hospital provides free medical care to over 1,200 women - an approach that helps restore the health and dignity of sufferers. For more on the Fitsula Hospital and its vital work, see their Australian-based office at www.fistulatrust.org, or contact them at (02) 9875 2530, email: secretary@fistulatrust.org

For more on John Caldwell's work on HIV/AIDs research, see the African-based HIVAN website

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Soccer and Drums at Gunnedah Cup!

Sierra Leone men's team Somali men's team

The country town of Gunnedah partied to the sounds of Sierra Leoneon drumming, as the soccer extravaganza, the 'International' Gunnedah Cup wound up last week. Over 100 enthusiastic soccer players from diverse Australian backgrounds - including Somalia, Sudan and Sierra Leone - travelled from their home in Sydney to Gunnedah to participate in the soccer meet. The men's Sierra Leone team (pictured at rest) kept organisers entertained with bouts of African drumming on the bus trip on the way up through the pituresque Namoi Valley. On their arrival in Gunnedah they adapted this musical energy to the sporting field, making it into the semi-finals after beating the normally top-scoring Somali team (pictured, warming up). However, their energy seemed to fizzle during a game with the Sri Lankan Tamils who beat them into the finals. Hosts, Gunnedah won the men's finals, while the Bosnian girls won the women's finals. It was a fun competition, and the players gave a free concert at the local bowling club on Sunday night. What was originally going to be a quiet cultural celebration turned into a 'full-on African dance party' according to witnesses, with the Sierra Leoneon drummers putting out some great vibes. A wonderful time was had by all!

In a region known for its rural industries and agricultural field days (Ag-Quip), Gunnedah showed it also has a talent for sporting competitions. The visiting teams from Sydney enjoyed three days of competition, cultural exchange and sightseeing. The trip included visits to local Aboriginal art sites and some exploring of the Namoi Valley. The visit was organised by the Centre for Social Leadership at The Benevolent Society, Gunnedah City Council, NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and Auburn Migrant Resource Centre. It was aimed at bridging the rural-city divide through partnership and sharing of cultural resources.

Pics above: Somali men's team warming up (left); Sierra Leone men's team (right). Thanks to the Benevolant Society of NSW for pictures.

There's a touch of African Australian history in Gunnedah. A road in the town is called 'Breaker Morant Drive' - named after the historical Australian icon 'Breaker' Morant who fought in the Boer War in South Africa in the 1890s. The 'Breaker' worked in Gunnedah as a drover and horse-breaker. He was court marshalled and put to death by the British during the Boer War, an act that has aroused great resentment and contention in Australian history. For more on 'Breaker Morant', see the Studies page link to the Australian War Memorial (under 'Research Links'). There's a dramatisation of his story: 'Breaker Morant' on video/DVD.

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Anton Enus

Marathon Broadcaster: Anton Enus
Interview with South African Australian SBS TV newsreader & sometime marathon runner, Anton Enus (continued from front page)

AfricanOz: What appeals to you most about distance running?

Anton Enus: Running is my private time, a chance to gather my thoughts and contemplate what's happening in the world and in my life. It never fails to lift my mood and make me feel physically good. As a sport, it gives ordinary runners like me unique access to great events. For instance, in a race as famous as the 90km Comrades Marathon in South Africa, I got to run on the same course at the same time as the world's best runners for 10 years in a row.

AfricanOz: Your journalism career is something of a successful marathon - working as a top presenter and reporter for many years in South Africa before making the transition to SBS in Australia. Do you miss the challenges of working in Africa?

Anton:I miss aspects of working in South Africa. Australia and Africa are chalk and cheese in terms of reporting environments. There it was much more a case of everyday reporting being more focused on life-changing issues - a society trying to cope with fundamental challenges (whole communities with no shelter, some rural areas which had never had electricity, absence of basic health care, the fallout from generations of political violence, etc). Here, in a more affluent society, the debate is often about the same broad issues, but more focused on tweaking the details rather than changing fundamentals.

AfricanOz: Is there anything in South Africa (or your background) that led to your interest in news & current affairs?

Anton: I think it's impossible to have lived in a country such as South Africa with its history of oppression and division, and not have an intense interest in news and current affairs. That, coupled with my early desire to want to express myself through writing, led me to news as a career.

AfricanOz: In addition to working in Sth Africa, you have reported from Rwanda and other places. What is one of the stories you found the most satisfying to work on while in Africa?

Anton: Perhaps the most cherished moment for me was at the end of that trip to Rwanda. I got to spend a long, hot day trekking up a hillside (Rwanda is known as the country of a thousand hills) to film the famed mountain gorillas. In the thick of very heavy foliage, our group came face to face with these most amazing creatures. I loved putting together that story and have wonderful memories of my brush with unspoilt nature, especially knowing at the time that Rwanda's longrunning civil war was putting enormous pressure on the survival of the gorillas.

AfricanOz: Do you still run? What are some of your favourite running spots in Sydney and South Africa?

Anton: I still run 2-3 times a week, though much shorter distances. My regular morning run is around Centennial Park and back home (about 8 km). And when I lived in Elizabeth Bay I had a favourite run that took in Woolloomooloo, Mrs Macquarie's Chair, Farm Cove, around the Opera House and back to Elizabeth Bay. Beautiful. In South Africa I had an exquisite training run when I lived in Cape Town. It went from the city up to the lower starting point of the famous Table Mountain cableway, down to Camps Bay and all the way back along the most spectacular coastline to the city. It was 21 km of utter delight that made those long daily runs such a pleasure.

AfricanOz: Do you have any favourite runners? What do you admire most about them?

Anton: There are a couple. The greatest Comrades Marathon champion is Bruce Fordyce, who won the race nine times. I was fortunate to meet him a few times over the years and was so impressed by the way he always made time to pass on the benefits of his knowledge and experience to other runners. And then there's another South African, Josia Thugwane, who reduced me to tears of joy when he came from nowhere to win the Olympic marathon in Atlanta. He confirmed what running has demonstrated to me over almost twenty years: that you can achieve great personal goals even when the odds seem to be impossible.

See SBS TV World News site for more about the SBS news team, and to catch up on the latest international and national stories.

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Peter Okwechime



All in a Night's work
AfricanOz catches up with nightclub owner, Peter Okwechime.

He’s a mild-mannered IT worker by day… But at night, when the sun sets over Canberra, Peter Okwechime becomes a nightclub owner and entrepreneur. For five years, he’s managed one of Australia’s most successful world music nightclubs, Club Mombasa – surviving on a diet of “good management, good music and lots of hard work”.

[CONT from front page]

“I’m a very shy person,” he laughs. “I never wanted to own a club before. But since I started running Mombasa, I’ve never wanted to quit. When I go up those Club stairs at night, I feel a different person. It’s my home away from home. And that’s how I like everyone to feel when they're there.”

A welcoming atmosphere is one of the key ingredients to the club’s success. Everything from the music (ranging from African, Latino and Arabic to hip-hip, R&B and reggae), to the club’s drinks menu is designed with a ‘universal’ flavour. And with that come the customers: people of all ages and backgrounds – African, European, Asian, Australian, including diplomats, labourers, teachers and students.

“The club attracts such a diverse crowd,” says Peter, “and everyone intermingles. People start talking and learning about each other’s cultures. And people get inspired. Some decide to travel to Africa. Others meet their partners. People find out about things they didn’t know before.”

In this sense Peter is the quintessential host. “I love mixing with people at the Club. I love making them happy. And when they are happy I’m happy.” he says.

It all sounds so positive. But aren’t there challenges involved in running a club?

Yes, Peter admits, you have to have strict policies in place. “Definitely no drugs and no fighting,” he says. “I will throw out my best friend if they start a fight – and I’ve done that before.”

Then there are the demands of stock, insurance, decoration and other ‘unglamorous’ chores. To Peter, however, that’s all part of doing business.

“I grew up in an enterprising city,” he says. “Nigeria’s capital, Lagos. It’s a tough city and people are always learning to buy and sell and make a living. You see people suffering and you have to work hard. But in Africa, if you work hard, you don’t always have the opportunity to make the best of it. In Australia, if you work hard, you might have that opportunity.”

For Peter, that ‘opportunity’ originally came in the form of being selected to study in Australia. He studied agricultural economics before working around Australia as a consultant with Australian Indigenous groups on economics and development matters.

Although he loved his work, it was while studying for his Masters he hit on his real passion: Music. “I wasn’t allowed to listen to music when I was growing up,” he says. “My dad was very strict – and I used to get told to read a book instead. So when I got to the University of New England (in northern NSW), I started listening to music all the time. I’d mix tapes of hip-hop, R&B and other music while I was studying in my room at residences. I didn’t know anyone else could hear it. But one day the students came to me and asked if I could DJ for the international students' music night.”

“I’ve never DJed before!” Peter protested – but the students had heard his music, day after day, through the walls. They convinced him to do it and Peter never looked back.

He began DJing regularly, initially just to entertain friends, then later on a more professional level. Even now he still DJs at Club Mombasa when he can. It’s part of what he calls ‘doing what you’re best at’ – the key, he says, to surviving in business.

“You need to have a passion and real interest to survive in business,” he says. “You need to go into it with an open mind - not to buy a big Mercedes... You need to have a cash flow. And you need to have a focus.”

This focus has made for one of Australia’s most enjoyable nightspots – a formula we wish Peter would adapt to other Australian cities.

“I’d love to start a franchise,” Peter says.

(And he means it – does the inexhaustible Peter Okwechime...)

For more details and photos of Club Mombasa (open Thurs-Sat nights), see the website at www.clubmombasa.com.au- or contact Peter at peter@clubmombasa.com.au

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Abraham Aleer

Abraham Reflects

For Refugee Week, AfricanOz talks with Abraham Aleer, one of Sudan's famous 'Lost Boys' who arrived in Australia in 2002.

When we phone Sudanese Australian Abraham Aleer on his mobile, we catch him running to the train station. "Yes, I'm happy to do an interview," he says politely, "But right now I'm on my way to the hospital emergency department - there's a family there who don't speak English."

At just 22 years old, 'Lost Boy' Abraham Aleer cannot rest.

In the last 18 months, he's worked as a community worker with Brisbane City Council, the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland, the Queensland program assisting survivors of torture and trauma - worked as secretary of the Sudanese Association, founder of the Lost Boys and Girls Foundation and as a volunteer youth worker.

[CONTINUED from front page]

He’s also studying full-time at the University of Queensland: an Arts degree with a double major in international relations and peace & conflict studies. He hopes to use the degree to work in peace promotion and humanitarian aid.

“I used to dream that I wanted to change the world,” he says - remembering back to his time at Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee camp - where he worked as a peace education teacher. Abraham lived in Kakuma for around 10 years - after a harrowing journey with other ‘Lost Boys’ away from conflict in southern Sudan.

The ‘Lost Boys & Girls’ were around 30,000 young children who were separated from, or lost their parents in the conflict, and who decided to flee to neighbouring countries. They made the epic journey on foot - many of them dying of starvation, food poisoning, drowning or being killed by wild animals.

Their story has since attracted international attention, the subject of books, documentaries, and numerous media reports - Australia’s Sixty Minutes famously covered the story of Abraham and as his friends when they were brought to Australia in 2002.

While Abraham is grateful for his new life and opportunities, he is frustrated that the world has done little to try and resolve the problems of south Sudan. “They bring us to Australia and they take us to America - but they don’t try and work out why we are lost,” he says - in direct reference to the recent crisis in Darfur.

“I’m frustrated with the international community’s failure to act,” he says. “We really need to address Africa’s conflicts from the grass roots. It needs peace building, peace education - but most importantly we need to consult with the African people.”

He feels many westerners are now desensitised to issues like AIDS, civil war, famine and ethnic conflict. “People sometimes use these conflicts to undermine Africa,” he says, “as if it’s a place only of fighting - as if Africans like fighting. People don’t think about the roots of conflict, land problems, poverty, imperialism - for example the borders the colonial powers imposed on Sudan, putting different regions, people and cultures together. And there are always outside powers influencing conflicts such as Darfur - where many weapons come from outside.”

He says one of the reasons he’s studying international relations is to take this message to others.

Even retaining his identity as a ‘Lost Boy’ is important to his message. “Some of my friends tell me: ‘You’re a smart guy with a good job - why do you have to be called a Lost Boy?’ I tell them, because it’s my life. It’s a historical name. It portrays how the people of South Sudan have been mistreated by their government.”

“We are not lost. We know where we came from… Not lost in life. We are survivors - survivors of war. And our war is a forgotten war.”

You can read more about the Lost Boys and South Sudanese refugees via the Australian-based SORA (the Sudanese Online Research Association) website.

Photo credit: Chris Stacey, The University of Queensland

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Nalishebo

THE WORLD OF NALISHEBO

With talk of an African Australian beauty pageant coming up, we remember back to when an African Australian lady was chosen to represent Australia in the Miss World titles…

“When I went to the Miss World competition in London, I was the first woman of colour to represent Australia,” says Zambian-born Nalishebo Gaskell, crowned Miss World (Australia) 1999.

“But I didn’t try to compare myself with others... I was sure of myself. I had a strong sense of identity.”

A sense of identity has been woven into the fabric of Nalishebo’s life from birth to the present day. From her current base in London, Nandila - Nalishebo's twin sistershe now counsels young people on building self-confidence and a sense of purpose.
Her twin sister, Nandila (pictured right), does similar work with Indigenous Australians. In recent years they have also performed in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and appeared in movies: ‘Matrix 2’ and ‘Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

These are strong achievements from strong women - who continue to be inspired by their African Australian roots...

[CONTINUED FROM FRONT PAGE]

“As children growing up in Zambia, we had access to a big extended family,” says Nalishebo. “Our Zambian mother belonged to the Lozi people who have a strong sense of identity.”

“We also benefited from having an Australian father. We lived with him on a dairy farm on the outskirts of (Zambia’s capital) Lusaka. By day we would go to an international school in the city. Then after hours we’d play with kids in the local village - it was a humbling experience that allowed us to mix with people of so many different backgrounds.”

This ability to relate to people of different backgrounds served them well when, as teenagers, they moved with their father to Australia’s Northern Territory. They adapted quickly, excelling in school and sports, taking up modelling, and later, going on to university - where Nalishebo studied nursing.

As part of her training, she spent time in Alice Springs. “Being there allowed me to learn so much about Aboriginal culture,” she says. “I really admire their relationship with the land, their belief in nature. They have strong extended families and so much love for each other. I just wish people would understand where they’re coming from.”

Nalishebo says her own African culture helped her appreciate Indigenous Australian culture. But she also appreciates her broader Australian roots. She says Australia has many opportunities for people of African background: people just need to have confidence in themselves and not get caught up other people’s “small-mindedness”.

It’s a sentiment Nalishebo followed when entering the Miss World (Australia) quest - even though it was almost an accident that she entered at all!

One day, her and Nandila were out shopping when they noticed an ad in a window for the Miss World (Australia) title. “That would be cool to win!” they agreed. But they both couldn’t enter as they were identical twins. So they tossed a coin - Nalishebo won!

At 21 years old, Nalishebo was overjoyed when she later went on to not only compete, but to win the Australian title. “I cried and felt really humbled!” she says.

But behind the glamour, it was a challenging role. “To start with, it was mind-boggling,” admits Nalishebo. “Overnight I became front page news. I learnt quickly to be both myself and someone who was ‘over and above myself’ - someone who could smile and be enthusiastic all the time. I had to learn to make things happen: to organise my own charity work and get people to support different causes. Looking back I’m surprised what a go-getter I was at the age of 21!”

She also learnt to deal with people’s attitudes about her mixed Zambian Australian heritage -particularly hurtful when people questioned her authenticity as an ‘Australian’.

“I ended up using my mixed background to the advantage of the title,” says Nalishebo. “I formed solid bonds with Miss Worlds from the Caribbean, Botswana and other nations. They invited me to visit their countries where I helped raise funds for orphans and other worthy projects.”

She did charity work within Australia too - visiting high schools, and helping young people deal with problems like suicide, identity and other issues affecting today’s teenagers.

“Overall being Miss World (Australia) was a really positive experience,” says Nalishebo, “It showed me that when you reach a position of influence you can really use that influence to be a positive role model for others.”

Nalishebo has since moved on to London where she works as a nurse, runs a charity program and is soon to commence her Masters in Public Health… And the story doesn’t end there…

“Everything is always moving towards something,” says Nalishebo - always positive about the future.

Photos above: 'Model' twins - Nalishebo (top) and Nalishebo's twin sister Nandila (below).

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'Football not soccer' ..Francis scores again!

You have to admire SBS ‘football’ commentator Francis Awaritefe for saying what he thinks… even if it’s ‘don’t mention the ‘s’ word' when referring to one of our favourite sports. As an expert commentator on Australia's SBS ‘The World Game’ since 2001, he’s remained faithful to the sport - from his coverage of the World Cup 2002 to the annual FA Cup Final telecasts. Before this, however, he couldn’t escape the ‘s’ word. As a professional player in Australia since 1998, he was one of the National (..ahem) Soccer League’s all-time highest goal scorer in finals matches, playing with Melbourne Knights, South Melbourne, Marconi and Sydney United. Before that, he played 'football’ in the UK. This week AfricanOz caught up with Francis - to ask him more about his background and the great game.

AfricanOz: Can you tell us about your African 'roots'?
Francis Awaritefe: I was born in London, United Kingdom. Both my parents are Nigerian. They originate in the Mid-west of Nigeria near a place called Warri. I lived in Nigeria between the age of 4 and 12 before returning to London. We lived in Lagos where I learned how to speak Youruba fluently, however I could not speak Uhrobo, which is my parents' native tongue, although I could understand it.

AfricanOz: What were some of the things that first inspired your interest in soccer?
Francis: Firstly you are banned from calling the game soccer. It’s real name is FOOTBALL. Well my interest in football began in Nigeria like many other children. We would play in the street or any open space we could find. We were fanatics. I remember having to be dragged home after dark because we wanted to keep playing. In those days I was a goalkeeper. In fact I was a goalkeeper until the age of 15.

[CONTINUED FROM FRONT PAGE..]

AfricanOz: You previously played professional soccer in UK. How did you come to play in Australia?
Francis: I came to Australia to travel for a year and experience a different way of life. I played for the Melbourne Knights (then known as Melbourne Croatia) in my first year in Australia. I did well in my first season and they offered me a contract to stay on, which I accepted. Things then carried on from there.

AfricanOz: Can you name a couple of high points of playing with NSL? Marconi? Etc
Francis: I was fortunate to play for arguably four of the most famous clubs in the NSL. I won premierships at Melbourne Croatia, South Melbourne and Marconi. I guess I probably played in the NSL in what you could call its halcyon days of the late 80’s and all of the 1990’s. I got to play with and against some very good players on weekly basis. My three caps for Australia are also very special for me. All clubs were special in their own right.

AfricanOz: Amongst your many achievements with the NSL was helping to introduce the equal opportunity code - can you tell us about more about that code?
Francis: I felt very strongly about racism in sport as a result of my own experiences on and off the field. I had also seen the problems that existed in sports like Australian Rules football and Rugby League with the racism directed at aboriginal players. When I was in the Executive of the PFA, I felt that football should be pro-active and not wait until there was an unfortunate incident before action was taken. I decided that something had to be done, and fortunately my colleagues on the executive backed me 100% and we were able to get the code drafted. The hard part was getting the Soccer Australia to adopt it, but after a lot of pushing, they finally agreed. A lot of credit go to the like of Brendan Schwab and kimon Taliadoros the then President of the PFA.I still laugh at some of the discussions we had where I would accuse Brendan of drafting “White mans” law as he wanted to include arbitration process.

AfricanOz: How did you get into commentating rather than playing?
Francis: I started to commentate at the end of my career about three years ago. I had always wanted to be a football commentator once I retired as coaching wasn’t a passion. I think the next best thing to getting paid to play football, is getting paid to talk about it.

AfricanOz: What's one of the best games (or series) you've covered as a commentator and why?
Francis: I had a small commentary role at the last World Cup with SBS. I would love to have a bigger role for Germany 2006. Fingers crossed I will be there.

AfricanOz: A lot of African players have now joined European teams. Do you have any favourites of African background?
Francis: I try to follow the progress of African players in the European leagues especially the ones who play in the English Premier league, Serie A and La Liga. Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha is one of my favourite. He's an unbelievable player. George Weah was great, Kanu is sublimely talented, and I loved the silky skills of Mutia Adepoju of Nigeria. However some young guns such as Samuel Eto’o and Obafemi Martins are showing how good African players are.

AfricanOz: In recent weeks, Sydney has been holding an African Australian soccer tournament. Would you care (or dare!) to predict any winners?
Francis: My spies tell me the Ghanaians are very strong and are the favourites.

You can catch more of Francis on SBS TV's The World Game around 4pm, Sundays.

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Super Rail Band

Super Rail Band in Oz...
A highlight of this year’s Sydney Festival was a visit by the Super Rail Band of Bamako all the way from Mali, West Africa to Australia's east coast. The band was originally formed in the 1960s to entertain travelers at the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, next to Mali's Bamako Railway Station. Since that time, the band has been associated with some of Africa’s most legendary musicians, including Salif Keita, Mory Kante, guitarist Moussa Diakité and others. The band is known for its blend of traditional Mali Manding music with blues, Zairean rumba and Latin music.
Last week AfricanOz briefly caught up with the band.

AfricanOz: The band is well known for its excellent live performances. How do you give so much energy to each concert?
Super Rail Band: Each concert has its own reality - and an exciting audience. This is electrifying and encourages us to dance, shout and celebrate together.

AfricanOz: Can you explain a little bit about your Manding music traditions?
Band: Manding music is music from old times in Mali, sung for emperors and kings to encourage them to do good things for the happiness of the people. It also contributed to empire and the safeguarding of cultural integrity.

[Continued from front page]

AfricanOz: You are great ambassadors for African music and for Africa. What can musicians teach the world about Africa?
Band: A musical education, following the dimensions of Super Rail Band, must be a model, an example for all of Africa. For this, we must travel and show European, American, Australian and Asian spectators that Africa is the cradle of humanity… and think beyond the wars imposed on us by warmongers… Africa does not deserve war, with its procession of outrage -- widows, orphans, disabled people, refugees, victims of starvation and thirst – Africa does not deserve this because of a fistful of men.

AfricanOz: The band is almost 35 years old. Why do you think the band has remained successful for so long?
Band: The band’s success was thanks to the Malian authorities and the management of the Buffet de la Gare - and the steady efforts of all musicians in the band, and the director of music of Angouleme and the former Rum productions of Pouitiers – in France.

The above interview excerpt is a translation from French to English of words collected by Bamba Dunrela, in charge of the Super Rail Band of Bamako

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Matthew Albert & colleagues

SAIL Man Sees The Big Picture...
"..Australia's future is now inextricably linked with the success of all African Australian communities. This can only be a good thing for all of us"
...Matthew Albert, Young Australian of the Year, Victoria (pictured during a recent stay in Africa)

It's hard to work out a title for Matthew Albert. First we refer to him as a 'community worker', Matthew Albert then qualified lawyer, photojournalist, social advocate... and now Young Australian of the Year, Victoria. The fact is Matthew does many things for many people - and, even if we tried to list them all, we'd risk missing a few. He's co-founder of the Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning program (SAIL) - which has grown to include around 400 students, 250 volunteers and two campuses - and is founding director of the UN-associated Sudanese Online Research Association (SORA), which is now assisting with peace education in Sudan. Last year, he worked in Africa - the subject of some of his photography now featured in a Melbourne exhibition that highlights the plight of Sudanese refugees. To mark Australia Day 2005, we chatted with Matthew about his work and interest in Africa:

AfricanOz: One of the reasons you've been selected as Young Australian of the Year Victoria is due to your outstanding advocacy and training work with the African Australian community. How important are programs such as SAIL to Australia's future?
Matthew Albert: They are imperative, in my view. The African Australian communities are already a significant part of the broader Australian community. Over time, this will be more and more the case. At SAIL, we have the privilege of working alongside a community who will one day be active and contributing in the same way that other ethnic communities have done in the past. In the meantime, I think organisations like the SAIL Program function as a half-way points for the Sudanese community. For the children in particular it is vital that they are able to be Sudanese and Australian at the same time. Ultimately, Australia's future is now inextricably linked with the success of all African Australian communities. This can only be a good thing for all of us.

[CONTINUED from front page]

AfricanOz: Is there a need for service providers to (better) adapt to the specific needs of different African Australian communities? Can you suggest ways in which this might be achieved?
Matthew Albert: I think there is always scope for service-providers to improve the way they support any community. This is as true for SAIL as it is for other organisations. The only way to achieve this is to be open to learning and ready to seek information. This means exposing oneself to the changing needs of a community and making sure that the community dictates the progress of an organisation. This happens at SAIL often. For example, some community members came to us a couple of years ago requesting speakers from government agencies to come and explain how systems work in Australia. The Community Talks sessions have been a huge success ever since they began.

AfricanOz: What motivates you the most in your work with the local community?
Matthew Albert: As cliched as it sounds, the first motivation for me are the children who come to the two SAIL campuses. I get great pleasure thinking about them and their futures in Australia. I see in them great leaders, great thinkers and great innovators of the future. It is a privilege to be a part of their growing.

This is especially true for one particular family. This family (with seven children) were the first family to greet myself and Anna Grace Hopkins (the SAIL co-founder) when we started the SAIL Program in 2000. We are both extremely fond of them and, to an extent, we keep SAIL going for their benefit even now when we have 250 volunteers and about 400 members of the Sudanese community attending the SAIL Program each week.

My other motivation is from my family history. My grandfather was a refugee. I think of all those who supported him and the immense contribution he made years later as a result of that support. I hope to be able to look back at SAIL one day and see that it too was a support base for new contributors to Australia.

AfricanOz: Is there anything in your background that sparked your specific interest in Africa and Sudan?
Matthew Albert: I would love to have a snazzy answer for this one but I don't. The sad fact is that SAIL was an accident, albeit the best accident that has ever happened to me.

AfricanOz: Given SORA's new role, working on peace education with the UN in South Sudan - do you have any comments on the current peace agreement?
Matthew Albert: Any step towards peace is a good thing. I join the Sudanese Australian community in congratulating and thanking the negotiating parties for coming to the agreement. It brings to an end, on paper at least, a civil war that has raged on for all but 11 years of the past five decades and one that has claimed the lives of over two million people. It is now time for the international community, including the Australian government, to act in support of the Sudanese people so that the world can benefit from a peaceful Sudan.

For more information about the SAIL Program, please visit www.SAILProgram.cjb.net. Also see SORA, the Sudanese Online Research Association - and the Young Australian of the Year website.

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Ajak Kwai

Peace, Love & Cows...
The music of Ajak Kwai

AfricanOz caught up with African Australian singer Ajak Kwai, currently performing in Melbourne. We started off by asking her about her earliest memories of singing...

Ajak Kwai recalls a childhood in South Sudan when villagers based near the Nile River would gather for ceremonies under the full moon. Although just a child, the compulsion to sing was too much for Ajak: "Even when I was sick and not supposed to go out, I'd go and attend these gatherings," she says. "I'd start a song and everyone would answer."

Like a lot of African music, Ajak's songs are both sad and uplifting: "Music is a way to deal with stress and sadness in Africa," explains Ajak. "Even when songs are sad you still want people to go out and have a good time."

[Continued from front page]

It's an attitude that sits well with Ajak when she performs her traditional Sudanese Dinka music for Australian audiences in Brisbane, Melbourne and her current home of Tasmania. Despite her own background as a refugee forced to flee the civil war in South Sudan, Ajak says, "I like to show Australian audiences good things about Africa. It's not all hunger, disease, troubles."

With an emotionally rich voice, Ajak's music is a fusion of traditional Dinka music with modern influences. She sings about important values in Dinka culture: love, peace and the all-important cows.

"Cows are wealth in Dinka culture," explains Ajak. "If you have money there, you don't put it in the bank - you buy a cow. They provide milk and butter. They are a way for men to attract girls and wives. If you don't have cows it is humiliating for your family. If a cow dies, people are upset."

The importance of cows has a strong influence on Dinka music, lyrics and language. Ajak remembers her uncle creating some fine music about his precious cows. Ajak would memorise these songs and teach them to others. "We never wrote them down. But I remembered them. Whenever people wanted to learn a song, they'd say, 'Let's go and look for Ajak. She will teach us'."

From an early age, Ajak was singing more than she was speaking.

But not everyone was so enthusiastic about her musical prowess. "My family discouraged me," she says. "But then I would sing and humm in my sleep. My brother and uncles thought I was crazy."

Eventually Ajak stopped singing for a time. The civil war badly affected her community in South Sudan during the 1990s and she had to move to the city, then to Sudan's capital Khartoum before finally leaving the last of her family to go to Egypt at the age of 18. There, she sang in a gospel choir before coming to Australia as a refugee in 1999.

Here, instead of singing, she dutifully threw herself into her studies: an AMES English language course and accounting studies at TAFE. But one day, class members were organising a ceremony and asked if anyone could sing:
Ajak sang. They asked her to sing some more. She was soon called on to sing at many community and fundraising events before joining musician Martin Tucker at a local festival. Since then she has been asked to sing in major cities around Australia - and has also released a CD.

She uses English, Arabic and Dinka language on her cd, but her music is a universal language that will appeal to everyone.

Ajak has recently been touring, thanks to a Tasmania Arts grant. You can see Ajak Kwai live in Melbourne this week - see What's On and in Sydney on Thurs 28 April at the Out of Africa restaurant (02 9977 0055). Ajak’s cd is available at Blue Moon Records, Melbourne (Ph 03 9415 1157), and other outlets. For more information on South Sudan and its people, see the Australian-based Sudanese Online Research Association - SORA website

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Dr Kefyalew Mekonnen

Focused on the Future

AfricanOz chats with award-winning research recipient African Australian Dr Kefyalew Mekonnen

While Australia grapples with drought and tighter water restrictions, the Horn of Africa is engaged in a life and death struggle with the future of water. Now, award-winning research by Ethiopian Australian Dr Kefyalew Mekonnen (pictured) is helping to raise awareness of the issue. Kefyalew was recently awarded a prestigious Prize from the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society for his pHD on the Nile River's precious water resources.

The issue has affected Kefyalew for as long as he can remember. During his childhood growing up in Ethiopia's Nile Basin region, his mother told him stories about the great river 'Abai' (meaning 'father'). She spoke about tribes living beside the river and how people risked their lives to cross it - threatened by crocodiles and a heavy current.

"These stories fuelled my interest and imagination," says Kefyalew, "and when I finally convinced my father to take me there, I was overwhelmed by its sheer scale and size."

[CONTINUED from front page]

His fascination grew when, during high school, his teachers explained how Egypt had built great civilsations using the Nile's resources. He found that while some 86% of the Nile River flow orginates in Ethiopia, less than 1% of it is used in that country. Egypt used the river to provide electricty and irrigation to millions, while Ethiopian farmers struggled to make a living. As he grew older, he discovered that plans to dam parts of the Ethiopian Nile were quickly quashed by countries further downstream.

The Nile became highly politicised - with Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt and the six Great Lakes countries engaged in lengthy debates and sometimes conflict over its use.

With a lack of political progress, Kefyalew became increasingly concerned with the lives of farmers along the river - without political change, how could the farmers best make use of what little water they had available?

He began his research on an informal level, collecting information on farming communities while he worked as an engineer in the Nile Basin. Then as a student in Australia, he studied environmental management, economics and ecological systems to broaden his understanding. By the time he was ready to do his PhD he was convinced that research on the Nile's resources would require a detailed study of not only the technical aspects of improving water use - but also an anlysis of the broader social, political, environmental and economic aspects. Each of these were interlinked.

"Not so", advised some of his university mentors. "You need to approach it from one angle." According to Kefyalew, "While one advisor wanted me to focus on the engineering aspect, another wanted me to focus on the environmental – or alternatively economic aspect. It took me a long time to convince people that all these issues were interlinked.”

After many years of developing and persisting with his ideas, he managed to complete the final draft of his PhD entitled “The economics of Nile River Water Resources Development Projects in Ethiopia: Socioeconomic, Environmental, Political and Transboundary Implications.”

His research involved studying Australia’s own water resources, including the Murray Darling Basin, and drip irrigation systems used locally and on major rivers around the world. Through this research, he discovered an irrigation system that could save water and result in a high yield and sustainable income for Ethiopian farmers. In fact the method could save up to 48 percent of water used to irrigate small cereal, vegetable, and traditional crops on a typical Ethiopian farm.

It was an important achievement for Kefyalew and he advises African Australian students in a similar situation to persist with their research. “If you know what you are working on is possible, trust your own instincts, draw on your own strengths. As long as you are clear with your proposal, you will eventually find someone interested in your research,” he maintains.

Despite his apparent confidence, it was an enormous suprise for him to receive the award. “I went to the seminar without having any idea. I couldn’t believe when they called out my name. I was shocked! I knew it was different but I didn’t expect that level of appreciation from people.”

Kefyalew is still surprised by his sudden success, but buoyed by the positive international interest in his research. He is currently engaged in discussions with international and local organisations about implementing the scheme, and is hopeful that positive change may come.

Even with the complex political debate surrounding the Nile’s water resources, Kefyalew is hopeful people will learn how to better manage and utilise what little water they have. “There should always be hope,” he says, “as long as people are working together to resolve the problem there is hope. What’s happening now (political meetings between Nile states) is encouraging, but ultimately we need to change our approach to how we use and manage water.”

In that sense Dr Kefyalew Mekonnen’s paper has something for all of us to learn.

For more information on Dr Mekonnen's research, see University of Queensland website. To contact Dr Mekonnen, email kefmekonnen@yahoo.com

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Author Edison Yongai

The Right to Write

African Australian author and journalist, Edison Yongai, discusses his lifetime love of stories and writing - and its ultimate cost: being forced to flee his homeland of Sierra Leone. Edison is appearing at Sydney Writer's Festival.

As a child in primary school in in Kono District in Sierra Leone, I loved listening to stories. The teachers wanted us to ask our parents to tell us stories so we could re-tell them in school. But my parents were busy - I grew up in a polygamous family and my mother had eight children. However, my grandmother, Kumba Yamato, was always ready to search in her bag of animal stories for me.

I went to a village school in the east of the country, where you could hardly lay hands on a story book. Even though I really wanted to, there was nothing to read. The only way to get a story book was from the children of rich families - by stealing it or exchanging it for your day's lunch.

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In secondary school things were different. My first secondary school (Yengema Secondary School) was a Catholic school and was one of the best in the whole district. We were lucky that our teacher, by the name of Finnegan from Ireland, was the hardest-working English teacher I ever had. He would force us to pick out books from the school library, read them and write a report on them. By the end of the first year, I had read Cervantes' Don Quixote, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Shane, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and other books. I owe a lot to my school and English teacher, Edward Finnegan.

The first time I saw myself in print, I was a teenager. It was around 1976. I wrote a story called 'O Justice, Where Are You?' that was published in a magazine in the city, over 200 miles away from my village. It was about a rich man who killed a poor hunter's only son in a village, through careless driving. In court, because of his riches, the rich man was set free by the judge. The poor man and his family wept and wept, and found it hard to recover from the agony. When he could no longer bear the grief, the poor man took his old single-barrel hunting gun and left his village for the town. In the town he searched for the rich man's house - until, late in the evening, looking through a window, he saw the man and his family at dinner, laughing happily. He looked at the rich man's son. Remembering his own son, his tears began to flow. He raised his gun and aimed it at the boy, but couldn't pull the trigger. Instead he entered the house and held the family at gun-point, explaining he'd come for revenge - but he couldn't do it. He said even if he killed the rich man's son, his riches would not buy back his own son's life - and would only cause him more grief. He told the rich man he forgave him and was going back to his village to forget everything. While this was going on, the rich man's wife had phoned the police, telling them that a bandit had entered their house and was trying to kill them. The police arrived. The poor man, found in the house with a gun, was arrested. He was locked up for 10 years for attempted robbery. This just shows how corrupt our political system has been since the colonialists left the country right to this day.

After I'd written the story, I continued my studies to University. I then taught at a secondary school until 1987 when I was drafted into full journalism by the editor of the magazine that published 'O Justice, Where Are You?'. He was now publishing a weekly newspaper. I also wrote articles for magazines in London.

By 1996 everybody in Sierra Leone was tired of corruption and other vices of politicians. I and some of my colleagues decided to start a newspaper called THE POINT. My first objective as the paper's editor was to dig out and expose the corrupt activities of the government so as to ensure probity and fairness in governance. The articles I wrote after careful investigations backed by authentic documents, were not favoured by the government. In general African politicians don't like criticism of any kind; all they want is praise even when they do the wrong thing.

Because of this series of articles, I was arrested in my office by plainclothes policemen and detained in a mosquito-infested, dirty and congested cell for more than a week without charge. When I was taken to court I was refused bail. This is because in my country, Sierra Leone, there is hardly any distinction between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary; they are all fused and the president can control the judges and magistrates at will.

I was then sent on remand at the maximum security prison and kept in solitary confinement for nearly a week. After a series of detentions and release, the government dropped the case, following pressure from the international community and human rights organisations.

I published my newspaper throughout, even when the rebel fighters invaded the capital Freetown and turned it into a pool of blood. When they invaded the city for the second time in January 1999, they burnt my residence and everything I owned - I lost more than a dozen manuscripts of novels, plays, short stories and poetry. When I fled and went to my wife's residence, they followed me there and burnt their house down. Finally I thought I had gambled with my life for far too long and I fled to neighbouring Guinea. There I wrote several articles for a local paper published in French.

In Guinea I was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and was resettled in Australia in October 2001.

I have now had three books published by Macmillan Publishers in London: a novel 'Who Killed Mohtta?' and two children's books, 'Check, Come Here' and 'The Birthday Party'.

...Well, that's it. My time on the library computer is now up, and so I must go...

Yours
Edison Yongai

Copyright, Edison Yongai, May 2005

Postnote: In Australia, Edison has completed a Masters in Journalism and now presents the popular Sierra Leone radio program on Radio Skid Row, while working on two novels about the war in Sierra Leone. To contact Edison, you can email: salbata2000@yahoo.com.au

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Marie-Bénédicte

Worldly Reward for Marie-Bénédicte

This week we had a chat with remarkable Rwandan-born Australian Marie-Bénédicte whose work spans several continents, and who has lived through times of war, trouble, hope and peace. She recently received a major French award for her work in Australia.

Somehow you don't expect the recipient of one of France's highest honours to have such a gentle and giggly voice. But this is how Rwandan-born Australian Marie-Bénédicte Harrison comes across when we phone her for an interview.

"When I first read that the French Government was awarding me the Knight of the National Order of Merit title, I thought, 'Who am I to get this? Me - the little person!'" laughs Marie-Bénédicte, still overwhelmed even months after receiving the award. "But I am also very happy and honoured to be recognised."

It's a humble response from a woman who has spent so many years helping others.

But Marie-Bénédicte has never been motivated by pride - in her work that has ranged from assisting Darwin's French community to helping new refugees and migrants in Australia.

"You don't do the kind of work I do to feel proud and be praised," she says simply. "You do it because you're human and other people are human as well."

[CONTINUED FROM FRONT PAGE]

The desire to treat everyone as one big 'human family' is a conviction that has stayed with Marie-Bénédicte from a childhood growing up in Rwanda to living a remarkable adult life in Congo, England, Wales,Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Along the way, she has learnt a great deal about what it is to be human, and how, despite cultural differences, there is joy in sharing with others in the world.

"I love adapting to other cultures," says Marie-Bénédicte. "I love travelling. Knowing other people's ways in life and learning how to embrace their ways. You can learn from them and they can learn from you - it is give and take."

Marie-Bénédicte has harboured a desire to travel and share in other cultures since her birth. Her parents nicknamed her "Safari" (Swahili for 'journey') after she was born on the way to hospital in Rwanda. True to her name, during her childhood, she delighted in the country's diverse landscape of mountains, rivers, lakes and greenery. "Living in my country then was like listening to a beautiful symphonic poem," explains Marie-Bénédicte

However, it took a tragedy for Marie-Bénédicte to finally realise her ambition to explore the world outside. When civil war broke out again in the 1973, she was forced to flee to neighbouring DR Congo (then Zaire). After being accepted as a refugee by the United Nations, she began a new life in England. There, she married, had children, and over the years travelled, studied and worked in different parts of the world, eventually arriving to settle in Australia in 1986.

It was in Darwin that Marie-Bénédicte came to the attention of the French Government who, in July this year, presented her with France's second highest honour. The award was prompted by her years of work as Assistant to the Honorary Consul for France for the Northern Territory and as active member of Alliance Française where she taught. She has also performed extensive community work in Australia, including involvement with the United Nation's Women Group program to sponsor and help settle refugee women at Risk from Ethiopia, Sudan, Serbia Yugoslavia and other countries to Australia.

"It was such a rewarding program to work on," she says. "When your goal is achieved, and the people are satisfied, that is your best reward. Most of the women we brought here with their children (under the 'Women at Risk' program) are now doing really well - studying, working. To see them after what they went through before... the war and conflict they faced - it impacts on everything, the economy, depriving people of income, education, everything."

The tragedy of war and conflict is all too familiar to Marie-Bénédicte. After fleeing the harrowing Rwandan 'revolution' in the 1973, she again returned to a country in turmoil after the devastating Rwandan genocide in the mid-1990s. This time she faced another tragedy: the deaths of her own family members.

To Marie-Bénédicte, it was indescribable. "You can never get over it," she says sadly. "When I returned to Rwanda in 1994 & again in 1995, everyone in the country was silent. We were many looking for our family members You kept tripping over skulls... wondering 'Could be this my father's, my mother's, niece's or nephew's or any of my other relatives... or even friend's or neighbour's?' That feeling lives in you. It can never go away. You can never really recover from the emotional wounds of such a genocide."

Grieving in these situations is all the harder without the option of burials, funerals and other forms of closure. Marie-Bénédicte says sharing with others, including her surviving siblings living in Europe, helped her through her grief. "My two brothers, sister and myself are very lucky to have been living outside the county during the war," she says thankfully.

To cope with her grief, she also draws on her own internal strengths, forged during her childhood.

"I had a beautiful childhood in Rwanda," she says. "I was one of eight children but we were all very close and loving. That support gave me the best foundation in life. That gave me great strength, courage and determination. Being close to your parents is so important as a child. The values they teach you help you a lot in your adult life."

Having such a close family made Marie-Bénédicte cheerful, strong and resilient. Her friends and others in the community still know her as an optimist who will always try to make the most out of life.

Nothing can demonstrate this more than her recovery from an accident she had in Darwin over two years ago. The accident changed her lifestyle. But instead of giving up, she again drew on her childhood strengths: "I told myself: 'You have to keep going. To beat your condition instead of letting it beat you'. It doesn't help in these situations if you whinge and feel miserable - it makes you feel worse. It makes you an invalid. Instead I said, 'Thank God I'm still alive'. That kind of attitude, in addition to medical help is now showing rewards."

Eventually Marie-Bénédicte began to recover. "I got out of the wheelchair and onto a frame," she says. "Then I learnt to walk with two sticks. My speech returned to normal. Now I'm walking with one stick and everything's improving. "

Ironically, she says, one of the hardest challenges during her illness was spending months without working and having to 'rest up': "It drove me mad," she laughs.

Now healthy again, Marie-Bénédicte has thrown herself back into work and involvement with Darwin's friendly multicultural community. In addition to her work at the French Consular Agency, she's a member of the Alliance Française, the African Australian Friendship Association, and the Australia-China Friendship Society - as well as doing active volunteer work.

And - if you ask Marie-Bénédicte if she is planning on having a rest soon - she is likely to come out with another of her favourite philosophies: "You have one life," she says, "And you need to make it shine!"

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Sheela Langeberg

Theatre of Life...

While Australia is shedding its clothes for a long, hot summer, accomplished Adelaide-based performer and writer, Sheela Langeberg (of Tanzanian Masai and Chagga heritage), is rugging up for a European winter.

With three book contracts on the boil and a major theatre and arts project coming up in Sweden, Sheela is again proving what people once told her was impossible: there IS an audience for African stories and theatre - and it goes way beyond the “ethnic market”.

“When I first came to Australia,” (in the 1990s), says Sheela, “I was told there weren’t enough people of African background to get an audience for my work, as if they were the only audience that would be interested.”

[CONTINUED FROM FRONT PAGE]

Eventually, one agency agreed to interview her: “On the phone, they queried me about my surname – I explained it was Scandanavian” (Sheela’s husband is Swedish background). “However when I went into the agency for the interview, the secretary at the front desk almost dropped dead with disbelief when I told her I was Sheela Langeberg. “No – I’m waiting for a Swedish girl,” said the secretary. Then, without interviewing me, the agency said they would never be able to find work for me and turned me away.”

After the “appointment”, Sheila couldn’t speak, even to her concerned husband and two children. Instead she expressed herself by writing a poem called ‘Don’t worry about me’, containing lines such as “What you think I can do… you have no idea. I can do anything. I can make my bread from a bleeding stone…” and other lines that carried the pride, love and dignity of her African heritage.

“I have to thank that agency,” says Sheela cheerfully, “because that day I became a writer and poet.”

She went onto perform ‘Don’t worry about me’ to an Adelaide writer’s group, who encouraged her and, as her popularity grew, to audiences around the world.

But the real roots of Sheela’s writing career are not in Adelaide, but in a village near Moshi, at the foot of Tanzanian's towering Mt.Kilimanjaro - where she grew up and was educated. Sheela's parents belong to both the Chagga and the Masai people (with just a hint of Zulu and Somali!). Her mother's family were the descendents of Kilimanjaro's Chief of the Chiefs (Mangi Mkuu) Thomas Marealle who still lives today. Sheela says "he's a great ruler, storyteller and historian with strong connections to local singers and dancers."

So music and stories have always been a strong part of Sheela’s everyday life.

“From the beginning of the day, my mother would be sweeping the yard, chanting, singing and dancing while she worked,” says Sheela. “Then at lunch, grandpa would visit and tell us stories while we were waiting for our meal. After lunch, mother would sing another chant while she was washing… and so the day went on.

“We sing to everything in Tanzania. Even in school, we always sang and told stories – it was just a normal part of life for us.”

So entrenched in everyday life was singing, performance and dance, it wasn’t recognised as a “profession” to work in.

"My father always wanted us children to become doctors and lawyers," says Sheela, while "my mother wanted us to be good people, good parents, teachers and excellent market women."

With encouragement from her parents, Sheela eventually won a scholarship to Sweden where she decided to study law.

While Sheela is grateful for her parent's encouragement, and the strong education she received, she still had a creative urge for storytelling and performing. Over the years, she returned to Tanzania to work in teaching, and then to Sweden again, as a fashion model, before eventually marrying, having children and moving to Australia.

It was here that she went along to the Adelaide writer's group where she first performed her poem, ‘Don’t worry about me’. Later on, she was approached by a theatre director to audition in a play. She was also hired to perform African songs and lullabies at her children’s kindergarten.

It wasn't long before she was being asked to perform at fringe and theatre festivals in Adelaide and beyond. She wrote a play about her mother's life, called ‘Maija of Chaggaland’, which she performed at the international women’s playright conference held in Adelaide in the early 1990s.

It received a standing ovation and Sheela left the conference with six international bookings - including a run of the play in the US, Canada and Europe.

Since its premier at the conference, Maija Of Chaggaland has become a multi-award-winning play, which Sheela performs (on average) 100-150 times a year around the world, with translations into Swahili, Swedish, English and Chinese.

This is in addition to her many other works and plays - including an upcoming production of 'The Black Madonna' in Sweden, which she will work on with Swedish playwright Margarita Skantze. In addition to this play, Sheela will tour Europe and Mexico with 'Maija of Chaggaland', her smash-hit school production 'Ndito The Masai Girl' and other productions, including dance and drama workshops. Between all this she will fit in a return visit to Australia to tour her new school production 'SALMA-The Girl From Africa Roof' during Book Week.

All of which goes to show that African art and cultural talent are not just for the 'diaspora' but for everyone!
You can read more about Sheela and her work at www.sheela.com.au

Back to East Africa...

In this special 'letter from Africa' the Sydney-based director of Africa Associates, Carey Eaton, reports on the massive social and technological changes affecting Kenya, his East African homeland.

Africa is changing at an amazing rate.
Arriving back in Kenya after a three-year absence, it is incredible how far Kenya has come since 2002.

On first impressions, Nairobi seems to have been overwhelmed by the ubiquitous billboard. The City Council has leased out advertising space of every single street light in the city and the journey from the airport passed in a blur of adverts, touting mobile phones, internet service providers, TV stations, business-class seats to international capitals, and luxury four-wheel drives. Not, perhaps, the products one might immediately associate with Africa, but all serve as indicators of deep changes emerging in African society. What seems to be changing Africa the most, however, is the mobile phone.

During my last visit in 2002, Kenyans had just elected a new government and there was a great deal of optimism about Kenya's future. Less than three years later, the same electorate had overwhelmingly rejected their new government's proposed new constitution in a referendum. This shift of power from leaders to the people was the subject of all the newspaper headlines on my arrival - Kenyans had removed their government then told the new one exactly what to do.

[Continued from front page]

On my first afternoon I asked about this empowerment when talking to a gardener in the compound where I was staying. He eloquently argued against his own government's policies, political intransigence, levels of corruption and ethnic small-mindedness - how they were stuck in a post-colonial generation of politics. Then, just as he was telling me that he had never finished primary school, his mobile phone rang - it was a call from his family, who lived on a small-holding some 400km north of Nairobi. One of their goats had been run over by a luxury four wheel drive.

It struck me that in three years, Kenyan society had changed to the degree that even the lowest levels of society were now fully engaged in their own society's political destiny. They had access to the latest information and could communicate with each other over vast distances. Advertising, newspaper headlines, TV stations, mobile phones: the new currency of Africa is information, now distributed instantly.

It was this factor that had most contributed to the polical changes now evident in the nation - in 2002, Kenyans had removed a government of 25 years' standing. It took them three years to reject another, in favour of a national rather than ethnic interest, backed by access to information to make powerful choices.

The mobile phone is changing Africa's economy as well as its politics. On a local level, a whole new industry for distributing electricity to people's phones has sprung up. Electricity is not widely available in Kenya, so mobile phone owners take their phones to a local kiosk, where enterprising individuals hook them up to a bank of car batteries. Somewhere in the back of the kiosk a small diesel generator powers the bank of batteries.

Passing through the Kenya/Tanzania border yesterday, money changers offered me Tanzanian shillings and a local sim card. A large number of vehicles now have a phone number painted down the side - I saw taxis, sand lorries, water delivery trucks, safari operators, bread and milk distribution vans with their numbers emblazoned in garish colours. Any industry that requires the distribution or transportation of anything now provides immediate access to their customers.

Mobile phone coverage now extends all the way across the bush from Nairobi to Arusha in northern Tanzania. The bus driver on our journey called ahead to let an agent know his arrival time so that we could proceed immediately through the border administration. On arrival in Arusha, we were met efficiently by our hosts even though we were running half an hour early. Yes, early!

My host is conducting research in remote villages, and told me how he can access his email on his Blackberry 100km from the nearest road in a local village. He described how the local herdsmen communicate by phone to inform other herders of good grazing and water. The local wildlife authority is distributing mobile phones to villagers who monitor vast areas of savannah whilst grazing their cattle in a 21st century battle against poachers and livestock theft.

Today in Tanzania there is a General Election - I observed orderly and peaceful queues of voters, and it is already clear that Tanzania will have a new president this time tomorrow. Africa is indeed changing - information about the context in which people live here is enabling Africans to make powerful decisions about their lives.

Carey Eaton is on a one month visit to Kenya and Tanzania. He is a Sydney-based director of Africa Associates.

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Riding the Matatus

In another postcard in our 'Back to Africa' series, the Sydney-based director of Africa Associates, Carey Eaton, tells us about Kenya's colourful form of public transport: the matatu.

As in many African countries, Kenya's public transportation system relies on private enterprise - on every street one can find a ubiquitous 'matatu' to transport you around town and country.

Matatus are privately owned minibuses, and anyone who has visited Kenya will know that they are an integral part of the culture here: matatus are covered in colourful decor and paint, and carry incredibly loud sound systems that boom down the street.

Many of these matatus are genuine works of art, covered in portraits of rap artisits, politicians, folk heros, historical African figures, or cartoon characters. Popular portraits on matatus are Bob Marley, Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys, Puff Daddy and Mike Tyson, although Nelson Mandela makes the odd appearance. Yesterday I saw a wonderful portrait of recently deceased John Garang of the Sudan People's Liberation Army emblazoned on a vehicle with R.I.P written on one side and 'Peace for our Neighbours' on the other. Matatus not only provide both art and social commentary ("No Romance without Finance' or 'Burn Rubber - Stop AIDS') but contribute slang to local languages and form an integral part of both the society and the economy.

Matatu operation is a highly lucrative business and the Matatu Vehicle Owners Association is a powerful political voice. Yesterday in Nairobi, Matatus parked across a major road causing traffic chaos for several hours to protest their rights.

[CONTINUED from front page]

On further enquiry, it turned out that the rather surprising reason for their ire was that they were protesting the price of their protection racket. It appears that there are two protection rackets involving matatus - one run by the police and the other by an outlawed vigilante organisation known as Mungiki.

It appeared that the matatu owners were not happy to pay both the police and the criminal organisation simultaneously. According to their spokesperson, for each journey, a matatu driver would have to contribute KShs100 (about A$2) to the police and further down the road, they would have to make the same contribution to Mungiki.

Mungiki is a quasi-religious ethnic-based criminal gang, but it is also well known that certain politicians are well connected to Mungiki, who come in useful during elections or other occasions where a bit of arm twisting in society is deemed necessary by powerful individuals. During the last election, it transpired that 10 brand new military vehicles with expensive and sophisticated communications equipment were being driven by Mungiki members, despite the fact that the vehciles had just been shipped from Britain to the Kenyan military.

Mungiki members have been arrested and prosecuted for quite a variety of nasty crimes, including an incident during my last visit when 26 citizens were hacked to death in a public street for having resisted Mungiki's takeover of local security in a populated slum. Needless to say the police have not ventured into certain slums for several years where such vigilante groups control the territory.

Surprisingly, some local residents prefer Mungiki to be their 'police'. As the matatu drivers protest yesterday shows, the police are not really that different from the criminals, and for some people, paying a known network of criminals is better than hoping your tax shillings extend to having the police actually provide security in your neighbourhood. Mungiki is not the only local or ethnic vigilante or private militia group - some others include the 'Baghdad Boys', Jeshi la Mzee ('The Boss' Army) and Jeshi la Embakazi ('Army of Embakasi', a Nairobi suburb).

The consequence of not paying the police to drive your matatu is to have your matatu - and means of liveliood - impounded on a criminal charge, which often will be trumped up. That said, the police do not have much to invent when looking for reasons to arrest drivers and impound matatu vehicles.

Today's Daily Nation publishes two full pages of traffic misdemeanors by matatu drivers. It seems even the mobile phone has extended to community policing: if a member of the public spots an infringement, they can text the time, registration, location and nature of offence to a public free number.

This week's list involved some four hundred matatus, whose misdemeanours included 'Bribing policemen', 'driving on the pedestrian sidewalk', 'consuming drugs whilst driving', 'failing to stop after colliding with other vehicles', 'driving drunk', 'overcharging', 'insulting passengers', 'molesting passengers', 'not wearing a uniform', 'speeding at 160km/h', 'driving on the wrong side of the road', 'driving three abreast with other matatus' and 'playing deafening music'.

Perhaps due to Mungiki, the Police, or all the above, top of the list on more than sixty occasions was unsurprisingly 'failure to reach the stated destination'.

Carey Eaton is the Sydney-based director of Africa Associates. He can be contacted on info@africaassociates.com

K'naan

The Dusty Foot Philosopher...

This week, AfricanOz chats with the impressive Somali Canadian musician K’naan, who is currently touring Australia, and has recently released his 'Dusty Foot Philosopher' CD.

K’naan was brought up in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu until the age of 14, when he fled with his family first to Harlem, New York, and then to Canada. As anyone who hears K’naan’s music will know, it not just about hip-hop or rap, but about African culture and heritage. K’naan comes from a family who uphold Somalia’s strong tradition of oral poetry, and K’naan uses these poetic skills to produce real messages in his music about Africa and life in general. This has received a great response from both African and Western audiences around the globe.

AfricanOz: How has Africa inspired your music?

K’naan: My passion and my inspiration comes from explaining the African dignity and importance of our people. My sound reflects it entirely and my way of writing as well. It has affected me in a huge way. I think it is my privilege and also it is my responsibility to explain Somalia and the culture of the Horn of Africa, to explain the people, the beauty, the history, the philosophy, and also the struggle. And that is, I think, why I started writing music to begin with. If I had all of that provided for me - if there were famous books about where we were from or if people had discussions… if the world had not completely and entirely turned it back on Somalia, I wouldn’t have been doing what I am doing… The roundness of my people – they are not just people with guns at war. There is so much more. And when I play my music people generally take an interest in the region itself.

[CONTINUED from front page]

AfricanOz: How did you first get involved in hip-hop and rap, and how does it fit in with traditional Somali cultural forms?

K’naan: I got into hip-hop when I was much younger in Somalia. My father was living in Harlem in New York City and he would send me some records that were coming out of New York at that time, when hip-hop was on its verge of breaking out. He would send me whatever he could find, like Eric B and Rockham. I would have a record player back in my house and just kind of listen to it: the delivery, the passion and rhythm of hip-hop. I would just mimic that and learn the diction and the process - but all of this without knowing a word of what they were saying. I just learned it like that.

But I could also relate it to what my (Somali) people have done for a thousand of years. There were doing a rhythmic type of poetry over a drum and this was really the same thing now made into a different format in a different part of the world – so, in that sense, I related to it - and in the sense that this was coming out of an oppressed people and a ‘struggle’ people made me also relate to it. And so hip-hop seems like a natural place for a poet from Somalia. Really, when you see me play my music live, you will understand that it’s really bigger than just hip-hop. We don’t just do rap music: my sound transforms Africa and my experience in traveling musically and makes it into one unique form.

The oral tradition and especially the poetic aspect of Somalia is huge. The Somalis were known by the ancient Greeks as the nation of poets. Everything to do with Somalia is reflected in poetry in our own language and so it is really a big deal for me to bring my sound to the western world so people to know how valuable this region is as far as the intellectualization of music is concerned, as far as poetry goes, and as far as people who are affected go… Somalis have existed for as long as they have, but they have only written their language in 1972, so before that everything was encoded and installed in the memory bank of the language of the people so it is still important that you tap back into your ancestry and the language. And I come from that part of the people and my lineage is that of those people who uphold the poetry of Somalia. I grew up on them and I was fed wisdom in words just as much as I was fed food when I was younger. I learned. I know my grandfather’s poetry and I know my favorite poets. I know what they said. It is part of me.

AfricanOz: Can you explain a bit about your song Sobba?

K’naan: Sobba is the song that I wrote directly confronting the (Somali) warlords, the people who caused this destruction back home - my community and my country addressing them without the least bit of fear… You know, saying directly to them: We need you to come of the country, not us be exiled because of your destruction, but you should be exiled. This is what it was.

AfricanOz: Do you think the message has reached them?

K’naan: I know the message has reached them and I know that some of the big warlords who know my music and my sound themselves understand the truth in it. That is because the Somalis have a special connection to music and poetry. It is for us what led revolutions and it is for us what has stopped and put an end to war. Once people hear a truthful thing the least they will do is agree with it.

AfricanOz: How did Somali refugees in Kenya react to you when you were filming the video clip to the song Sobba there?

K’naan: It was really powerful for me. The reaction was enormous. The people there - they don’t have the privilege of dealing with this in a sugarcoated or spoon-fed way. They are people who are completely and directly hurt by that struggle, who have been made to be refugees and who live in the border near Somalia and cannot go home. It is these people who needed to hear the song Sobba and the music that we made. They supported, chanted and followed it in thousands. That was great! I didn’t expect it.

There are two different reactions to my music from the Somali people. One is they are not ready to have their struggles, their pains, their own difficult time showcased to the world. Of course if I didn’t have to go through this process I had, if I didn’t have the pain already go through me and make it into music and sound I myself might have a problem knowing and learning my own destruction in the world wide media. Suddenly this pain that was personal and alone suddenly it is on television. It is hard to deal with that. There is that aspect of Somali people. BUT the majority are enormous supporters. Some of the biggest fans we have are Somali people.

I played in Djibouti about two weeks ago. When I was playing ‘Until the lion learns to speak’, the reaction you can’t imagine - the stadium was full of people who were singing and chanting along with me. They also knew Sobba and the poetry that we did in my show - they knew the words. It always gets across well whether for a Western audience or for Somali people.

AfricanOz: Can you explain your album title, The Dusty Foot Philosopher?

K’naan: The Dusty Foot Philosopher is talking about my friends and neighbors back in Somalia. We were from a poor and especially violent part of Mogadishu - and the kids over there, because of the struggles and because of living in these tough conditions, had developed a different sensibility to the way they think about the world. These kids were especially poetic and philosophical. We would sit around over the top of these abandoned buildings in my neighborhood and we would think about the world and the universe and beyond - although we were in the middle of violence. We would look at the sky and talk about the galaxy and what is beyond without having the ability and the privilege to be in school. These were the dusty foot philosophers a sort of dedication to the sort of uneducated philosopher, but inspired philosopher.

We would talk about - these kids were the masters of language at the young age – “if I had this and this, this is what my life would be like. If you were out of this struggle what would your responsibility be to the people”. And this was the sort of conversation between eight-year-old kids.

For details on K’naan’s current tour, see more on what's on page

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 Simon's Journey

Simon This story about Simon Pabek (pictured left) is by Phillip Thomson - an entrant in the FECCA/SBS Student Journalism Awards - it was first published in issue 10 of Australian Mosaic, the magazine of www.fecca.org.au

‘I was not born in Australia, but I got here as fast as I could’, declares a poster outside the office of Sudanese refugee Simon Pabek.

Simon is unsure which year it was he watched government soldiers bludgeon his father to death with a piece of timber. Simon’s father, Pabek, lived with his family in a village 24 kilometres from Rumbek City and was a figurehead in the Dinka tribe. Villagers who were worried about their family or livestock would ask Pabek for advice. In the early 1970s, Pabek supplied cows to Rebel soldiers, not wanting to risk his family’s safety by refusing the soldiers’ demands for food. Government soldiers then rounded up 22 men who had helped the Rebels and murdered them at Pabek’s property.

One soldier, named Makur, who grew up in the southern village but had betrayed his tribe to fight for the north, knew Pabek and tried negotiating for his release. He failed. Pabek was sat on a chair, his wrists were tied together behind his back and his head bashed. Others begged for a quicker death but were told shooting them would be wasting bullets. Simon remembers the soldiers’ warning when the killing had finished ‘If you bury them we will kill you’.

‘Our house has become like a mass grave,’ Simon said.

Simon, now 38 and living in Newcastle, has tracked down the phone number of an Al O’Beid church in which Makur is involved and has organised a meeting with him. ‘This war is strange,’ Simon said. ‘Makur used to be a bad guy killing people but now he’s chosen the church. Makur tried to save my father that day. I want to know on what day and in what year my father died. I’m not sure if Makur will remember me.’

[CONTINUED from front page]

Since 2003, Simon, who is employed as an African refugee worker at Newcastle’s Migrant Resource Centre, has helped settle more than 400 Sudanese, around 60 Liberians and small numbers of Burundis, Rwandans and Somalis into Australian life. He organises schooling, housing and Centrelink payments, and he translates for those who cannot speak English, such as mother of five Bakheta Alio, 32, who attends weekly English classes at Newcastle’s Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre.

‘It’s really hard for me to see my kids needing help and know that I can’t give it to them,’ Bakheta said with the help of a translator. ‘When I’m sick or one of the kids is sick it’s hard to talk to the doctor, I always need an interpreter.’

Simon, like his father, is a person who fellow community members ask for help, but with one difference. ‘My father only had to deal with Africans—I have to know about Australian culture as well,’ Simon said.

Many of the new arrivals have spent up to two decades in refugee camps. Some do not know how to use a microwave or cooker. Some are widows who have several children to care for and after years of bartering do not know the value of budgeting.

Amer Manyoun, 41, pays $265 a week in rent for a three-bedroom house in New Lambton that sleeps herself, five children and her nephew, Majak. ‘This house isn’t big enough but the rent for the bigger houses costs too much,’ Amer said.

Amer’s family has adapted quickly to Newcastle life. Her daughter Achingol, nine, went to a classmate’s birthday party recently. Her oldest child Akolde, 21, works at the nearby IGA supermarket. Majak plays basketball for the St Pius High School team while Aliir, 15, and Deng, 13, won soccer trophies playing for Broadmeadow Magic—Deng helped his side to a minor and major premiership in 2004. ‘Soccer costs me a lot of money, with shoes and registration,’ Amer said.

Amer’s children became fatherless when Amer’s husband Mayom, a Rebel commander, was killed in 2000. A 1993 photograph of a smiling Mayom in his khaki uniform with his machine gun dominates the Manyoun’s lounge-room wall. Mayom went off to fight in the war that year and Amer moved her family to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. It was in this camp she met Simon in 1997. Simon had fled Sudan after Arab-Muslim workmates associated him with the Rebels. Kakuma refugee camp housed 70,000 mostly Sudanese refugees, none of whom could escape malaria, cholera and malnutrition.

Simon, an African-Christian who finished his law degree in Sudan’s peacetime, had left behind his pregnant wife Athiang and four-year-old son, Pabek. ‘Every morning when I woke up and walked past the cemetery there would be someone getting buried, and sometimes there were five or six people being buried,’ Simon said.

Simon visited Amer daily until he flew to Australia in 1998. One year later, Simon’s wife joined him. She now works 15 hours a week helping Sudanese children at schools around the Hunter Valley.

When Amer arrived in Newcastle in 2003, Simon helped connect her electricity and telephone, and he still assists wherever he can. ‘Simon never says he is too busy,’ Amer said.

Director of the Migrant Resource Centre, Violetta Walsh, said Simon’s role at the centre and his experiences make him a shrewd leader of Newcastle’s Sudanese. ‘I think he would be uncomfortable with the tag of leader,’ Ms Walsh said. ‘Being a leader is very dangerous. He has to lead without being seen to lead. He’s more of a driver who has lots of contacts in, and gets a lot of loyalty from, the community.’

Ms Walsh said Simon’s role working with Newcastle’s Sudanese, who are outside their cultural comfort zone, was particularly hard because they are impoverished. ‘Differences really matter when you’re marginal—it’s that competitiveness that comes when you’re scratching around for the scraps on the floor.’

Newcastle, a ‘Welcome Town for Refugees’, accepts around 100 people a year from a dozen countries. Two thirds are African-Christian Sudanese displaced by civil war. The town’s rapidly growing Sudanese community was threatened in 2004 when the Patriotic Youth League (PYL), the Australia First Party’s youth arm, dropped leaflets into letterboxes describing Sudanese as ‘gang bangers’ and promoting an anti-Sudanese rally. The PYL also ran an ‘Australian Unis for Australian Students’ campaign with PYL founder Stuart McBeth, 23, arguing that overseas students should not displace local students. McBeth has also protested against the Newcastle chicken-plant, Steggles, for employing refugees. Only a dozen people attended the PYL protest while 900 Novocastrians attended three separate counter rallies.

Simon, who has recently applied to Newcastle University to study law so he can practice in Australia, was one of several Sudanese representatives given a standing ovation by a 500-strong crowd at a welcome barbecue held for the Sudanese.

The author of this article, Phillip Thomson, 21, is a journalist for the Port Macquarie News. He has previously worked for three other Rural Press publications - the Maitland Mercury, Newcastle Star and Dungog Chronicle. He can be contacted at Phil.Thomson@ruralpress.com



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From the land of inspiration.... DaaraJ

Over Easter and beyond, Australians have the chance to see Senegal's Daara J in action - including the upcoming show at Melbourne's Hamer Hall, and also NSW. This week AfricanOz caught up with the band, and asked them about their music...

AfricanOz: Some in the West associate hiphop with African Americans and find it hard to accept Africans doing hiphop - which they see as an adapted music. For these people - how would you describe the African roots of hiphop and rap?
Daara J: Everyone should accept Africans doing hiphop because Africa is the land of the oral tradition - which is the ancestor of that music that has recently become a worldwide idiom for all the nations. The traditional forms of it are still developed in Africa, and the only difference with the new school is that it is not computerised and the backing track is still traditional instruments such as jembe, ngoni, sabar, balafon, etc. Shall we forget that African Americans are descendants of African slaves. They have just awakened from deep down inside their souls griotism to reconnect with their African roots. Africa Banbaat and the Zulu Nation are the fool proof that in the beginning it was about incarnating their originality: africanity.

AfricanOz: What are some of the strongest influences on your lives and music, growing up in Senegal?
Daara J: Senegal is culturally very rich in melodies and inspiration. With over 20 ethnic groups - each with its singing style - we have enough resources to be inspired from. Listening to living legends such as Salif Keita, Miriam Makeba and other African artists just improves our faith in the fact that Africa be the land of all the inspirations

AfricanOz: Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds - how did the band get together?
Daara J: We met in a club in Dakar called Metropolis where all the local artists used to meet for free-style performance. Since then we've been involved in the course of destiny. I believe we didn't get together by accident.

AfricanOz: How do you get the energy to perform such fantastic (and interactive) live shows?
Daara J: Every moment in this life is precious - and some don't have the chance to make themselves heard. When you have the blessing to talk to the people it stimulates all enthusiasm. We love people from any nation and we just give them back the good energy they give us. I must admit to feeling really blessed to be able to talk for those who suffer in silence.

AfricanOz: Your music has been described as a mix of hiphop, reggae, Cuban music, and more. How would you describe it personally?
Daara J: Hiphop is not a dogmatic music. Far from discrimination, it is a music that is wide open to take on any other kind. It gives the rappers more creativity and makes them open minded to the extent that they can incorporate music from traditional to modern without going out of the track. We are taking advantage of its tolerance to blend it with our traditional flavors with includes tassu - the first rap form. Hiphop is our music.

AfricanOz: What is one of the best things about touring internationally as African artists?
Daara J: The best part of it is spreading the message on behalf of the African continent - and getting, in return, a message to bring home in order to make the intercultural exchange between nations easier.
One love
Daara j

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Sydney friends free Burundi detainees

Freelance journalist Frederic Naboya (pictured, with fundraiser, Joan Pearson) writes to AfricanOz about a Sydney-based campaign to aid hospital 'detainees' in the central African state of Burundi.

A year ago I was on a holiday in my original homeland of Burundi. After hearing many stories about hospital “detainees”, I decided to be a witness myself to this rather frightening phenomenon. I had been told a former colleague at the (Burundi) National Radio station had died, not because of lack of treatment for her, but she had been unable to pay the required amount by the hospital. She was eventually taken off life support, while her colleagues were still raising the money to help her.
Her lovely voice still echoes in my head.

Sydney friend Lydia (pictured in red, centre) during the release of the detainees The Prince Regent Hospital is Burundi's biggest and caters for people from all walks of life. When I got there, the director had been called for an urgent meeting, and couldn’t meet with me as initially planned. I was shown the different wards but was not allowed to interview the patients. I know the hospital very well myself, from being one of the patients there in the late 1980s.

[CONTINUED FROM front page]

I saw people lying on the floor, while the lucky ones were given beds with worn out mattresses. One of the nurses, who happened to be the wife of a former classmate in high school, told me those were some of the “detainees” I had heard about. Health officials prefer to call them the “destitute”, the “poor”.

I spoke to a few of them. One man, in his mid 50s probably, told me he had broken his leg the year before. He said he had been treated and was walking again. However, he was not allowed to go home, as he could not afford to pay about US$350 that he owed the hospital. I saw women, men and children - all who told me the same story: they were feeling much better but could not be released until they had paid their bills. Some of them owed as little as US$30. Their relatives had to keep bringing them food and clothing. Worse, some people were not allowed to bury their relatives for the same reason.
It was too much for me to bear... I had to leave the hospital.

It was a heartbreaking experience for me, I was angry and upset: being poor and sick amounted to a crime in Burundi. There was resentment everywhere you went, and questions were being asked about the government’s priorities. To many, the authorities were too corrupt and insensible to the plight of the population, as they were busy buying luxury cars, that they ironically referred to as “medical centres”. It is estimated that the cost of one 4-wheel drive is higher than building a medical centre. At the same time, mansions were mushrooming everywhere in Bujumbura, the capital city. Sadly, this was the case: people were not and are not still released from hospital until their bills are paid.

Landlocked and with very limited resources, Burundi is one of the least developed countries in the world. Last year, it was ranked 3rd least developed country by the United Nations Development agency. With a size of almost one third of Tasmania, Burundi has a population of over 7 million people. According to recent research, more than 60% of the population live below the poverty line. The life expectancy is 42 years for men and 44 years for women.

In the early 1990s, the government of the time legislated that hospitals should be autonomous, in an effort to generate revenues and improve the quality of the services they provided. Hospitals and other medical institutions therefore had to adopt a more rigorous and responsible strategy to maximise their income.

The other objective was that in the medium term, the government would reduce its subsidies, which heavily weighed in on its budget.

Government subsidies have nowadays dwindled while the medical needs of the population have rather dramatically increased. A medical was introduced as an alternative to help low-income earners meet their basic medical needs. Initially, the government was to cover 80% of the costs. However, there have been numerous reports that the government has not paid its share, and this has created a bigger hole in the hospitals' coffers. Against this background, it is clear medical institutions have been given two incompatible missions: social and economic. On the one hand they have to provide medical care even to those who cannot financially support themselves. On the other hand they have to generate their revenue in order to keep functioning. Human rights groups and other non-government organisations have been calling on the authorities to make this issue a priority.

When I returned to Australia, I was given an opportunity to speak on the subject at my Rotary club (Rotary Club of Sydney CBD). After the session, Kaye Gordon, a fellow Rotarian, approached me and told me she had a good friend, Joan Pearson, who could help organise a fundraiser for those “detainees”. It was like a huge burden off my shoulders. A couple of months later, we organised a planning meeting between some of us from the Rotary club and Joan. At first I did not know how to start the conversation with Joan.

She then told me about the passion she has for animals, and all of a sudden I thought about Debby Cox, who now works for the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda. I shivered when she told me that a few months earlier, she had organised a fundraising dinner for Debby’s projects in Uganda. Debby and I met when she was still working in Burundi in the early 1990s, and our friendship has grown so strong that I now take her for my Australian sister. A bond was then established between Joan and myself.

Joan is a caring, humble person, and a very quiet achiever. Over the past few years, she has raised more than $400,000 to help suffering animals around the world and raise awareness about our environment. No wonder she won the 2005 top Animal Welfare Campaigner Award, presented by the International Fund for Animal welfare (IFAW). At the meeting Joan kindly organised a gala dinner at her home in Mosman. She provided food and drinks free of charge. She even decided to replace the labels on the wine bottles with the Burundian flag. It was a memorable night for me, as this was the first event held in Sydney to help Burundi in the past ten years I have been living in this country. I was moved by the generosity of those who supported the event, including those who donated items for auction. It was a wonderful night during which more than $15,000 was raised. A tremendous effort by Joan Pearson and her army of helpers, and who will forget the entertainment provided by Kaye Gordon, who set it all in motion?

Thanks to this amazing effort, 52 people detained at Prince Regent Hospital were released. A fantastic way to start a new year for them, and certainly a great sign of hope for most of us, that there is always help in times of adversity.

Journalist Frederic Naboya can be contacted at email fredh@aapt.net.au

Dereb's Making Music...

Dereb Desalegn

Just back from performing at WOMAD in England, Ethiopian Australian musician Dereb Deselegn chats about his Ethiopian azmari musical roots, the importance of traditional music, and his joy in playing at an Aussie footy match.

What was it like adjusting to Australia as a musician from Ethiopia?
In the beginning I had a problem. For four years I didn’t play my (traditional) instrument. I had a bit of culture shock. I didn’t know people would like the music. So it took me awhile to realise what was important and to know that our music has value and is a unique music.

Australians responded very well. They never really assumed this kind of music and culture could exist in Ethiopia. They were really surprised and welcoming. When they hear the music, they just fall in love with it and Ethiopian culture.

I played a few gigs but to be invited at the MCG stadium in Melbourne for the match between Bulldogs vs St. Kilda at the multicultural day was something unique for me - especially the response I got from people.

How about your childhood growing up in Ethiopia?
Back home in Ethiopia I came from a very big musical family. My father used to play accordion, and my mum and sister used to sing and dance. For me, I started singing tunes between age 4 and 5. The music basically comes from my parents. I’ve been playing the masinko since aged 10. My sister and I used to play together – at different occasions like weddings, birthdays, playing in the clubs. My best memories of the time are playing with my old group, playing in Ethiopian schools and exhibition centres and clubs, and travelling in Ethiopia.

[CONTINUED FROM FRONT PAGE]

How would you describe Ethiopian music?
The music has a different style, a pentatonic style that makes it different and unique. The dance is upper body. The rest of the world and some people in West Africa dance lower body, with the feet and the legs. But Ethiopians - we do the shoulders, the neck, the arms. Ethiopia has different music from the rest of Africa. We have a different rhythm... We also have different instruments, which nobody plays in the rest of the world. The Masinko (fiddle) - - [link to BBC] - I play is a type of violin with its own unique sound and we have other instruments like a flute that has different tones – and because of the way we play it, it’s pentatonic. Also drums. Also the krar (lyre) - [link to Encarta] - has six strings, sometimes sounds like an electric guitar or violin but it’s also Ethiopian made. Nobody has that sound in the rest of the world. The begena (large lyre) - [link to Wikipedia] - was made a long time ago in Ethiopia. Then Ethiopian singing is different – similar to Middle Eastern, but also very unique. The culture, the music is very different from other African music.

These days a lot of young Africans try to mix traditional music with rap. Have you thought of doing that kind of music?
I’m not there to start experimenting. I’m there to bring Ethiopian culture to the rest of the world. First I need to take that chance. Even some Ethiopians don’t acknowledge the value of our traditional music. We look for foreign instruments; we don’t look at the value of our own. I’m just there to encourage the young generation to pass these instruments on to the next, treat it with respect. I’ve recorded with some Western and other musicians and in the future I have a plan for what we can do with these instruments. But at the moment I am doing what I can do and showing the people (Ethiopian culture).

What was it like playing in UK WOMAD?
For me to participate with top artists like Muriam Makeba and Kanda Bongo Man – and the way the people responded - was great. I went with a band called Nikki Bomba.

Dereb has released two CDs and is about to visit Ethiopia for a new music project. You can order Dereb's Ethiopian music CDs (at $25 each) via sales@AfricanOz.com Payment options will be by secure Paypal online or postal order.

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MELBOURNE AFRICAN COMMUNITIES ‘KICKING ON’ TOGETHER

Kicking On day in Melbourne

Last Month, freelance journalist Saeed Saeed, originally from Eritrea, attended a community day aimed at breaking down barriers between different Horn of African communities in Melbourne – an initiative that has led to community members sharing their problems and working together.

Flemington Junior Football club is like any other parent-run community-based organisation. It is a place where you find Treasurer Greg Maloney partaking in coaching the players, cutting the oranges, and looking after the purse strings.

Located in Melbourne’s north-west, the players - who wear the blue and gold of The Colts - reflect the multicultural make-up of their community, with a large contingent of players originally from the Horn of Africa.

However, this group of young African players have been subjected to criticism on the football field for reasons that have nothing to do with the game. “Our African players, early in the season, were subjected to a fair amount of racial abuse,” Maloney said. “That is certainly not acceptable and our club doesn’t accept it.”

Although these incidents of racism have been effectively reduced by the Western District Football League, Maloney remains concerned about the adverse effects the racial taunts are still having on his players. “Understandably our kids who were racially abused were angry, and it’s fine to be angry, but it’s not fine to do something like punch the person back. It’s not a constructive way to deal with the abuse for yourself and the team either.”

In order to tackle this disciplinary issue, the club realised they needed support from African parents, who are noticeably absent on match days. As a result, the ‘Kicking On’ community day was launched at Debney Park. The aim of the initiative was to give the local Horn of Africa community a chance to put aside internal differences and help their children by learning about Australian Rules. It was a day that was enjoyed by both children and adults, with the setting up of a large jumping castle, a football clinic run by the AFL, and the sampling of various tasty African dishes.

Berhan Jaber, youth worker with the Jesuit Social Services, believes this event was an important opportunity for the Horn of Africa community to kick-start much needed dialogue with each other. He explains the internal bickering within the community as being something that is part and parcel of the refugee settlement process:

“It is very normal for us to have these problems. Because for us, we came from nothing. All of our lives we were displaced from area to area. And this is maybe the first chance for our community to stand together on our own feet and be part of the wider community”.

Taking a proactive stance in successfully settling new communities is something that is also foremost on the mind of the Victoria Police. Senior Sergent Tony Langdon, who is in charge of the Flemington area, concedes that the police initially did not do enough in creating a constructive dialogue with their African residents: “As a police force we are really conscious of that. With the Horn of Africa community, I don’t think it has been realised till the start of this year that we had to work harder to bridge those gaps on both sides of the fence”.

Snr. Sgt. Langdon would also like to use initiatives like ‘Kicking On’ as part of a framework the police could adopt to solve similar issues in the future. “What we are doing now, we are helping resolve problems that are present. But what I would like to see in five years time is that we have a framework that we can just put on top of another problem that comes up or another set of different circumstances with the new immigration that comes up”.

While the police are cautiously optimistic about the future, Berhan Jaber is simply delighted with the immediate impact the ‘Kicking On’ initiative had on the families that attended the event. “The African communities here are now talking to each other and sharing their problems. They want to work together which is just fantastic!” He is also confident that the Flemington Horn of Africa community is finally ready to step out of its shell to play an important role in the wider community. “Now when we go to the wider communities, I mean the effective areas like the police and other organisations, people are now understanding that these organisations are in the area to give us a hand, this is a great development!”

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Mbamba heads UN centre in Australia

Abdullah Mbamba

Tanzanian national Abdullah Saleh Mbamba is the new Director of the United Nations Information Centre in Australia. In this special conversation with AfricanOz, he reveals his thoughts on Darfur, the term of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, African poverty, and his own unique background as a journalist and international diplomat.

AfricanOz: First to the pressing matter of Darfur: The UN Security Council's call for 20,000 UN peacekeepers (blue helmets) in Darfur has met with Sudanese Government resistance. And now Jan Pronk, the head of the UN mission in Sudan, has been ordered out. In the face of such action, how can the United Nations respond to the crisis?

Mbamba: Darfur is on the verge of a man-made catastrophe of dramatic proportions. Currently three million people depend on international aid. However, access by humanitarian workers to large segments of the Darfur population in need has been cut off and humanitarian workers attacked. Without the presence of international forces to help the Government of the Sudan protect and assist the people of Darfur, as approved by the UN Security Council, millions of displaced and vulnerable people will be at even graver risk. However, without the consent of the Government of the Sudan, transition to a UN force will not be possible. The Secretary-General has urged the Government of Sudan to give its consent to the transition and to pursue the political process with new energy and commitment. He has tried repeatedly to explain the transition to the Government, and to clear up any misconceptions or myths. It is time now for additional voices to make themselves heard—governments and individual leaders that are in a position to influence the government of the Sudan.

AfricanOz: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in Africa? In particular, what motivated your interest in humanitarian issues?

Mbamba: I am a Tanzanian national born on the island of Zanzibar where I grew up and attended primary and secondary schools before going to England and later on to the United States where I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree from the State University of New York and a Masters Degree from Duquesne University in Pennsylvania. I joined the United Nations some 23 years ago working at its Headquarters in New York and was later appointed Director of the UN Information Centre in Islamabad, Pakistan in the late eighties and later as Director for the UN Information Centre in Jakarta, Indonesia until my recent appointment in Canberra, as Director of the UN Information Centre for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Since my teenage days in Zanzibar, I have taken a keen interest in international affairs. Later, I became more attracted with issues of governance, when I came to realize that there is a growing resentment in many developing countries where majority of the people feel isolated, and disenchanted with both their leaders and their public institutions because of the absence of transparency and accountability of their leaders. Instead, they want to see responsive governance in their societies where equal rights and justice are available to all.

AfricanOz: Your biography lists you as working as a journalist with BBC. How easy (or hard) was it to make the transition to the world of international diplomacy?

Mbamba: I think the transition from being a media person to the world of international diplomacy was very easy. I believe my background as a journalist provided me with an opportunity and skills to practice the full scope of international diplomacy, international relations and cross-cultural communication. As a United Nations representative you are at the heart of high-level United Nations diplomatic activities in the nation’s capital providing information and advice to the Secretariat of the United Nations on international issues, organize official visits by the Secretary-General and other senior United Nations officials, working closely with ambassadors of other nations, presenting the United Nations’ position on a wide range of issues at local and international forums and representing the Secretary-General in a variety of ceremonial events. These are huge responsibilities that also require you to have strong analytical and communication abilities in addition to being very resourceful, versatile, tactful and able to work as part of a team. You must also be up-to-date with current affairs - whether political, economic, industrial, social or cultural.

AfricanOz: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is soon to finish his term. As an African at the helm of the United Nations, what do you regard as some of his key achievements for the continent?

Mbamba: I would say Kofi Annan is likely to be remembered as one of the most effective Secretary-Generals in the history of the organization. Specifically, I would say his efforts to bring about the reform of the United Nations in particular of the Security Council to make it more representative and rationalizing the bureaucracy of the Organization are probably his biggest achievements. We mustn’t forget his response to the challenges of mankind of meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) including halving the number of poor in the world, his strong voice in support of the poor, and for democracy and for human rights in Africa are well documented. We as Africans are very proud of his achievements, and I would say the general opinion is that Kofi Annan has demonstrated good leadership during the 10 years of his stewardship of the United Nations under very difficult circumstances.

AfricanOz: What do you see as the key issues involving the UN in Africa?

Mbamba: I think the rising poverty in many countries in Africa is an issue of deep concern for the United Nations. African countries must take measures such as increasing per capita income growth, and improving ownership, leadership and accountability in their national development strategies in order to over come the tragedy of poverty. Similarly, the HIV/AIDS pandemic poses one of the greatest challenges to the African continent, affecting all aspects of socio-economic life and requiring bold moves to combat its effects because of the challenges posed by the pandemic on African governments - weakening institutional capacity, diversion of scarce resources, decline in economic growth, deepening social crisis, and rising threat to national security due to high infection rates among military personnel. African states must take strong action and bold political initiatives to tackle these issues. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has stated many times that these problems and challenges tend to constrain development; security and observance of human rights affect Africa disproportionately. These challenges define the mission of the United Nations and its associated agencies and organisations working in Africa. That mission is to help African countries advance development, promote security and stability, protect and preserve human rights, and provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. It is a huge and complex task, in which the United Nations’ role is to support – not substitute for – Africa’s own efforts. African leaders recognize the urgent need to address the myriad challenges facing the continent.

FOLLOW-UP READING - UN LINKS:
New report on improving UN effectiness
United Nations Information Centre for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific
United Nations in Sudan website
UN Africa renewal website
UN main website
UN Jobs

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Life on the move...
AfricanOz chats with model and humanitarian Abang Othow...
Photos: www.scenemodels.com 1st image by Marvin Joseph

Abang OthowAbang Othow

Since arriving in Australia from an African refugee camp six years ago, Sudanese Australian model Abang Othow has barely stopped to take a breath. First there was self-education, TAFE, work in clothing stores. Then a highly successful career as an international model, stints on TV, studying at university, seeking out and finding her mother she hadn't seen in 17 years, raising money for countless NGOs... Not that Abang is ready for a rest yet. Right after our interview she's rushing off to help her community organise a funeral.

At just 24, Abang seems part saint, part diplomat, part beauty queen and part ordinary, fun-loving woman. "Yeah, I played a cranky African chick in Pizza," she laughs of her bit-part in the SBS comedy series. "Pauly overtook me in his car and found out how tall I was!"

Abang is happy to throw in lighter moments in a lifetime affected by tragedy and war. Through years of hardship, she's always found the strength to 'move on'.

"When I was alone without my family (in exile) in Kenya I went through periods of being really depressed," she admits. "But then I knew I needed to survive. I visualised a dream: imagined conquering and achieving. I needed this to survive."

Upheaval came early to Abang Othow's life. Shortly after she turned six years old, her father, an economics lecturer at the University of Juba in southern Sudan, was appointed Minister of Administration in the Sudanese government based in the capital, Khartoum. His links with the undercover southern Sudanese rebel movement, SPLA (Sudanese People Liberation Army), soon led to death theats and persecution. During this dangerous time, Abang, who was suffering from malaria, was sent to join her father in Khartoum.

[Continued from AfricanOz front page]

It wasn't long before tensions between north and south escalated, forcing Abang and her father to flee the country - leaving their beloved family behind in the south.

For awhile, Abang stayed in Ethiopia - where many of her Anuak people live, close to the Sudanese border - until an escalating war in Ethiopia (towards the end of the Mengistu era) forced them to again move on, this time to Kenya.

While these years weren't easy, at the age of eight, Abang finally started school. As a teenager she even managed to reach 'national' level in the long-distance running finals in Kenya - a skill she may have pursued had it not been for the next period of upheaval in her life.

In 1996 Abang's father was brutally assassinated after returning to his homeland of Sudan – it was 1997 before Abang heard the tragic news.

She struggled to continue her schooling – but with no support, went back and forth to the Kakuma refugee camp that houses so many refugees from Kenya’s surrounding countries.

Soon after this, Abang was accepted into Australia as a refugee.

"I'd always hoped things would be good when I went overseas," admits Abang, "but when I arrived in Australia I realised how many problems I had."

Still a teenager, Abang faced many challenges: adjusting to a new culture, "getting to know myself" and fulfilling a major goal of receiving a good education. Overhanging it all was the urge to see her mother again.

Between going to TAFE, and working for St Vincent de Paul and other clothing shops, Abang tried to trace her mother through church groups, the Red Cross and other organisations. It was a quest that lasted many months.

During this time, in 2002, a girlfriend entered her in a modelling competition where an agency "discovered" her. For the next few years, the work flowed in, not just in modelling - she did the catwalks of Paris, London, New York and Sydney - but in TV and advertising.

With her excellent communication skills, Abang appeared in softdrink commercials, Matrix2 (the movie), and as a panellist on Beauty and the Beast. Her real passion, however, emerged in her support for humanitarian causes: she served as an ambassador for Red Cross and various NGOs.

While all this was going in, Abang continued the search for her family - eventually locating them in Sudan, and bringing them to Australia.

It was a reunion like no other as modelling friends chipped in for the welcoming at Sydney Airport.

"My family were treated like celebrities with huge, long cars and flowers to greet them at the airport - I'm sure they wondered what kind of lifestyle they'd come to!" she laughs.

However, Abang's mother was mainly focussed on her daughter she hadn't seen in 17 years.

"She'd never seen my photo, but she recognised me immediately in a group of people by my height and features, and the birthmark on my arm," says Abang. "It was an emotional time."

Abang's family ties remained strong, as did the cause of her Anuak people. She recently set up an NGO to raise awareness and funds for her people who live in the Sudan and Ethiopian border regions, places where they've endured genocide, war and major upheaval.

As part of her quest to highlight the atrocities of war Abang is studying arts media and development studies at university, putting her modelling career on hold. She also plans to write a book about her extraordinary story, much of which remains untold.

As for Africans in Australia - she's currently seeking support to hold workshops to mentor other young refugees. She says there are a lot of organisations to assist refugees in Australia, but not everyone is able to identify with the needs and backgrounds of Africans. "I would like to hear their (young Africans) voices and understand their needs. I would like to inspire new arrivals to put education as a priority... and to help them manage their money and time wisely. There are many demands on African young people in Australia, parents, the media."

Yes, there are many demands on young people. So how does the 24 year old Abang find the energy to keep moving forward?

Abang pauses... "I think having a hard life can make you a bad person - or teach you to be strong," she says simply.

(And there's no guessing which path Abang Othow has chosen!)

You can contact Abang and the Anuak community at abango@hotmail.com
* Abang's agency is: www.scenemodels.com

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Telling the stories of Africans...
We recently spoke with former ABC TV news correspondent in Africa, Sally Sara - whose new book, GOGO MAMA, provides a fascinating insight into the lives of 12 African women.
Pic: Sally Sara with Masinda & child

Sally Sara & Masinda

Award-winning Australian journalist & author Sally Sara spent five years living and working as a foreign correspondent in Africa - covering issues and events such as the Rwandan Genocide, conflict in Sudan and HIV/AIDS. Despite these challenges, Sally retains a sense of warmth and hope for the continent. Here she relates some of her thoughts and experiences.

AfricanOz: How did Africa change or affect you?
Sally Sara: It really changed the way I look at the world. It opened my eyes to vast extremes of joy and suffering. I feel very honoured to have spent five years in Africa. I am determined to ensure the stories of Africa are told. The continent has been ignored for long enough.

AfricanOz: What are some of the biggest challenges and highlights of those years?
Sally Sara: I found it difficult to cover stories of suffering. I think the worst conditions were in Darfur in Sudan, people were so desperate and frightened. The conflict in northern Uganda is also horrific, because of the involvement of so many children. It is horrendous.

On the positive side, there were many highlights. One of my favourite places was south Sudan, the people were so generous and friendly. I spent quite a bit of time with the Dinkas in south Sudan and was overwhelmed by the hospitality and endurance of the people. I always say hello to members of the Sudanese community here in Australia when I see them in the street, I can't help it. I wish more Australians understood what many Sudanese Australians have endured in their homeland.

AfricanOz: In a sense your new book GOGO MAMA is about ordinary African women who have had extraordinary lives. Why did you decide to focus on African women?
Sally Sara: I thought it was important to tell the stories of women, as a way to tell the bigger story of Africa. I wanted to give a voice to those who are often not heard. I was very inspired by many of the women I interviewed, especially Hellen Lanyom who had her lips cut off by rebels in northern Uganda. Hellen is very courageous and I was struck by her story.

AfricanOz: How did the women react to a westerner wanting to tell their stories to the world?
Sally Sara: Only three of the women spoke English, so I had to use interpreters for most of the interviews. The women were able to relax and tell their stories in their own language. Most of the interpreters knew the women well, so there was a lot of trust. The women were eager to have the outside world hear their stories, they regarded it as an important opportunity.

AfricanOz: Despite all the trauma the women have experienced, the book emphasises hope for Africa's future. In what way?
Sally Sara: The underlying message of GOGO MAMA is hope. The women have shown a lot of courage and resiliance. I learned a lot about what kept them going, when there was every reason to give up. The women in the book are true survivors.

AfricanOz: What changes did you see in Africa during your time as a foreign correspondent?
Sally Sara: I think the biggest change was HIV. When I arrived in South Africa in 2000, it still wasn't spoken about openly. People at funerals would say their relative had died of 'flu' rather than admit it was AIDS, even though at the time, South Africa had the largest HIV positive population in the world. There was a lot of denial. I think that is slowly changing, both in the townships and at the government level. The scale of the AIDS pandemic is staggering.

For a review of 'Gogo Mama' link here
Sally has just received an international fellowship to focus on human rights journalism - more about this here: www.iwmf.org

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Message of peace: All Stars' powerful tune
In April 2007 AfricanOz interviewed a member of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars (touring Oz)

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars formed in a Guinea refugee camp and rose to international fame following the award-winning documentary, 'The Refugee All Stars'. They play powerful West African music, roots reggae, rhythmic traditional folk with a touch of rap. We spoke with the band's youngest member, the remarkable 19 year old Black Nature (Alhaji Jeffrey Kamara, pictured with other band members at right).

AfricanOz: What was life like in Sierra Leone during the war?
Black Nature: I was living in my country and with my family. When the war broke out I fled to another country. That was terrible. There was a lot of bloodshed, burning (of) houses and raping (of) people. My father was killed and my mother was killed, so life was really bad.

AfricanOz: What inspired you to join the band?
Black Nature: When I was in the refugee camp at first I was like a street musician singing in the street. I did not get any money but I was doing it out of interest because I love music. When the band started I just felt that I had to join this band because I had an important message that I wanted to pass to the nation. I wanted to tell the nation that war is not the problem solver - we should forget about war and accept peace and love each other. That was the message - forget about war.

AfricanOz: Was it hard for you guys to form the band?
Black Nature: Life was really difficult in the refugee camp when we started the band. The band was started by a few members. Mr Rueben started the band. He met with another man called Franko. We had only one acuostic guitar and a few percussion instruments. Life was difficult. There were no instruments to play - like electric guitar, mikes, amps or percussion.

AfricanOz: How does it feel to become so popular in such a short period of time coming from a refugee camp?
Black Nature: It is a miracle for me to be here. I did not have hope. Really it is something that encourages me to move on... We have toured places like London, Tokyo, Canada, America and now Australia. We play reggae, rap and mix them both and also play African music and traditional music... A lot of percussion.
Before the war I was living with my family. I had an interest in music. My brother used to write something for me so that I could make it into music. when the war broke out my mother was a business woman. She was in another province when the war started. The rebels caught her and she was killed. I was with my father in the city and the war also started in the city. We were trying to escape but we were caught. They took me out of the vehicle at gunpoint and made me lay down on the ground and kept my dad in the vehicle and bombed the car. My father was in the car. They took me and gave me a heavy load to carry. I was with them for five days. When the rebels were attacked by ECOMOG military people, we all escaped. So I managed to escape.

AfricanOz: How is life in Sierra Leone now?
Black Nature: Life in Sierra Leone is now a bit easier, only there is a lot of poverty because of the war.

AfricanOz: What message do you have for people from Sierra Leone now living in Australia?
Black Nature: They should keep the faith and they should look back home and see what is happening and try to help the people who don't have the opportunity - to think back home and think about their people.
The people in Australia love our music. The people appreciate our music.

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Message from th' Motherland
In September 2007 AfricanOz interviewed Shasha Marley (touring Oz in October)

One of Africa’s newest reggae stars, Shasha Marley from Ghana, is now touring Australia with his 8-piece band (pic: SHANE ROZARIO). See What’s On page for tour dates. AfricanOz caught up with him in Sydney, asking him about reggae, religion and his love for ‘the motherland’.

AfricanOz: What is so good about reggae?
Shasha Marley: The word reggae means people who don't have what they want - the words and lyrics of reggae music, the force behind it is so inspiring. Reggae music by Bob Marely says "Why do you look sad and forsaken... Don’t you know that when one door is closed many are open"... So going through life you always want to hear music like that... It is not the kind of music that corrupts children. It is a music that lifts your soul and gives you hope - and music (that makes you feel) like you are part of society, that makes you feel accepted, cared for... you are somebody... you know.

AfricanOz: ‘Come back home to mother Africa’ is what you sing. But do you think people are ready to return when there is still so much poverty and political instability?
Shasha Marley: Who should make Africa better? We, the Africans, are the ones to make Africa the better place to live. We go out of Africa and work in the West and make Western people rich all the time. It is a good idea to travel - even this is mentioned in the Bible, (But) You have to remember your roots and I am saying that we need to go back home to apply the skills and knowledge we have developed. Zion is a better place to live. Zion is Africa. We have the best continent, we have the best climate. It is the best place to live. There are no two ways about it.

AfricanOz: Most reggae musicians sing about Rastafarianism, not Jesus. What inspired your to change the norm?
Shasha Marley: I grew up in a Christian home. My father was directing the Christian choir and my mother was also singing in the women's ministry in the Catholic Church. I spent days and time in the church. My father sees to it that I go to church and after school I go to the mission house to help the priest clean the house and all that… I spent a lot time in the church… and that influenced me to play this kind of music in reggae. It has come from higher above.

AfricanOz: What were your musical influences when you were growing up in Ghana?
Shasha Marley: I grew up in the western region of Ghana called Kisindi… I grew up in a low class area. There used to be a lot sailors living in that area. Whenever they came from Europe and America they came back home with reggae music like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. We used to go to their rooms and listen to the reggae music - growing up... sort of influenced by the music of reggae.



AfricanOz: You sometimes criticise the authorities in Africa in your music. Are you attacked for this?
Shasha Marley: Politicians and rebel leaders are the ones creating problems and confusion… to get what they want. They haven’t threatened me cos they are being careful. It is the truth I sing about and I know truth hurts but truth will set me free. I don’t care you can kill the body but not the spirit. (It is like Jesus had a lot of followers and nobody can touch him). I walk in the streets of Ghana freely and I drive in the streets of Ghana freely – I live freely I have a lot of followers. I appear in concerts and appear on TV as well. I like what I am doing…

AfricanOz: Do you have any message for Africans in Australia?
Shasha Marley: I am an African postman who has brought a letter from mother Africa – a Telegraph from mother Africa, come to deliver to the people. It is time for you to get home it is time for you to come home, apply the skills and knowledge you acquired from here. Well they may say ‘What is home? What is there?’ You need to come back to Africa to make Africa a place for children of children to live. To share peace, love and solidarity among the people. Don’t allow the system to divide us and don’t allow the politicians to divide us.

For Shasha Marley tour dates in Oz, Sept/Oct 2007, see What's On. FOR MORE about Shasha Marley see www.shashamarley.com

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Building new life from Zimbabwe's stone
[Article published May 2008] While Zimbabwe’s election crisis holds the country on a knife-edge, many Zimbabwean Australians are continuing their day-to-day lives, and desperately hoping for a peaceful transition of power. Through it all, AfricanOz spoke to Melbourne-based David Jamali about his background in human rights, development and art in Zimbabwe. Article below. For the latest on Zimbabwe, see Google News

Zimbabwean stone sculpture artist and permanent Australian resident, David Jamali is no stranger to electoral tension. He was previously at the helm of Zimbabwe’s Human Rights Association, and – since coming to Australia in 2002 – has managed African and East Asian development programs for Oxfam and now World Vision. In that time he’s seen how corrupt or unstable states can wreak havoc on the human condition. But he’s also seen how people can rise above adversity and carve out a new life for themselves.

It’s a level of hope and motivation that has seen him, from an early age, focused on building the capacity of others. As a teenager he set up programs to help local widows and sculpture artists support themselves. Later, as a Zimbabwe human rights worker, he saw the importance of economic and social empowerment:
“Poor people couldn’t come to meetings about human rights when they were busy finding food”, says David. So he helped set up skills training and income generation programs. “It was a more holistic approach,” he says, “that worked well.”

David is not one for quick fixes – he’s big on analysis and tailored responses. Even in his work as a sculpture artist, specialising in the Shona tradition of stone carving, he works carefully with the many dimensions of the stone:
“A stone speaks its own language,” he says. “The process between stone and artist is to negotiate what the stone wants and what the artist wants. You need to see something within the stone, and bring out the message within… ”

[Story continued here from front page]

And the message is an important one: “Sculpture is a story that needs to be told, the expression of a particular society. While we can’t always do much about things, as artists we can start to talk about it, discuss the issues raised… Art can be a medium for change,” says David.

Since moving to Australia David has risked most of the money he’s earned to help Zimbabwe-based artists promote their beautiful work to the West.

“People are living from hand to mouth in Zimbabwe. I want to provide work for sculptors. Artists are exploited. People are coming in to Zimbabwe, paying almost nothing for high quality art. If we can empower the artist, enable one worker to come up, then others will follow.”

It’s a belief in building the capacity of others he’s had since childhood, when local township poverty encouraged him to set up income-generation schemes supported by the local Catholic Church. “Many of the widows in the parish were living on one meal a day,” says David. “Two nuns from the US encouraged me to formulate and develop ideas to assist them. These grew into projects for young people, and a tailoring project for the widows. I sat there with them and sewed!”

He did the same with a sculpture group (whose offspring still exists in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare) – a process that drew him into becoming an artist himself. However it wasn’t long before his interest in humanity encouraged him to join the famed ZimRights (Zimbabwean Human Rights Association).

In the following decade he was to witness dramatic changes under the reign of President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party, in power since Zimbabwe’s independence. The legacy of colonial rule in Rhodesia (where indigenous Zimbabweans had very few rights), saw one oppressive system eventually lead to another. Throughout the 1990s President Robert Mugabe began exercising increasingly tighter control on people’s rights. Meanwhile, David’s organisation ZimRights was receiving international donor support for civic education, election monitoring and legal services programs. The United Nations even asked the organisation to submit them with ‘shadow’ reports on human rights in Zimbabwe, giving them considerable international standing.

As ordinary Zimbabwean’s understanding of human rights grew, the government began to find ZimRights more confrontational and critical – culminating in a crackdown in 1997 when, according to David “ZimRights organised a march against police brutality… The protest gave courage to others to support the human rights cause, and for the first time the Government began to call ZimRights an opposition group.” During that time, workers were intimidated. Mugabe-supported thugs destroyed shops. Many human rights protesters were locked up - including David for a short period, before lawyers came to his aid.

Then in 2000, the international media spotlight fell on Zimbabwe when the Mugabe government famously stormed farms owned by white landowners. According to David, it was a time when Zanu PF supporters began to infiltrate ZimRights, and the organisation lost a lot of its outside funding.

It was also a time when many in Western countries began to view Zimbabwe’s problems as a case of black against white. “But the issue in Zimbabwe is not about race,” says David, “It’s about structures that are inherited [from colonial Rhodesia] that are making things difficult. Yes, the land issue needed to be addressed. But not in the way it was timed and conducted.”

David is sometimes frustrated at the international media’s ignorance of problems faced by indigenous Zimbabweans: “Sometimes I get really angry when there is political violence in Zimbabwe, and a few indigenous people are killed and there is no coverage in the Western media. But when one white person dies, it is international news.”

For years David witnessed and filed reports on human rights abuses committed against Zimbabweans of all backgrounds (See www.kubatana.net And the economic effects of Mugabe’s rule and resulting international sanctions have had a devastating effect on the livelihood of his family and friends who have seen rising inflation, massive unemployment and chronic food shortages.

Last year when David returned to his township of Tafara he found much of his family house destroyed under Mugabe’s famous ‘slum demolition’ programs. His own extended family of 17 were forced to share 3 bedrooms between them, and “many people are still living in the open,” he says.

However, rather than dwell on these bitter developments, David has stepped up his income-generation plans for local artists and community members, working to provide both resources and an outlet for artists to sell their work overseas. He also works on southern African development programs with World Vision, provides current affairs news and commentary on Melbourne’s 3CR Radio, and academic presentations on Zimbabwe, while completing a Masters in International Development.

He's currently focused on establishing a website with a fair trade online store to market quality art from Zimbabwe and beyond - including exchange programs between artists from Australia and Zimbabwe, and the possiblity of starting Shona sculpture classes. “It will be a one stop shop to get an understanding of Zimbabwe culture and the history of Shona sculpture,” says David, who is "looking forward to working with individuals, retailers, collectors and galleries who want to make a difference". The profits will be directed back into other community development intitiatives through Mavambo Development Program, a project initiated by David in Harare in 2000.

Clearly, despite the continuing uncertainty in Zimbabwe, David remains hopeful of people’s ability to rise above adversity, given the right resources and assistance. It’s a vision he carries through in the hope of a new Zimbabwe.

David now lives in Melbourne with his Australian partner and baby. His World Vision work now also sees him based (for part of the year) in Southern Africa – a situation which David says makes him “feel more connected – living on both continents.” You can contact David at david_jamali@yahoo.com

USEFUL WEBLINKS: 3CR - www.3cr.org.au
World Vision - www.worldvision.com.au
ZimRights - www.kubatana.net

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~ Rhythms cross the Ocean
[Article published July 2008] AfricanOz chats with talented singer/songwriter, Perth-based Grace Barbé about life on both sides of the Indian Ocean, and why her roots now matter.

It's said that the Indian Ocean nation of Seychelles has one of the smallest populations in Africa. But listening to Seychelles-born Grace Barbé sing, you can only marvel at the repertoire. Like her mixed African, European, Asian heritage, Grace is drawn to diversity -- fusing Afro funk, reggae, soul with the distinctive rhythms of her native Kréol (Creole) culture. It's a journey that has seen her transformed from a Perth schoolgirl with "no real interest in cultural roots" into a successful modern musician keen to "explore and deliver traditional culture through my music."

As a teenager Grace spent several years in Seychelles before returning with her family to Australia. But it wasn't island life that drew her to the musical stage. It was in the community halls and backyard gatherings of Perth's Seychelles' community where Grace finally "found" her voice. She still remembers her first performance with the Seychelles community band, "nerve-wracking, a shy voice, looking at the ground, standing still." Then there was a "great and supportive" response. And Grace never looked back.

By the age of 18 she was writing songs and teaching herself bass guitar... "I started writing using bass lines, it was more about the groove than storytelling." She gained skills and confidence working with local bands as a backing vocalist and performer, before taking the plunge and going solo in 2006. This was the year when her and musical partner James Searle won the WAMI song of the year award in the world & funk category, a win that cemented her popularity on the live stage circuit in Western Australia. Making her songs available online, via TripleJ Unearthed website earlier this year, put her in top spot on the website's charts for awhile. Now Grace is focussing on her song-writing, putting together an album due for release at the end of this year.

[Continued here from front page]

Faced with the task of appealing to a broad audience, Grace is determined to keep her music fresh and contemporary. But she's also focused on bringing the unique and fresh sounds of her island heritage to the world. She often sings in the island's French Kréol language, something she's been immersed in from an early age. "[Even in Perth] my life growing up was eating Kréol food, family friends dropping in with curry and chutney. Mum putting on Kréol music, her friends and her gossiping loudly in Kréol and talking about what they'd buy in the markets on Saturday."

Her mother was a dancer in the Sega dance troupe, a prestigious position in the Seychelles, and her father played guitar. Grace says she is only just beginning to explore this heritage more, and recalls fondly stories from her grandmother about the history of music in the islands. "My grandmother would tell me stories about how African slaves would go down to the beach at night and light a blazing fire. The men would play the drums and the women would dance in long skirts, and they would sing the Mucha. The men would sing about oppression and hardship, and the women would respond, dancing in more and more provocative styles as the night wore on, until people would get into a trance. The children were forbidden to watch, but could hear the drums from afar. This is the type of heritage I'd like to explore."

This year, she's been working with established Afro funk musicians, and teaching them more about traditional Seychelles sounds that differ from the mainland. Later this year, she returns to Seychelles as a performer in the country's colourful annual Kréol festival, where she hopes to record local music and explore more of her heritage. She's looking forward to performing in her country of birth, but admits: “To go back home and perform to your own people is quite daunting! ...I just want to do them proud.”

Right now what’s most important to Grace Barbé is the journey itself. Like many African-born Australians who have grown up here, she feels like she has a “leg” in both cultures, stretching all the way across the Indian Ocean from the Western Australian shoreline to the many islands and atolls that make up her island home, so many thousands of kilometres away.

Not that Grace seems displaced or confused - on the contrary, she's very grounded. “Coming from a mixed (Seychelles) culture that celebrates diversity has helped me in Australia,” she says, both in everyday life and in music. “As long as I have the roots/foundation of my native Kréol culture to build on, then it doesn’t matter what grows on top of it,” she says. And therein lies the beauty of Grace Barbé’s music. When she sings about life, love, culture and identity it’s both unique and accessible. There’s the Kréol and reggae influence, the touch of soul and Afro funk, and at the centre of it all, the strong, young voice of Grace Barbé who is - you get a sense - only at the start of a successful career in culture and music.

In recent years, Grace has been invited to share the stage with artists such as UB40, Ben Lee and Ernest Ranglin. Keep your eyes on AfricanOz What's On for Grace's live shows in WA. Grace's solo album is due out late in 2008, along with a proposed tour of Australia's East Coast in the new year. Meantime, sample Grace Barbé’s music and culture online:

Grace Barbé website - www.gracebarbe.com
Grace Barbé music (listen online) - TripleJ Unearthed site
Grace Barbé on MySpace.com
Photos from Creole festival in Seychelles - www.virtualseychelles.sc
About Seychelles Wikipedia
Seychelles Travel Lonely Planet

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‘Playing from the heart’ Asim Gorashi
[Article published November 2008] AfricanOz chats with celebrated African Australian musician Asim Gorashi about his life-long love of traditional music, background in Sudan, and positive new life in Australia. Asim is a professional multi-instrumentalist who sings and plays the Oud, violin, keyboards, guitar and mandolin

When celebrated African Australian musician Asim Gorashi performs on stage, it is with the pulse of the Blue Nile running through his veins.

As a boy growing up in Sudan’s Blue Nile district, he battled both family disapproval, and the Sudanese government’s cultural repression to bring his music to the stage.

“When I was growing up in the village of Rossieris, music dominated every aspect of life,” he says. “Birth, death, harvests, weddings, everyday life. However my father and grandfather didn’t want me to be a musician – they saw it as ‘not responsible’. But music was everything in my life and I started to play on my own regardless.”

When he was five or six he taught himself how to play the tin whistle, then graduated to a melodica, a small keyboard instrument. By the time he was 14 years old, he had mastered the Oud (lute) – leading to his first public performance at a wedding. The audience loved it, and his teachers encouraged him to focus on music.

Bowing to family wishes, Asim tried studying commerce. But the call of music was too strong: “When I play music I feel very religious,” explains Asim. “I feel close to God, close to nature. Like flying. When a musician plays from the heart that is special.”

Following his heart (and also armed with considerable talent) Asim was eventually accepted into a prestigious music program in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

His studies were short-lived. It wasn’t long before the central Sudanese government began a vicious program of cultural domination – preventing many music students from finishing their studies.

“It took me the next 15 years to finish my five year degree!” says Asim. Between studying, he travelled with musicians to neighbouring countries such as Djibouti and Ethiopia - where he attained great success integrating his traditional music with broader harmonies.

“The central Sudanese culture tried to dominate everything,” he explains. “My quest was to present my culture in a positive way through music.”

Traditionally, and in colonial times, his native Blue Nile district was viewed as a source of slaves, “But I believe people in that area are masters of the land and one of the richest cultures in Sudan,” says Asim.

Asim was also impressed with music from other regions of Sudan. “Every year I would save up money to visit Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and other regions to research and record music,” he says.

Sudan is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world, and Asim learnt a lot from his travels.

As his musical talent grew, so did his public recognition. He became a founding member of the band Sudanese Sound, and eventually performed in the band of one of Sudan’s most famous musicians, Mohamed Al-Amin.

At the same time, he was still battling the central Sudanese government’s program of cultural repression, particularly affecting the regions.

“In Blue Nile District in the early ‘90s, the Governor banned musicians and lashed them,” says Asim. “Elsewhere people were incited against musicians – with threats and attacks coming from Muslim radicals.”

This included intimidation of Muslim musicians like Asim. In a tragic event, Asim was present at the Musicians Association of Sudan club in 1994 when a radical pulled a knife on musicians – stabbing and killing one of Sudan’s most famous and loved singers Khojali Osman.

It was this atmosphere of fear and intimidation that led Asim to eventually leave his beloved Sudan for Egypt – where UNHCR were quick to recognise him as a refugee.

While in Cairo, he was invited to perform at the Opera House, where he networked with some of North Africa’s well known musicians, adding to his growing musical status.

Soon after that, he was accepted to live in Australia, under the nation’s humanitarian program.

It was a totally new life in Perth, where he landed in 2003.

But he approached it with great enthusiasm - enrolling in studies at the Academy of Music, and performing with local musicians.

“I had culture shock in Australia,” says Asim, “But I was impressed by the welcoming smiles and open doors. It’s a feeling that has remained with me. I don’t feel a stranger. It’s a very warm feeling – that Australia is the right place for me to be.”

With his open heart and mind, Asim (a Muslim) eventually teamed up with Jewish and Christian musicians to form the Asim Gorashi Trio. The Trio are Daniel Goodacre on piano, Steve Manovski on drums and Asim on violin, oud and vocals.

The Trio have played with great success at Sydney Opera House and with Musica Viva. Asim was also invited to perform in Norway (where he won a prestigious music festival award), in Holland, Belguim and in Cardiff, England.

There he continued to ‘blow away’ audiences with his sensational blend of original Sudanese traditional music, semi jazz arrangements, and Middle Eastern influences – a sound that has become his signature blend.

Between touring, Asim has never forgotten his mission to promote music for the Blue Nile District of Sudan. He returned to the region two years ago, to “recharge my batteries and to encourage local musicians – both with westernised versions of their music, and folkloric roots.”

His efforts have helped inspire the region’s musicians who – despite enjoying greater cultural freedoms since the 1990s - still face restrictions such as ‘No singing allowed after 11pm.’

Asim’s efforts to help other musicians extend also to Australia.

Now completing a Doctorate at the Brisbane Conservatorium of Music, he hopes to one day use his expertise to help young African Australians.

“Many young musicians have been too Australianised and are forgetting some of their music,” he says, “I want to help young musicians reflect their roots in their music, and be more active.”

With his mind always on a mission, educator and musician Asim Gorashi is still clearly a musician who ‘plays from the heart’.

For upcoming Asim Gorashi performances please see AfricanOz What’s On and AfricanOz African Family Day website. Asim’s website is at www.asimgorashi.com

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Serious Laugh: Muj Ahmed
[Article published February 2009] AfricanOz chats with comedian and refugee welfare worker Mujahid Ahmed - who’s solo comedy show ‘African Time’ premieres at Adelaide Fringe Festival in March 2009.

Mujahid Ahmed

He’s Australia’s best known Sudanese stand-up comedian (“by default” he jokes), and regards himself as half African half Australian (“I mean I could easily run 100 metres in 11 seconds… but now I just can’t be bothered”) – but beneath the humour are hard-hitting messages influenced by his work with African refugees and encounters with racism.

While Adelaide-based comedian Mujahid Ahmed loves nothing more than a good laugh there’s a serious side to life as well.

By day he works as a refugee welfare worker helping African refugees resettle in Australia – a role where he’s seen too much irony for comfort. “I’ve seen African refugees put into remote Australian communities where they encounter extreme racist attitudes,” he says. “They then get told, ‘You guys can’t integrate’.”

He says services for new arrivals to Australia only last around six months – not enough time for people to learn how to properly navigate Australian systems and culture.

“It takes awhile for people to learn things like you can’t haggle at Woolworths, you have to hail a bus and to show up on time for an appointment, and the huge cultural differences like the African concept of time, gender roles, family units.”

[continued from AfricanOz front page]

One cultural difference is eye contact – in some African cultures, it is disrespectful to look people directly in the eye, but in Australian culture, it’s sometimes the opposite. Another is that Sudanese tend to use touch and stand close to people when communicating - something that Mujahid says “makes Aussies nervous”.

Despite the challenges, Mujahid thrives on his ‘day job’ working with refugees. “It’s satisfying seeing people who arrived in Australia with nothing gradually getting jobs, starting their own business, putting their kids in schools, moving forward.

“People who may have come from a background of conflict or instability appreciate they’re getting a 2nd chance in life, and all they want is a fresh start, to find a job and to help their families back home.”

Another thing he loves about his work is the African sense of humour, the ability to see the brighter side of life in tough times. “The Sudanese are very good at making fun of the status quo, and making a joke out of things. In Africa... there is joke tape, TV and theatre.”

It’s a culture he’s enjoyed since an early childhood in Sudan where he recalls “Life was good, peaceful and happy.”

Back then his father worked as a newspaper columnist in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, employing humour and political satire to grab people’s attention.

“It was this ability to make a point by being witty and not profane that influenced me,” says Mujahid. “I was never the funny guy in school. But as I got older I realised how much my dad’s dry sense of humour affected me.”

“But in Australia I’ve been able to make my humour much more hard hitting than my father, who eventually got in trouble for his own writing in Sudan.”

A 1980s military coup in Sudan saw President Bashir turn the country into a “mono culture and mono religion” where satirical writing was no longer tolerated.

The family fled to the United Arab Emirates where Mujahid spent much of his childhood “still happily surrounded by Sudanese people, Sudanese culture, Sudanese TV, and music.”

It’s a culture he missed when arriving in Australia as an international student in 2001 – particularly the Sudanese concepts of hospitality, friendship and respect of elders.

But, with the threat of military conscription hanging over his head, he never returned to Sudan, instead applying for permanent residency in Australia, while continuing his studies in Science (Psychology).

It was while studying, he realised his potential as a comedian. “Making speeches at university, people seemed to appreciate my humour,” he says.

Encouraged by positive feedback, he entered the Triple J Raw Comedy competition – “finishing in the top 4 three years in a row.” He’s also done a round of stand-up performances, culminating in his current ‘solo’ show that premieres at Adelaide Fringe Festival next month.

With 99.9% of his audiences tending to be “mainstream Anglo-Australians” Mujahid now feels an acceptance in his new home.

He says Australians are able to laugh at themselves, and he taps into this by using humour to help people see their own biases. He makes jokes targeting racism, and jokes that play on people’s generalisations about Africans.

He told one audience: “You've probably seen my mum around. She's always in (Adelaide’s) River Torrens doing our laundry.

“She hates that joke by the way. Every time I do that joke we have to catch our own dinner.”

At an event promoting World Vision, he said, “I’d like to thank my sponsors… I know what you’re thinking. (I’m) not bad for $3 a day.”

And Mujahid has already adopted the Australian habit of shortening names, calling himself ‘Muj’.

It’s a lifetime theme of crossing cultures that will carry through to his upcoming show ‘Mujahid Ahmed is on African Time’ that looks at “everyday life and systems, the way people view things, and the clashes that occur when you carry both cultures.”

Thankfully, it won’t be the last we’ll hear from a man who’s not afraid to turn the touchy world of racial misunderstanding and cultural differences into one enormous belly laugh.

For more about Mujahid:

You Tube video: World Vision performance
Adelaide Fringe Festival booking
Interview on ABC’s PM program (March 07)
Interview on ABC’s Enough Rope (Andrew Denton) (Oct 07)

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Seeing the Sahara in Oz
[Article published March 2009] With the dust of the Sahara still tickling their toes, 'blues' band Tinarawin touch down in Australia this month. Fusing traditional Tourag music (from the nomadic tribes of the Sahara, bordering Niger, Mali & other regions), with western influences (acquired during years in exile in neighbouring countries) the songs of Tinarawin are a powerful blend with a powerful message. Here AfricanOz chats with band member Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni about their fascinating history and life 'on the road'. See AfricanOz What's On for details of Sydney & Melbourne shows.

Tinarawin

AfricanOz Can you tell us something about how and why the band got together?
Tinarawin The band came together in the late 1970s and early 1980s in southern Algeria and Libya. The original members were Touareg who had been exiled from their homes in northern Mali, due to drought, political oppression and lack of opportunity. These young Touareg, who some called 'ishumar', after the french word for unemployed ('chomeur'), were living a very precarious hand to mouth existence and the early songs of Tinariwen expressed their home-sickness, pain and longing for social and political freedom.

[Continued from front page]

AfricanOz You are based in North-Eastern Mali but often tour the world. How easy is it to adapt to different cultures over such a short time?
Tinarawin We've become pretty used to touring over the years. I think we've played around 700 concerts outside the Sahara in the last seven years. So touring is now nothing new. In a sense we take the desert with us when we travel. We live pretty communely, and as long as there is enough Touareg tea to drink, we feel pretty comfortable. Having said that, it's always a joy to come back home. When we leave the tarmacked road at Gao and head north towards Kidal, it's like a huge weight lifting from our shoulders. We can breathe again!

AfricanOz What are some of the main messages in your music?
Tinarawin Peace, unity, development, education. Those at least are the positive messages. But many songs speak of deeper, more troubling emotions like homesickness, longing, sadness. It was these emotions that accompanied the young 'ishumar' as they travelled across the desert in search of work and opportunity in the late 1970s and 1980s. Everyone could relate to them, and that's what made Tinariwen's music so powerful and essential at the time.

AfricanOz What are some of the key issues facing the Tourag people today?
Tinarawin Peace, unity, development, education. Especially education. The Touareg's problem has always been that we've isolated ourselves...buried our heads in the sand if you like. And because of that, politicans and dictators have been able to take advantage of us. Every Touareg child needs to be armed with the skills that will allow them to fight for his or her corner in the modern world. Guns and bullets cannot do the job on their own.

AfricanOz When & how did you first start to 'fuse' traditional music with external influences like the electric guitar?
Tinarawin It was Ibrahim Ag Alhabib and Inteyeden Ag Ablil who first started playing traditional touareg melodies on the acoustic guitar in 1979. They were living in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria at the time. It seemed a natural thing to do. Traditional Touareg music get's drunk with your mother's milk. And the guitar was a 'new' instrument, which had the advantage of being very portable as well. These teenagers were always on the move. The guitar was also unburdened by any traditional customs, as many of the older Touareg instruments were. In a way it represents freedom, and a fresh modern outlook on life.

AfricanOz What was the main inspiration for the album title Aman Iman Water is Life?
Tinarawin The album consists mostly of songs that are at least five years old. Tinariwen has a huge repertoire of songs, built up over several decades. It's almost inexhaustible. We wanted to strike a balance between the possibilities of a good professional studio (Bogolan in Bamako) and the gritty raw sound that is our signature. I think it worked pretty well.
AfricanOz What are some of the main differences you see in the music world across continents?
Tinarawin We've come across so much music, and so many different musicians now. It's been a real privelege. Everywhere we hear music that inspires us. And everywhere we meet people who show us kindness and generosity

For more see:

www.tinariwen.com
www.myspace.com/tinariwen
Tuareg people on Wikipedia
Tuareg people on Britannica.com

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So African... So Chic...
[Article published May 2009] Who WAS that gorgeous African model on the catwalks of Rosemont Australian Fashion Week 2009? AfricanOz stepped 'backstage' to chat to Antoinette Ataro, originally from Kenya (pic courtesy CHIC models).

Antoinette - Chic models

Hovering over a pocket radio shared between 12 brothers and sisters – in a humble African village house devoid of TV – it must have been hard for a young Antoinette to imagine she’d one day be a professional model, with designer clothes, international travel and a face to grace magazine covers.

But then who – at that time - could predict that a village near Antoinette’s in the Luo area of Northern Kenya – would see local blood, Barack Obama, become president of the United States?

As Antoinette explains, “I’ve come to see how everything is possible. It’s all about attitude – how you put yourself out there.”

Despite this optimism, Antoinette never takes her own achievements for granted. While growing up she never imagined becoming a model – only wanting a job to help support her family.

[Continued here from front page]

Her father, who worked for a shipping company, used the family’s precious savings to educate his children, sending Antoinette to a strict boarding school, where she acquired ‘self-discipline’ and a good education.

Through friends and contacts (“Having an education will not get you a job in Africa”) she found work as a receptionist, before hearing about a ‘casting session’ for catwalk models in the Smirnoff Fashion Awards in Nairobi.

She recalls entering a room where the girls all seemed wealthy, experienced, and well travelled. “I was very nervous, didn’t know what to wear. I felt like I was from the ghetto, and these girls were not my class.”

Her nerves served her well, and she was selected – a catwalk stint that led to other jobs and registration with Kenya’s Mzuri modelling agency.

“I was insanely happy during this time. I wondered how someone like me with nothing could make it. When they accepted me, I thought, Oh my God, they believe in me. I’m over the moon.”

It was during her first modeling assignments she met her future husband - an Australian man who worked in advertising.

The two soon moved to South Africa where Antoinette found a welcoming cosmopolitan market for black women – her image appeared in department store catalogues, fashion magazines, and designer fashion shows.

Despite her apparent success, she says she struggled to make a living in South Africa: “Life was expensive and the money wasn’t a lot.”

To compound her disillusionment, during a modeling shoot in Mauritius she received the tragic news that her mother was ill, and shortly after, passed away.

Antoinette decided to leave South Africa and join her partner in Australia. But she’d hardly touched the shoreline, when Asia called.

Packing her bags again, she flew to live in Singapore – from where she acquired work in Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and other cities. She says, “I scored stacks of shows in Asia. Finally I could send money back home, and develop a strong book” (a portfolio of her work – which, at the time, included the cover of ‘Elle’ magazine in Singapore. She’d earlier been the cover girl of Kenya’s ‘Cosmopolitan’).

Three years later, she returned to Australia, where she now works in magazines, catwalk modeling and other areas. Despite a steady stream of assignments, she admits it can be hard in a market that is “used to Caucasian models.”

“It can be hard for an African model in Australia. You don’t know how it’s going to go. It’s precarious.”

“But if you’ve been to a difficult place, it makes you stronger. You can better deal with setbacks and disappointments. You know that tomorrow is a new chapter, a new beginning.”

Her determination was boosted after a return to Kenya last year where she realised how hard life can be for her family and friends. Problems of poverty and AIDS are still affecting whole communities in East Africa – and in her spare time, Antoinette says she’s endeavored to do charity work to help alleviate such suffering.

It’s a caring side of her personality also reflected in her love of children.

“I would love to eventually work with children and to have children. They are a blessing.”

Right now, however, she’s busy racing from her Fashion Week assignment in Sydney to another project in Adelaide – from where she’ll return to her base in Brisbane.

With such a busy lifestyle, does she have advice for other aspiring models?

“Do it. Get experience, overseas if necessary… Most of all, be patient!”

For more on Antoinette see:
Photos of Antoinette - Chic (model agency)
Kenyan Jewels (diaspora)
Antoinette Ataro on Booker Rising site
Forum, Jamati.com

ORDER AFRICAN AUSTRALIAN HAIR & BEAUTY PRODUCTS ONLINE
AfricanOz Shop .com

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(Extra)Ordinary Passion
[Article published June 2009] He’s strong, spirited, the son of Fela Kuti, a brilliant Afrobeat artist of the next generation: Ladies & gentlemen, meet SEUN KUTI as he prepares to leap from Lagos, Nigeria into Sydney...

Seun Kuti

AfricanOz: In a sense you're from musical 'royalty' - but you still sing for the common man in Africa. How do you maintain that rage about people's everyday challenges?
Seun Kuti: I live among the people, they are my friends. Most people in African live under the poverty line - that is reason enough for me to be passionate. You can't ignore this fact and not be passionate about these people when you see them every day. If you look at history in Europe… the uprising was led by artists, musicians and intellectuals - for the common man, for the people on the street who couldn’t eat. They did not think about themselves, their happiness and their own status. For me as an African I have a responsibility to speak for the people, have a voice. One can’t sit back and relax. Many Africans die of things that could be avoided: neglected by our so-called rulers. Millions of people die every day... out of neglect and due to poor health care. How can I be not passionate? I have to be passionate. I have to be passionate because I think.

AfricanOz: You are not afraid to criticise African governments and authorities in your songs. Do you feel in danger living in and touring Africa?
Seun Kuti: I was pulled out of my car by the police two nights ago and was kicked because of who I was... So I don’t think it is something you can avoid. In Africa I already know the consequences of what I am doing before I start(ed). I will not moan about it and I accept it, be it bad or good.

AfricanOz: You obviously still love Africa, despite your anger. What are some of your favourite things about the continent? Especially things you miss when you are touring?
Seun Kuti: Being an African I miss my family and all I leave behind and the atmosphere of being at home. I miss the people. In spite of lack of adequate water and police brutality I miss the energy that you get from the people. The spirit of people in Africa is very strong. I don’t mean spiritually but the human sprit is very strong. I miss the fact that I am not around them.

AfricanOz: You're well known for dynamic live performances. How do you get the energy for your shows?
Seun Kuti: I keep fit. I think the energy also comes from the music I play. With Afrobeat music you have to move. I keep fit and play a lot of football. I live a very active lifestyle. I exercise, play football, eat well and music is like a source of fuel to burn this fire. For me every thing is consumed by the passion of what I do.

You can order Seun Kuti's CD at africanozshop.com see below:

Seun Kuti /Egypt 80 - Many things CD New Release $27.99
africanozshop.com

For more about Seun, see www.myspace.com/seunkuti

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Chat with Ladysmith Black Mambazo
[Article published June/July 2009] Despite Grammy awards (including 2009) & a massive international fan base, Ladysmith Black Mambazo still like to think of themselves as simple South African Zulu singers. AfricanOz spoke with Albert Mazibuko, who has been with the group since 1969, on the eve of their exciting Australian tour

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

AfricanOz: For a long time you've remained one of the most popular African groups on the world stage. How do you explain your enduring appeal?
Albert (Ladysmith): I think it best for others to answer this. We just do what we have always done. Perhaps this is something to do with it. We sing and dance in a traditional Zulu style and we sing and talk of peace and people working together. I know that message is universal and unending so that must have something to do with it. Someone once told me that musical styles are always changing over time but one thing they appreciated about Ladysmith Black Mambazo was that we don't change our musical style. They felt they could count on us to deliver what they wanted.

AfricanOz: How do you stay true to your musical roots?
Albert (Ladysmith): Probably because we are who we are. Pretty much a group of simple fellas from Zulu South Africa. Our older members were born and raised on the farm and we always go back there.
AfricanOz: Is this hard to do in the new South Africa and with an international audience
Albert (Ladysmith): Not at all. Yes, there are many outside influences in South Africa because of cable tv and the internet so young people are changing. It is difficult to keep the traditions strong in the young. But for us, we don't get caught up in the latest this or that.
AfricanOz: What are the main messages in your songs in the new South Africa? What are the key challenges since the end of apartheid?
Albert (Ladysmith): In the new South Africa people have been learning to work with each other. It has been a slow process and has caused some frustration with the population. The people want things different and better now and they don't necessarily understand that it takes some time and it needs everyone to pitch in and be proper citizens. There's a lot of crime in our country because of this frustration. We sing many songs now about working together, about being proud South Africans and acting like good citizens.
AfricanOz: What inspired your latest CD?
Albert (Ladysmith): "Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu" is, of course, in honor of our greatest leader. One of the great things Shaka did was unite the people. Before this there were many tribes and they were working on what was best for each other. Shaka united the tribes and made people understand it was better to work together to become a great nation. He continues to be a great inspiration today and this CD sings about this need for all people. Not just in South Africa but everywhere. We all need to work together.
AfricanOz: What do you love most about South Africa? What sort of things do you miss when touring?
Albert (Ladysmith): I love the people and culture. I respect it and them so much by being away so when I return it's such a welcome. South African people are so friendly, so lovely. We are blessed that when we travel away from home we meet so many wonderful people. They welcome us with open arms and make the time away form home exciting and enjoyable. But going home is just that...going home.
For more about Ladysmith Black Mambazo, see www.mambazo.com
See What's On for details of concerts in your state

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Community profile: Rosemary Kariuki
[Article published July/August 2009] Being the daughter of an independence fighter, a child amongst 16 siblings, and the victim of tribal clashes hasn't hardened the heart of Rosemary Kariuki. On the contrary, this community leader, award recipient and volunteer extraordinaire just radiates cheerful warmth.

Rosemary Kariuki

"I grew up with so much love," she explains - referring to her childhood on a farm in the Kenyan town of Eldoret. "We lived 40-50 people in one house. We shared everything we had."

This spirit of sharing fuelled her desire to help others. In Kenya, she helped street kids facing illness or death. Later, in Sydney, Australia, she organised and lobbied for countless African events and services: including the African Women's Dinner Dance (SMH link), the Celebration of African cultures, and generating employment and health awareness.

This involves working with Africans from many different backgrounds and bridging the gap between cultures – a challenge Rosemary relishes. Earlier this year she helped organise the annual African cultural festival in Auburn in which 20 African communities showcased their cultures, dance, food and artifacts. She also helped organise an innovative cultural exchange program that saw (Anglo) Australian women from Ulladulla stay with African Australian women in Sydney. "My goodness, everyone shared stories, songs, cooking," she laughs.

The desire to connect cultures is something Rosemary attributes to her upbringing in Kenya’s town of Eldoret.

"It was a sharing area," says Rosemary. "We were all people from different tribes living in one community - going to school together, eating together - and our church was always a place for poor, rich and middle class."

"It opened my mind to living with different people without caring where they came from."

Rosemary says her parents often helped people of all backgrounds in the community - for example, her father employed people on the farm and mother helped people who were ill and homeless.

Like Rosemary her father had enormous strength and determination to create a new life for his family. He’d spent seven years in jail - fighting against colonial rule in Kenya. On his release, and following independence he purchased a farm from colonial settlers, and saved to send children including Rosemary to boarding school. Sadly at just 56 years old, he passed away.

As an adult, Rosemary worked in administrative roles in Kenya's capital Nairobi for around 10 years before "the community spirit in Eldoret encouraged me to move back there."

By now married, separated, and with children she set up a wholesale beauty products business to support her two boys and adopted children.

The business was a great success. But she found Eldoret wasn’t without its problems. In 1992, she was attacked with a hammer, in her own home. Then in 1997 her shop was burgled. It was part of a new wave of tribal clashes that was to rock the region for many years to come. (Eldoret was also the scene of the 2007 clashes in which Kikuyus from Rosemary's tribe were burned to death in a church massacre).

Rosemary was devastated to suddenly feel unsafe in a place where "our neighbours were all of different tribes and we lived like brothers and sisters."

Though she sensed the clashes were politically instigated she knew it was time to move on.

With her children still in Kenyan boarding schools, she made the difficult decision to accept political asylum in Australia – hoping she’d one day build a new life for all her family.

“This was the hardest decision in my life that I have ever done, leaving my children behind,” she says.

In 1999, she arrived in Sydney feeling bewildered, lost and lonely.

On the first night, an Ethiopian Australian lady took her in, and St Vincent de Paul and Asylum Seekers Support services helped her to slowly build a new life for herself.

With her retail background, she managed to find work in a shop servicing Navy staff. "My English was already good, but by talking with young customers I began to understand the local accent too."

She also volunteered at Mercy Sisters to visit elderly people in nursing homes. " I decided to use my lonely time to help the lonely like myself. But I became very attached to them so that when they passed on, it affected me because they had become part of me,” she says sadly.

Soon she turned her volunteering skills to Australia's growing African communities. Working with the NSW African Communities Council, HARDA and other bodies, she helped organise social gatherings, and meetings to improve local services.

Meanwhile in the mainstream workforce she progressed from roles in retail into accounts and administration. She helped finance her children's arrival in Australia - so the family were happily reunited at last.

Rosemary then turned her efforts to supporting African women.

"It was 2006 and I could see that African women were still facing a lot of loneliness and isolation here," she says. "They didn't or couldn't go clubbing because this is not our culture, and there weren't many social opportunities available. Then I came up with the idea of the annual African Women's Dance. The first people I shared (it) with thought it couldn’t work due to funding. But the first year 350 women came, and now it attracts around 500 women - 25% white Australian and around 75% African backgrounds.”

Rosemary helped set up the African Women's Group (NSW) to organise the dance and help educate women about vital issues like women’s health and domestic violence: "Many who were being abused didn't understand it was abuse." she says.

By this stage, Rosemary was also actively working with other service providers. She was appointed as an Ethnic Community Liaison Officer with NSW police and worked with the Domestic Violence Team.

In recognition of Rosemary's vital work, she was presented with a valued Edna Ryan award from Australia's Women's Electoral Lobby in 2007. Announcing the awards, Member of Parliament, Helen Westwood said "Rosemary has worked tirelessly for the wellbeing of migrant African women."

More recently she was presented with a 'Highly Commended' award as part of the Women of the West awards presented by the University of Western Sydney.

While proud to receive such support for her work, Rosemary still has a lot planned for the future:
"To help women you have to help men too," she says. "Now I'm seeing more African women standing on their own two feet, it's time to get more men's services. Women are able to recover from culture shock in Australia easier than men with access to playgroup and essential support services. We need to start information and social sessions for African men - meeting once a week and build on that..."

Rosemary continues to elaborate on her next plan - and you get the feeling this interview wasn't meant to be about Rosemary at all - but about her much-loved community.

And that's what Rosemary is all about: community.

To contact the African Women's Group(NSW), email: kariukirosemary@hotmail.com or phone: 0421 059 166.

MORE ABOUT ROSEMARY:
The night belongs to the women of Africa Sydney Morning Herald 30/5/09
Photo Essay: African Women's Dinner Dance Sydney Morning Herald 1/6/09
Another photo essay: African Women's Dinner Dance Fairfield City Champion
Women of the West awards

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A defining taste of Ethiopian jazz…
[Article published Feb 2010] Pic: Francis Falceto with Ethiopian music legend Ahmed Mahmoud, visiting Australia for WOMADelaide 2010

francis falceto mahmoud ahmed

Westerners who are fond of Africa sometimes have defining moments when they go ‘crazy’ for African culture; finding an artwork, a tasty new dish or a song played on the radio that inspires them to learn more, taste more, hear more…

This is what happened to Francis Falceto, the Frenchman involved in Ethiopiques, to be performed at WOMADelaide (with legend Mahmoud Ahmed) this March. It's a performance inspired by the 20-CD Ethiopiques music series that Falceto put together for Buda music, CDs widely credited for bringing Ethiopian music to an international audience.

According to Falceto his involvement in Ethiopian music “started from a flash” at a party in the French countryside. “A friend of ours… had toured Africa with a French theatre troupe... By chance he’d bought this Mahmoud Ahmed LP in Ethiopia. And at night when he put the LP on the turntable, we went absolutely crazy! We’d never heard such African music! It was even hard to believe it was African music, because when you look at the cover of the LP the writing was so strange... I mean I was very ignorant.

“I had an incredible flash. I made cassette copies out of this LP, and sent them to friends of mine, music journalists and music critics - supposedly knowing a lot about music from Africa - and by the following days all of them came back to me saying ‘Francis, what is that?’ and ‘where did you get it from?’ So I understood it was very good and amazing music and at the same time it wasn’t known.

“At the time I was working with friends in a non-profit organisation organising concerts of very weird music, very strange, not specially commercial. So we decided, OK, let’s go, bring the men back and make concerts with them. That’s how it started.”

After a few years, he decided to dedicate his time to researching the history and music of Ethiopia during its ‘Golden Era’, 1960s and early 70s - when Ethiopian music was still influenced by Big-Band Jazz, and there were very ‘groovy’ but still uniquely Ethiopian tunes from music legends like Alèmayèhu Eshèté, Mahmoud Ahmed and Mulatu Astatqé (whose music was recently featured in the film ‘Broken Flowers’).

[Continued from front page]

Francis worked hard to put it all on LP and soon CDs available to an international audience. In the mid to late 1980s, he began with Mahmoud Ahmed's Erè Mèla Mèla’, followed by CDs featuring other Ethiopian legends, and by the late 1990s, the Ethiopiques music series was born.

According to Francis it wasn’t hard to see why a select international audience began to fall in love with the music: “The beauty of the voice and beauty of the arrangements, the melody, this strange petatonic scale, these incredible arrangements, horn sections, saxaophone and big band… whoo! For me, it’s very easy to listen to, it sounds very familiar at some point. I don’t mean it’s easy listening music, but it’s easy to listen to.”

For Western audiences, it’s often a surprise to hear such music originates in Ethiopia. “They are surprised in the sense that - how can such music come from Ethiopia? You know all the clichés we have about this country,” says Francis. “We can’t imagine how a country we know as a kingdom of drought and famine, how can they release such beautiful music? …But if you look at the documents/photos in the booklets (in the Ethiopiques series), there are many kinds of these big bands, man and woman, it’s absolutely amazing. It’s not fair, the cliché that the media has spread about this country, that has totally disrupted the reality image of the country, especially the musical culture that is incredibly rich and gorgeous.”

For Francis, this ‘richness’ was mainly in its ‘Golden Era’. He says music development in Ethiopia came to an abrupt end after the 1974 revolution, after Haile Selassie was overthrown and the military Derg regime (led by Mengistu) came to power. “This absolutely crushed the development of Ethiopian music at that time,” says Francis. “Imagine the city you are living in - 18 years without night life, without music development, with censorship, with obligation and propaganda for the few artists who could continue to perform, once a week on Saturday night in some chique hotel (because Addis Ababa is a capital city not only for Ethiopia but Organisation for African Unity, lots of NGOs, diplomats) And this was the only way to meet music life at that time… You had to be locked the whole night in the nightclub or the hotel, because of the curfew. You couldn’t go outside. So there was no condition for (music) development.”

He says even when a new government came to power in the early 1990s, it took some time for the music scene to pick up. “When the curfew was lifted in 1992 I was there. It was amazing for me to take a walk at night. It was absolutely deserted... It was difficult for them to restart nightlife. It takes years to rise out of this long sleep. It’s a kind of adventure to go out on the street at night when you’ve been familiar with only staying at home.

“The new generation is improving a lot, they have a lot of hopes, but it’s developing very, very slowly… In the past 3 or 4 years I’m seeing some interesting phenomenon musically speaking. Talents rising out of the blue. More nightclubs, more cabarets opening with very groovy music. So we’ll see about the future. But at the moment you cannot compare the music scene in Addis Ababa to what it was 40 years ago.”

Ethiopiques now includes some more recent Ethiopian bands and performances, continuing to help overturn what Francis sees as an unfair image of the country. He says, “Ethiopia is the victim of media coverage that is totally clichéd; it deserves a more open-minded coverage. For me, for the good and the bad, the promotion of Ethiopian music through Ethiopiques has obviously helped to change the image of the country. Ethiopians can feel it, and they are very proud of the crossover of their musical culture, which is partly surprising, because they are so nationalist… because historically they have been independent for 3,000 years and have never been colonised so they look at other people with a kind of pride you don’t meet in other African countries in the same way. At first I was wondering what they’d think about this absorption of musical culture by the world, but they’re very proud. It’s part of the acknowledgement of the country.”

Ethiopian music legend Mahmoud Ahmed will perform with Ethiopiques at Womadelaide held in Adelaide's Botanic Gardens in March - details at www.womadelaide.com.au

Further information on the Ethiopiques music series:
Ethiopian Music on AfroPop
Ethiopiques.info website
Ethiopiques on Wikipaedia

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Visiting jazz legend
[Article published May 2010] Pic: Mulatu Astatke, in Australia for Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2010.

Mulatu Astatke

AfricanOz briefly caught up with ‘the father of Ethiopian jazz’, Mulatu Astatke, during his visit to Melbourne Jazz Festival 1-8 May 2010, where he performs with Melbourne's Black Jesus Experience. He’s widely credited as the musical genius who integrated “jazz” with Ethiopian music in the 1960s, sparking an exciting genre of music that took the country by storm and eventually attracted international attention as 'Ethio Jazz'. As a young man, Astatke initially left Ethiopia to study engineering, and later returned to Ethiopia from the UK and USA with degrees in music. Over the years he’s lived and worked in various countries, developing a huge following that has seen him perform with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti, the late Mariam Makeba and other African greats.

More recently his music enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after its use in the American film, Broken Flowers. According to Mulatu: “The director Of Broken Flowers Jim Jarmusch found my music for the film after listening to a variety of music. Jim and his crew came to see my concert at the New York Garden Theatre. Jim Jarmusch told me that he is a great fan, and that is really when my involvement with Broken Flowers started. The film Broken Flowers received numerous awards. This has brought a lot of attention and recognition for Ethio Jazz all over the world. Major newspapers around the world started to cover it, which meant a lot of fans and interest in Ethio Jazz. Jim Jarmusch is a creative person and has been instrumental in promoting Ethio Jazz.”

We asked what was so distinctive about Ethio Jazz. Mulatu says: “Ethio Jazz uses the distinctive five-note and also twelve-note Ethiopian scale and represents the music of the different nationalities of Ethiopia. To say Ethio Jazz is a mix of Latin is misleading as the combination of all kind of music elements in Ethio Jazz has to be analyzed. We should also not forget that Latin music has that dominant African rhythm.”

Born in 1943, Mulatu shows no signs of slowing down with age. More recently, between recording (he has released a couple of recent CDs including 'Mulatu Steps Ahead'), the legendary musician has been working on other projects to bring Ethiopian music to the world: “I am currently working on compiling and arranging music for an Ethiopian film based in Ethiopia. The film will feature The Hamer (Hamar) Tribe in Ethiopia. My other project relates to the chants of St. Yared, the founder of Ethiopian church music thought to date back to the sixth century. I am hoping to feature concerts staged at the rock churches of Lalibela (in Ethiopia).”

Mulatu continues to be happy about the positive response to his music. “I have been involved in Ethio Jazz music for more than 42 years now. So my work was known in the world even before the film Broken Flowers came out…. So far my work has received an overwhelming positive response from people around the world. I have received more than a thousand emails from people who love my music and a lot of people attend my concerts. I am very happy to see such a response for Ethio Jazz.”

More about Astatke at:
Melbourne International Jazz Festival site
You Tube
Wikipedia
Ethiojazz.com
The Guardian interview (May 2009)

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