Wednesday, April 25, 2007

SWAHILINI (April 28, 2:30 pm African Film Marathon)

About SWAHILINI (Seattle premiere, April 28 at 2:30 pm)

An African musical and social documentary by Pierre Klochendler

SWAHILINI renders through songs the daily life of Daddy, street songster in Dar es Salaam's most dangerous slum. A social, musical, testament to the sad glory of poverty outlasting misery in a world of double negation – what Daddy lacks is no more than a measure of what he needs...

The calling card of this young Congolese musician; an illegal migrant in Tanzania, stranded in Dar es Salaam’s biggest squatter camp, Manzese, a forbidding place known locally as ‘The Hyena’s Den’ – its name conjuring up an old-style Sicilian atmosphere. This squalid squatter camp has the raw grey face of salvaged scrap where nothing is lost, nothing created, dangerous – Hatari!

Through its non-descript alleys the author follows the fortunes of this street artist, as he seeks to make his way to the recording studio. Daddy Maisha is a GRIO, a songster of Swahili life in the urban slums of modern Africa, a repository of the culture of the dispossessed, a coryphaeus of those who own nothing, who envy those who have almost nothing.

Born out of mutual trust, – both moral and practical: a first film for a first album, “Swahilini” and “Fleur Rose” –, “Swahilini” tells the improbable friendship between Daddy and Pierre, the “first white man of Manzese”, who lived in Manzese, who filmed and directed the account of daily life in Manzese.

Manzese is an urban fabric in rags, dressed in non urbane relations; where friendship and protection are traded in the margins of Law – Sheria.

The street code: a rite of passage, a right of passage that the camera must negotiate through the daily interaction filmed over one year between the people of Manzese and the white man – Mzungu.

Daddy is Pierre’s protector, his African eyes and ears.

Temporary by nature and definition, this squatter camp exudes an overwhelming sense of oppressive everlastingness, the hand-me-down poverty of a contemporary urban slum. Manzese – where the living have no distinguishable past, but a very lively place - humanity in constant flow, in transit, on the run, clandestine.

Clandestine too, “the white man of Manzese”, whom its people nickname Mzungu kachoka, “the weary white man near his end”, because his plastic flip-flop sandals lead him where litter carves out the abject geology of its forlorn terrain.

Daddy Maisha introduces Pierre to the people of this makeshift world; in humility, they open their doors – and their hearts. They speak, they rap the pulse of daily life, they rap the word of God, they audition in the streets, and they dance a Capella their passion for music, their faith in the feisty street tunes of freedom of those who have nothing to lose. But, the bare threads of their lives are no musical score; it is a pitiful predicament of their destitution.

Tuned in to their beat, “Swahilini” is both musical and social testament to the sad glory of the human condition trapped below the ‘poverty line’; through Daddy Maisha’s story and of his music, it is also testament to the simplicity of living Lumpen poverty, in accordance with the popular Kiswahili saying “the poor man’s wealth is in the strength of his own labor.” It is a world of double negation: what the people of Manzese lack is no more than a measure of what they need. This is a place where misery and poverty are in constant struggle, where the poor seek to outlast misery.

At once personal and general, at once fictitious and realistic, it is a multi-voiced reflection on the practical conditions which define what it means to survive, to sustain body and soul, on less than a dollar a day:

Their water and their food, their lust for money and the money of love, their friends and their family, their roots and their memories, their futureless future, their confrontation with the stranger in their midst, with the ‘White world’ beyond.

Through the voice of this songster on a tin-roof, “Swahilini” offers an intimate encounter with the Africa-of-the-disinherited – a sentimental and a movingly lyrical look at the dreams of men and women who are only what they have, who live for having, and not for being.

- description by Pierre Klochendler

Comments from the Curator:

The film reveals modern Africa as a complex place -- unromanticized, with people speaking honestly about their view of colonialism, daily life, and the all-encompassing need for money. Daddy Maisha records AIDS awareness songs and is connected to his community of Manzese, greeting men and women alike with a familiar 'soul shake'. He prays before beginning the recording of his first album, "Fleur Rose".

Contradictions and ironies abound. At a flea market, a Muslim woman tries on a bra over her hijab. The derelict building where unemployed young men hang out to smoke dope, gamble, and dream of emigrating to Europe or North America to make money, bears graffiti such as 'Nas', the name of an American rapper, and 'Tesco', the name of a British retail chain, on its walls. A plastic bucket, beaten with two Afro combs, becomes a percussion instrument.

The traditional walls between filmmaker and subjects are removed as Tanzanians speak directly about inequalities of wealth and power and the damage of colonialism to the heart and psyche. "I 'm not afraid of you or Osama," declares one young flaneur.

Poverty and struggle are presented honestly and directly. A man who earns $4 USD/ day by hauling 476 pound sacks greets the filmmaker with a not-quite-teasing shout of , "Hey, white man, give me my wage!" Again and again, the cyncism, belief that all Whites are wealthy, and a hard-eyed pragmatism reveal themselves. Neighbors ask Maisha, "Why are you working? A White man is looking after you."

Daddy Maisha records AIDS awareness songs and is connected to his community of Manzese, greeting men and women alike with a familiar 'soul shake'. He prays before beginning the recording of his first album, "Fleur Rose".

A limited number of copies of Daddy Maisha’s CD are available for sale ($20) at the merchandise table in the festival lobby. All sale proceeds will go directly to Daddy Maisha.

Other films screening during the program include:


Among the laborers working in Johannesburg are a group of men who transform themselves every Saturday night into Swenkas. They wear finely tailored Western suits and participate in a competition that is part fashion show, part beauty contest, part talent. Director: Jeppe Rønde.2004. 72 min.


Political dissident, musician, and cultural figure Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Relatives and fellow musicians give accounts of how Nigeria's government harassed Kuti. Includes an account of how his son, Femi Kuti, has become a musician and dissident in his own right. Director: Dan Ollman.2007. 60 min.

General admission to the program, which includes all 3 films, is $7.00.