A preacher delivers the sermon with sign language during a service at Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam. Video screenshot
BAGAMOYO, Tanzania — On a recent Sunday morning, Isaac Mbaga met with two friends to worship in his house in this town on the east side of the country’s major port city, Dar es Salaam.
As they began their worship service with songs, the three — all of whom are deaf — danced and signed along to the songs.
Soon, they sat and opened their Bibles and read from the Gospel of Matthew: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Then, Mbaga asked his fellow worshippers in sign language about the meaning of the Scripture. They looked at each other and replied that they did not understand the scriptural message.
“This is the problem we have as deaf people,” said Mbaga, 33, with the help of a sign language interpreter. “We desire to know the Word of God, but we have nobody to help us. We have no pastors and churches around here for deaf people.”
Mbaga and his colleagues are among many deaf Tanzanians who have few options for worship. They say there is only one church nearby where deaf people can worship through sign language interpreters.
Many others across the country who cannot make their way to the church are left to read the Bible on their own to meet their spiritual needs.
Tanzania, in red, located in eastern Africa. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
“These deaf people are very frustrated because they can’t find anywhere to worship God,” said evangelist Mary Temba, who is also deaf. “We have very few churches in the country where deaf people can go and worship. We have only one church in Dar es Salaam, and you need to travel over 300 miles to find another church. In fact, we have only two active churches where deaf people can worship.”
Temba, who oversees several deaf churches in Tanzania and in other East African nations, said churches, mosques and other places of worship in the country are unwelcoming to people with hearing disabilities.
“They really don’t care if deaf people exist in their churches or mosques,” Temba said at her home in Bagamoyo. “These places of worship have no special services for people with hearing disabilities, therefore leaving them out from active worship. This is very unfair.”
Seleman Munisi, who is deaf, has attended the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church at Bago village in Bagamoyo.
Throughout praise and worship time, Munisi danced with other worshippers and often tapped the edge of a folded fist to an open palm to indicate “Amen.”
When the pastor took to the podium to bring the message of the day, Munisi sat attentively but struggled to follow the preaching and prayers.
“I enjoyed the praise and worship service, but I didn’t hear the Word of God,” said Munisi, who is 25. “I love Jesus but I have nowhere I can go and worship. It’s the reason I come here and worship with others. I have no fare to travel to Dar es Salaam and worship with my colleagues with the help of a sign language interpreter.”
The National Bureau of Statistics Disability Survey Report of 2008 showed deafness is Tanzania’s third-most-prevalent form of disability. The number of deaf people was 607,618 in 2008 when the population of the country at the time was 42 million. The population currently stands at 56 million.
The praise team performs at Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam. Video screenshot
At the Immanuel Church for the Deaf in Dar es Salaam, hundreds of deaf worshippers filled the sanctuary while others stood outside, trying to catch a glimpse through the windows during a recent church service.
The church for the deaf was founded with a group of pastors from Kenya and Uganda when they realized that there was a dire need in Tanzania. The church now has more than 700 congregants.
“We have a problem here but we are going to open more branches. We have realized that the use of sign language has helped deaf people to accept Christ and even live better lives. They are confident and they now feel loved,” said Joseph Hiza, the church’s general secretary.
Church member Agnes Salome agreed. “I’m very happy nowadays because I can worship God,” Salome said through a sign language interpreter. “I can comfortably follow the preaching by the evangelist. The worship service is great and we sing in sign language.”
Others deaf Tanzanians hope to have the same experience in the future.
“We want to worship God like other people because it’s our basic right,” said Mbaga. “I want to feel satisfied with God while I worship.”
Historically, women tend to be the stalwarts when it comes to religion, while men attend religious services less often and are less likely to say their faith is very important to them. But a new analysis shows that black men defy this trend.
A study by the Pew Research Center released Wednesday (Sept. 26) has found that while black men are less religious than black women, they are more religious than white women and white men.
African-American men are equally as likely as Hispanic women to be what Pew considers “highly religious,” so they are tied the second-most religious group.
Sixty-nine percent of black men in Pew’s study say religion is very important, while 78 percent say they believe in God with absolute certainty and 70 percent are considered highly religious.
“Highly religious,” according to Pew, includes those who pray at least once a day, attend religious services at least once a week, are absolutely certain about their belief in God and say religion is very important in their lives.
While 7 in 10 black men fit that description, 83 percent of black women are highly religious, Pew says. About two-thirds of Hispanic women, 58 percent of white women, half of Hispanic men and 44 percent of white men are considered very religious.
Across generations, researchers report differences. Fewer than 4 in 10 African-American millennials say they attend services weekly, compared with half of older blacks. Six in 10 of black millennials say they pray daily; in comparison, 78 percent older blacks report praying daily.
The Pew analysis is based on data from its 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. The margin of error for black men was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points and was lower for the other groups.
When, a few weeks back, Johannesburg’s largest jazz venue, The Orbit, posted a crowd-funding appeal to stay afloat it prompted the usual flurry of concern that the genre might be on its deathbed.
That’s nothing new. Nearly half a century ago rock musician and musical maverick Frank Zappa’s “Be-Bop Tango” (1973) first asserted that jazz wasn’t dead, but just smelled funny. Zappa’s track alluded to debates about the impact of the then revolutionary jazz style of bebop after World War II.
But the music industry now occupies a new, digital landscape, and the “Is jazz dead?” debate has several – not just one – aspects. The statistics tell us less than half of the story.
Health of a genre
First, the demise or rise of an individual venue tells us very little about the health of a genre. Even when The Orbit was flourishing in 2015, its owners were voluble about the difficulties of maintaining a big, double-decker space that needed to fill every night to cover its costs.
In a country such as South Africa only a tiny minority of a population far smaller than that of the US have disposable income to spend on high-priced clubs. Jazz is only one music niche among many (the biggest by far is gospel), so devising the right business plan is a conundrum many venues have failed to solve.
Second, assessments of the health of any genre depend on how you define that genre. Worldwide, what is defined as jazz by commercial analysts may not coincide with the definitions of consumers. A case in point is the landslide success of what the analysts may define as crossover artists, such as pianist Robert Glasper, or hip-hop artists such as the award-winning Kendrick Lamar, whose sound is shaped by the inputs of multiple jazz musicians, including saxophonist Kamasi Washington (and as of March 2018 veteran pianist Herbie Hancock) – but the jazz that fans hear in this music is not recorded in the statistics.
Third, international comparisons based on the fortunes of, say pop singer Ed Sheeran’s multimillion selling “÷” (pronounced “divide”) as compared to any jazz album fail to compare like with like. The business model for the music of pop artists such as Sheeran is based on fast, high-volume sales shortly after release. It was the fastest selling album ever by a solo male artist – 672,000 in its first week of release in March 2017. It sold 2.7 million in 2017.
John Coltrane’s “Both Directions at Once”, which was released earlier this year half a century after the saxophonist’s death, will sell far fewer copies immediately. But it will likely continue selling, in some format or on some platform or other, for a further 50 years or more.
Fourth, the technology and value chain of the music industry have transformed over the past decade. Intermediaries have been removed from the supply chain. Digital downloads and more recently streaming have sidelined the major record labels as sources of music. What they sell, and the official figures they provide, are a fraction of the music that is consumed.
It’s easier for smaller music niches to thrive. Compact, low-cost recording technology allows for self-publishing independent of labels, and those products can reach global buyers online. The detail of most of this activity, however – and of what’s happening in the growing arena of jazz vinyl – is far below the radar of those collecting data on industry trends. South Africa has been a fast follower in this movement, with the shift to streaming proceeding apace.
South African jazz artists are now self-publishing their music at an increasing and unprecedented rate. The music is original and often contemptuous of commercial genre marketing categories.
Over the past few months alone, my work as a music writer has brought me flurry of new releases. These have included a piano trio outing from Bokani Dyer, an Argentinian/South African collaboration from bassist Ariel Zamonsky, a vocal/string quartet song series from avant-garde composer Gabi Motuba, explorations of rhythm patterns from Norway-based Cape Town drummer Claude Cozens, the debut of young Thabang Tabane, who plays the indigenous South African malombo style of jazz, and the third album from Durban-based pianist Sibu Masiloane. That isn’t, by any means, everything that has been released during the period.
All these artists find audiences when they play, and those audiences are overwhelmingly young. As well as at comfortable metropolitan jazz clubs, there are now events at more informal, less expensive venues. In addition, audiences are growing for events around the discourses of jazz, such as the current series of Johannesburg discussions on jazz photography themed around the exhibition of photographer Siphiwe Mhlambi.
For a musician anywhere, surviving and prospering within the genre called jazz has never been easy, and it still isn’t. But the story is not summed up by the figures cited in international media commentaries.
Jazz author Stuart Nicholson’s 2005 book on the US scene posed the question differently: Is jazz dead? Or has it moved to a new address? To which the answers are: no, yes – and one of those addresses is definitely South Africa.