Tanzanian musician brings African culture to kids of Belleair

Kids at summer camp get a taste of another culture when a musician from Tanzania stops by during his U.S. tour.
Published July 26 2012
Updated July 26 2012


Ten small children surrounded three wooden drums wrapped in cow skin.

Each took turns trying to get the beat just right, while others watched and waited for their chance. Behind them stood a man wearing a tribal-patterned shirt and sneakers laced in the yellows and greens of the Tanzanian flag.

Tanzania native Msafiri Zawose was teaching at Belleair's Dimmitt Community Center. He's touring the United States to teach and perform traditional African music.

"So you don't do it four times?" asked 10-year-old Riley Moore.

"No, no. One, one, two, two ... " Zawose replied, pointing at which drum to hit.

"Ohh, I get it," Riley said.

The student became the teacher as Riley began helping the other children, tapping the drums to demonstrate the correct beat.

• • •

Zawose, a prominent Gogo musician in Tanzania, taught in Belle­air's summer camp for kids ages 6 to 12.

His father, Hukwe, was internationally known for East African instruments and dance moves. He released two albums. But most importantly, he taught his son everything he knew.

"My father had been here (in America) when he was alive," Zawose, 29, said with a Swahili accent. "I think it was for a week."

Zawose has had a longer exposure to America. He arrived May 2 and is spending the summer traveling around the nation.

He had previously traveled through Asia and Europe to teach and perform, but this is his first trip to the United States. So far he has been to New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Chicago and Washington, D.C. In September, he'll head to Sweden.

Zawose said he appreciates the experience.

"I think it's nice for me because I get to share," he said, "so then the music gets expanded."

The American opportunity arrived because of Hannah Nelson, a 23-year-old Tennesseean who fell in love with Zawose's music while volunteering in Tanzania in 2009. Last November, she asked him if he'd share his culture with America. He agreed.

Finding gigs was a challenge, but luckily a New York radio DJ, Rob Weisberg, received one of Nelson's many emails. A fan of Zawose's father, he recognized the last name. Weisberg interviewed Zawose for his show and offered dozens of contacts.

Belleair wasn't on the list, but it became a tour stop because of Ali Halverson. A 23-year-old from Belleair, Halverson is a camp counselor at Dimmitt Community Center. She knew Nelson from volunteering in Tanzania. When Nelson asked her for options on where Zawose should travel, Halverson didn't hesitate to pitch the center.

Halverson thinks Belleair's children should learn what's outside of their community's "bubble."

"It is a very important thing for kids to think, 'Yes, I am growing up in an incredible place,' but to understand how other people live, too," she said. "They love it."

• • •

The basketball gym smelled like feet. Against a wall was a line of small sandals and sneakers.

About 20 children formed lines to practice the African dance moves that Zawose had taught them. In four days they would be performing for their parents.

Dressed in a traditional African wrap called a kanga, each child pumped two fists in the air with every "Ay!"

Kate Hayslett, 6, was proud to wear the garment. "They wear this because those are their clothes," she said. "It feels like I'm in Africa."

The children walked and danced in a circle, similar to a conga line. "Ay! Ay! Ay!" they repeated.

Once they were done, Zawose further encouraged them.

"Yeah!" he cried, applauding with his drumsticks. "That was really nice."

Diedra Rodriguez can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or [email protected]