The Goan Jazz Musicians of Dar es Saalam by Judy Luis-Watson
Waiting for the Sunrise
Goan Jazz Musicians in Dar es Salaam
by Judy Luis-Watson
Waiting for the Sunrise by Judy Luis-Watson is now available at Amazon.com (in both print and ebook versions). For buyers based in India, we recommend you order via Goa,1556. Details from jazzgoandar at gmail.com In Goa, a special print edition is also available via [email protected]
The impressions we pick up as children, when our minds are still open to influence and as soft as damp sponges, are likely to stay with us the longest. — Ann Patchet
When the Jazz Swingers were at the top of their game in Dar es Salaam, I was just a young child. Yet I have clear memories of their band practices at our home and gigs at the Goan Institute (G.I.), a private club where Goans and their guests could socialize.
This band story is a result of a question that kept playing in my mind when music was my profession. Strangers in the U.S. often asked after a performance how I learned to play the blues. What I think they were really asking was how someone who looked like me could be so immersed in music that originated in African American culture. The answer, however, seemed clear — I fell in love with the deep sound of blues music as well as the clever story-telling and double entendre lyrics. As for jazz, I felt at home with it because swing music was the live and very real soundtrack of my early childhood.
That recurring question, however, became the catalyst to delve into my family’s musical roots. How did my dad Jerry Luis, born in Tanganyika and of Goan ancestry, learn the wide range of music he played? And what about the Jazz Swingers, the band he played with in Dar es Salaam?
The Jazz Swingers were the first Goan swing band in Dar es Salaam (Arabic for Harbor of Peace), the capital city of Tanganyika. Beginning in 1947 and through the mid-’60s, these musicians of Goan heritage entertained thousands with American swing jazz as well as dance music from Cuba, South America, and Europe.
At every occasion, the Jazz Swingers opened and closed with an instrumental version of ‘The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,’ a hopeful tune born in Toronto, Canada, following the devastation of World War I. They became twinned with the song, especially in the hearts of their Goan audiences.
It’s been a fascinating journey to learn about these musicians, why they left their ancestral home, and how they contributed to the music scene in Dar. My safari began in an unlikely place, but perhaps it was precisely the right time.
In Toronto, on September 26, 1999, a long line of relatives and friends waited to offer condolences to my parents at the wake for my brother Ian. I would rather have been sitting quietly somewhere, but I mustered up the courage to talk with people I didn’t really know or hadn’t seen for years. One person was John Nazareth, who had served as the President of the Goan Overseas Association in Toronto. At some point I asked what he thought of the idea for this band story, and he responded that people (at least Goans) would be interested in it. When I mentioned his brother Peter and how much I enjoyed his novels and the compilation he edited on Goan literature, John suggested I call Peter, who lived in Iowa City.
In the meantime, my dad Jerry arranged for us to meet with several former members of the Jazz Swingers who lived in Toronto. Follow-up conversations with musicians as well as other members of the international Goan community helped to unpack the story. My intention is to provide a window through music into the Goan experience in Dar; acknowledge the role these musicians played in their community; and share a picture of the times in which they lived. As much as this project is a slice of my family history, it is also a piece of the Goan, Indian, and Tanzanian story.
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- What are you working on, Judy Luis-Watson?