A dala dala bus ride through Africa
by Elizabeth Willoughby
Kwaito-house, kuduro, hiplife, mbalax – are familiar sounds if you're on a dala dala minibus in Africa. Alternatively, you could tune into Georg Milz's DJ gigs, music label or even his thesis: World Music is not Dala Dala Soundz.
It can be difficult to define "authentic" music, particularly in reference to an entire continent, but Georg Milz has found one solution for Africa. Dissatisfied with "ethno pop" or "world music", Georg has just finished writing his theses about the pop music you'll hear riding around Africa on dala dalas (minibuses). He prefers the term "urban African music" to describe the musical styles unique to each city you're passing through.
With a passion for disc jockeying, Georg (aka Dala Dala, previously Dala Dala Soundz), is able to relive such excursions through his DJ gigs in Germany: "I'll start in Dar es Salaam with a Bongo Flava song, mix in kwaito-house from Durban and Jo'burg. Next stop could be Luanda in Angola with some up-tempo kuduro, then some laid back hiplife guitar track from Accra in Ghana, or some heavy mbalax club banger from Dakar, Senegal."
It's mercurial and resonant of the various cultures, but is also influenced by music from other parts of the world says Georg. "Some genres are kick-started from the diaspora bringing something new and cutting edge back home. Ghanaian hiplife originated from the diaspora in London. The music that I deejay as Dala Dala is this brew of local and global influences that make it unique and authentic and, in a way, more real than the 'traditional' African drummers you can hear in Munich's English Garden."
Authentic Africa – from Paris
Georg Milz's fixation with African music and culture began in high school with reggae and hiphop. But when he returned from a first trip to Tanzania with a bunch of cassettes, the desire to learn more about the music, the artists and lyrics was sparked. This set him on a course into the business side of the music world and eventually to "out here", the record label he co-founded in Munich.
That first trip to Africa also helped him to decide on anthropology as his study program, which he started at LMU Munich.
"My studies benefited a lot from this experience. I got to know how anthropologists are investigating and representing culture today and what methods they are using, so I found the program quite supportive."
Finding music an effective way to understanding other cultures, Georg decided that this should be the focus of his thesis. He narrowed it down to coupé-décalé due to its popularity all across Africa, but with little published on it, he decided, naturally, to head to France to research – the Ivory Coast being too dangerous and its diaspora, which founded the genre, being in Paris. Also traveling to Paris were many of the pioneering artists from the Ivory Coast that he had connected with on previous trips to Africa.
While Georg's label aims to present a new urban image of Africa by bringing African talent to the international market, the wild and wonderful journey has been fraught with challenges that reach even the most basic levels.
For an illiterate artist, an international contract can be daunting, a signature of "xxx" problematic and a tour through Europe an impossibility – without a passport there can be no visa, without a birth certificate there can be no passport, without cash there can be no paperwork, and without a bank account there can be no funds.
Georg has worked hard to establish relationships and trust in order to work through such obstacles and to address cultural complexities. How does one explain to a Zambian artist performing a televised benefit concert before 80,000 people in Europe gratis that no one is making any profit? How does the artist explain to his wife that the proceeds will benefit poor people in Africa, but not her?
Nevertheless, Georg has managed to establish contacts to most countries in Africa. "When we meet them we listen to their music, do interviews, take photos and sometimes end up in the studio recording together. I think it's great when a record works both in Africa and here in Europe."
Photos provided by Georg Milz.