Songwriting workshops help deepen community engagement

Mbeya Region, Tanzania —

Outside a small village church, the warm evening air carries the music of a song. It’s not from a radio, but from a group of musicians and singers gathered in the church yard. The song is not in English or Swahili but in Safwa, the language of the community. This group is not preserving a traditional song; they are composing a new song from their Safwa Scriptures.

Frank Mwaluanda is Supervisor for the Safwa Literacy team. The Safwa language community is part of the Mbeya Cluster Project. “Most Scriptures in our language are used only for certain occasions,” says Mwaluanda. “We use it for funerals, some church meetings, but we want to do more. That’s how we got the idea to have a Safwa language Scripture songwriting workshop.”

The three-day event drew 16 participants from the village of Iduda Inyala and surrounding area. Some had attended a previous workshop held in the community three years ago. This time, new song themes were inspired by a collection of passages from the book of Acts, published in Safwa in 2015.

“We led the group in Bible study first,” says Mwaluanda. “Everyone agreed the most important thing is to know your song has the right specific message for those who will listen and sing it. When composing songs based on the Word of God, we must understand what these verses of Scripture are really saying.”

Next, the Safwa Literacy team taught lessons in basic song composition. When participants were ready with portions of new songs, simple recording sessions gave them something to help them remember the music and melodies. The workshop also included discussions on how to identify opportunities and obstacles for a sustained practice of composing new Safwa songs and using them in community life.

Around the same time as the songwriting workshop, an evangelistic meeting was held in the Safwa village of Muvwa. “I was there, and had opportunity to speak about the project,” says Amani Mwandezi, the team’s Assistant Coordinator for Literacy & Scripture Engagement. “During the meeting, we sang some of the Safwa Scripture songs that had been composed during the earlier songwriting workshop we organised. I was very happy to hear!”

“Through the translation work,” adds Mwaluanda, “good relationships have formed between church denominations. “We see now there is unity among some groups of our people. One of those taking part in this workshop told me, ‘If we value our Safwa language, then we can know it was not just bad luck that God created the Safwa people. We should use our Safwa language everywhere.’ ”

photo above: Some participants in a Safwa language songwriting workshop served each other as musicians and “choir leaders”, while others enjoyed singing together in groups as their fresh compositions took shape. (photo: Frank Mwaluanda)

This story was written for SIL Tanzania by:

Kenny Grindall (Communications Coordinator)

SIL International is a global partner among academic and professional organisations which offer language development services. SIL works alongside speakers of more than 1,700 languages in over 100 countries. Active in Tanzania since 1989, the organization makes its services available to all without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnolinguistic background.