MENARD MPONDA (Mbeya, Tanzania, 1968–)

Menard Mponda performing with Cheza Ngoma dancers at Fest Afrika, June 2009 (photo by Eeva Anundi).

Written by Elina Seye (University of Tampere, Finland)

Menard Mponda is a Tanzanian musician and dancer who has been residing in Finland since 1995. Mponda was born in 1968 in Mbeya, South Western Tanzania, to a family with a strong affection for music: a brother and a sister of his have also become professional musicians. Mponda studied dance and music, along with other subjects, at the Bagamoyo College of Arts (Chuo cha Sanaa Bagamoyo, in 2007 renamed to Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo) during 1992–95. One of his teachers in Bagamoyo was Arnold Chiwalala, another influential Tanzanian musician living in Finland.

After completing the National Diploma in Arts in Bagamoyo, Mponda traveled to Finland to study in a one-year dance program at the Orivesi Institute of Arts. In Orivesi he studied mainly Western contemporary dance and ballet, but also started teaching traditional Tanzanian dances and music to Finnish students, which he continued for another year after finishing his own studies, giving workshops also elsewhere in Finland. From Orivesi he moved to Tampere, where he continued his activities teaching and performing.

In 1997 he founded together with his students in Tampere the Association Cheza Ngoma that organizes regular dance and drumming classes with Mponda as the main teacher. The more advanced dance students also perform Mponda’s choreographies of traditional and modern African dances. In addition to Cheza Ngoma, he has been teaching regularly in various dance schools in Tampere and Helsinki, and giving dance and drumming workshops all over Finland, sometimes also abroad. Furthermore, he has been organizing and leading drum-building workshops for anyone interested in the East African ngoma drum.

Mponda has also been giving repeated workshops and performances in schools, especially after the city of Tampere started a collaboration with the city of Mwanza in Northern Tanzania in 2002. In connection with this cooperation, the city of Tampere has made the effort to present its Tanzanian twin city and Tanzanian culture to its inhabitants.

Mponda has been performing as a solo artist as well as together with other musicians and dancers. He has participated in many of Arnold Chiwalala’s  productions that combine traditional Tanzanian and Finnish music. In 2000 he formed together with Aliko Mwakanjuki, a fellow student of Bagamoyo also residing in Finland, a band called Mawe Cultural Troupe that performed traditional Tanzanian songs, drumming and dance. In addition to the two founders the band included a third Tanzanian musician and two Finnish singers. Mawe Cultural Troupe was active until 2009. Since then, Mponda has been performing a similar repertoire with his family group The Mpondas, including his two brothers and a sister living in Finland, occasionally other family members. The Mpondas perform traditional Ngoni songs that they learned as children from their parents.

Since moving to Tampere, Mponda has been organizing events alongside with his activities as a teacher and an artist. His influence has probably been most visible through his efforts as the founder and the artistic director of Fest Afrika, a festival for African music organized in Tampere every summer since 2002. Mponda came up with the idea for a festival together with two Tanzanians, Aliko Mwakanjuki and Cliff Ogutu, and a group of members of the Cheza Ngoma association. Later a separate association was founded to oversee the festival arrangements, although the group of organizers has remained more or less the same from the beginning.

Although Fest Afrika was launched by a group of Tanzanian and Finnish enthusiasts of East African music and dance, the organizers did not want to focus only on Tanzanian or East African music. Instead, the goal of the festival is to present many African cultures, make them better known among Finnish people, and to advance connections between people from different African countries. Most of the performers have been artists, bands and dance groups from Finland, but almost every year the festival has also featured visitors from abroad, often African bands from other European countries. Most likely all of the professional African musicians living in Finland have performed at least once at Fest Afrika during its history, many several times. In addition, Afro-Brasilian and Afro-Cuban music and dance has been included. In addition to performances, the festival has offered music and dance workshops and sometimes other connected program, such as photo and art exhibitions.

In addition to Fest Africa and other African music events, Mponda has also been involved in the organization of reggae events produced by the Nigerian DJ Fadda Francis and his company One Love Events.

In 2008 Mponda received the title “Vuoden mahdollistaja” (Enabler of the year), a yearly award dealt out by local NGO’s to an individual, a society or a company that has promoted multiculturalism and tolerance in the Tampere region.

In 2010 Mponda was accepted to study at the Sibelius Academy in the Nordic Master of Global Music (GLOMAS) program as one of four students from Finland. This new program is a joint study program of three Nordic academies of music, and it emphasizes professional skills needed in the contemporary multicultural music scenes. Together with his fellow GLOMAS students at the Sibelius Academy, Mponda has formed a band called Reach the Air that mixes musical influences from different parts of the world. Another recent project is the band Ethnopolis that similarly creates a mixture of different musical traditions, calling their own style “urban ethnofusion”. The band consists of six immigrant musicians from five continents, each bringing their own musical expertise to the band.

DVD:

Mawe Cultural Troupe: Stone one, live & studio (2005). Nabeina.

External links:

Fest Afrika, http://festafrika.net/

Cheza Ngoma, http://www.chezangoma.net/

Reach the Air, http://www.myspace.com/reachtheair

Taasisi ya Sanaa na Utamaduni Bagamoyo, http://www.tasuba.ac.tz/