About The Beatles

So a Tanzanian friend of mine said, he didn’t know of The Beatles until 3 years ago. When I had collected my jaw and marbles off of the floor, I declared that The Beatles undoubtedly is/was one of the most influential bands ever, that they have influenced thousands of artists with their music and activism. He replied, well. “How can they do that – they don’t even have a YouTube channel!”

So much to unpack here! Before you can say, “well, he could mention an East African band and you wouldn’t know it either”: I’m not asking if he knows Tim Christensen, Tina Dico or Alex Vargas (although all three Danish artists have toured outside Denmark). One would be – how can my friend have worked in the music industry for years and not know this? But more to the point: The Beatles, with the development of counter culture and pop music, the ‘British invasion’,  TV appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, the best-selling music act of all time according to Wikipedia etc – that all happened in the 1960’s where most of Africa was shifting from being ruled over to becoming self-governing, without that transition necessarily going smoothly. As described very eloquently in the phenomenal book “Africa is not a country”, there was little regard for who inhabited a given area of land when the international community began dividing Africa up between them at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. Check out the borders. They are unreasonably straight. Straight through grazing areas for nomadic tribes (oops there goes your livelihood), dividing cultures, tribes, languages by a ruler’s ruler. It’s hard to imagine a strong feeling of self, of an identity as a united nation when two-thirds of your people now reside in another ‘country’ next door and a warring tribe makes up your government. So perhaps it’s fair enough that the good folks in Tanzania were a fraction less up to speed on what went on outside Africa.

Which brings me to my second point. I’ve coined what I observe around me as Today Culture. You get up in the morning, you get to the fishermen at 6 am, you get the little fish (dagaa) to the big rocks and you dry them, and then you sell as much as you can, you feed your kids with what you have, and tend to chores, and you go to bed and start over tomorrow. There’s only little point in worrying too much about or even plan for the future, as that is not a given. Obviously, there are many levels to this, and this is just one example of life playing out. Subsistence agriculture, understood to be farming just enough to meet your own needs, is not a bad plan at all, but that kind of farming is very vulnerable to climate change and has likely low crop variability, possibly leading to some kind of malnutrition. Typically, children are needed to participate in this kind of farming, so no or only little school for them. This is not an environment where one is urged to be preoccupied with which kind of hair cuts are all the rave with The Beatles, brand new chord progressions or blending of Eastern philosophies with psychedelic drugs for increased awareness. We’ll get through Today and we’ll see about tomorrow when we wake up after tonight. The late Hans Rosling, of TED talk fame, insisted that yes, Sub-Saharan Africa is lagging behind but also that they are catching up really really fast. I’m not expert on anything whatsoever and even less so on African geopolitics but average life expectancy in Tanzania has gone up dramatically in 60 years. Instead of expecting to just clear 40 years of age in the 1960’s, the life expectancy is now 66 years. In the same time span, instead of having 50.000 children per 1000 people, they have 35.000. Please take a look at his wonderfully illustrative videos, like this one, when you have a moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpKbO6O3O3M

Which brings me to my third and final point: ‘How The Beatles could possibly influence anyone without a YouTube channel’. The confidence with which this was said, my friend’s tone of “well, obviously, that ain’t gonna work without YouTube”, perhaps strangely, does give me a bit of hope. Everywhere I go, people have cell phones. The women drying their dagaa are doing so, bum in air, cell phone to ear. The motor cycle drivers are driving while on their phone. Texting, calling, whatsapping constantly. Getting money out from a teller goes by phone in a matter of a minute (if you are slow like me, two minutes). So there’s at least a potential for connectedness and sharing of information at a rate, distance and level unheard of until quite recently. Like my guide said last year while we were exploring Moshi: ‘You can sit next to each other and be far away’ – pointing out the obvious pitfall of modern technology. But you can also be close even when you are far away – I’m in daily contact with a number of good friends in Europe, for instance, and I still have my Dutch Netflix here. One of my lovely patients in Amsterdam has done many stints in Africa as an anaesthesiology assistant explained it to me like this: If a farmer has an unexpectedly big harvest and he needs 10 farmhands today to get the harvest in… Instead of having to wait for word of mouth to reach the day workers, by text they know instantly where work is at and can gather and get to it. Way to go, Internet/tech advances. I’m looking forward to being on the ground as Tanzania changes…

I know this is not a Beatles song, but John Lennon was a pretty good Beatle:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one




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