This proposal seeks $10,000 to finance the completion of the Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya (www.bluegecko.org/kenya), a non-profit multimedia website dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of the traditional music, cultures, knowledge and heritage of Kenya's tribes. Despite being only one quarter complete, the website currently comprises over 500 pages of texts, 235 images and seven hours of music, and has received 30,000 visitors since going online in May 2000. The site owes its existence to a personal passion for traditional African music and cultures, and a desire to preserve those of Kenya in particular, following two trips of almost a year in that country. The site has been entirely self-funded so far, and has taken twelve months of (unpaid) full-time work to create. It is, and will always remain, entirely non-commercial, and does not contain advertising or product endorsements of any kind.
The impetus behind the site's creation came during my second trip to Kenya, over 1998-1999, while updating the Rough Guide to Kenya, a tourist guidebook. During my travels, which covered all of the country except the troubled northeast, I collected 130 cassettes of traditional music - ngoma ya kiasili, literally "music of the ancestors". Although the size of the collection, covering thirty-one tribes, may appear to be significant (indeed, it could be the world's fourth-largest archive of traditional Kenyan music, following the collections of the National Museum of Kenya (Nairobi), the Kenya Broadcasting Company (KBC), and the Kenya Permanent Presidential Commission for Music, none of which are accessible to the general public), the recordings represent pretty much all that was available without conducting fresh field recordings, and as such implies that a huge amount of material has already been lost.
Indeed, during my travels I swiftly came to realize that many of Kenya's traditional cultures, and with them their music and an inestimable wealth of accumulated knowledge, are disappearing rather than adapting and changing to the new ways. The pace of political, social and economic change in Kenya is much too fast, too pressing, and too powerful, for the old ways to resist vanishing entirely. This, and the often dire physical quality of the analog cassettes I'd collected, many of which contain unique recordings of music that has already gone, meant that my priority once back home was to digitize the collection. Much to my initial surprise (albeit not to anyone who knows my propensity for ambitious projects), the resulting website rapidly took on the proportions of an encyclopaedia, and now serves as a repository for an enormous amount of otherwise hard-to-find cultural information. The website's primary purposes, therefore, are to preserve and make accessible a storehouse of archival material, and to stimulate interest (and pride) in Kenyan and African music and cultures at a time when many of the old ways, beliefs and customs - in some cases dating back over several thousand years - are being swept away.
The site's broad scope, the depth of its coverage, and its accessible language and style, is aimed equally at Kenyans and non-Kenyans, and to students and academics as well as those with a casual interest. Judging from emails and guest book entries received from visitors, the site also functions as a positive affirmation for Kenyans of the value of their cultures; see feedback, at the end of this proposal, for a representative selection of comments.
Regrettably, work on the website was shelved in September 2000 when I began work to research and write new guidebooks to Tanzania and Zanzibar, a full-time task that took until October 2002 to complete. The advance payment for those books failed even to pay my travelling costs (and royalties will only pay off the advance and subsequent updates in 2008), hence this proposal seeking external funding to complete the website.
The project is divided into four phases; funding is currently sought for the first two, which, funding permitting, will take sixteen months, with completion scheduled for August 2004.
Phase I (nine months, using materials already in my possession), will bring the website to initial completion, more than tripling its current coverage to thirty-five tribes, 1500 pages of texts, 700 images and twenty-five hours of music.
Phase II (seven months, including four in Nairobi), for which funding is also sought, involves the collation and digitization of material from the archives of the National Museum of Kenya, and the consequent expansion of the website to cover all of Kenya's forty-two officially-recognized tribes in 2000 pages of texts, 1500 images, thirty-five hours of music and two hours of video.
Phases III and IV, which are described in this proposal but for which funding is not yet sought, involve the creation of new field recordings of both music and oral traditions, and the further expansion of the website to cover tribes excluded from the official census. Audio CDs (to profit performers and their communities) will also be produced, as will a multimedia CD-ROM, broadcast-quality documentary film footage, and a multimedia archive of the project to be distributed to various educational and non-profit institutions within Kenya and northern Tanzania.
Phases III and IV will involve a small project team (researcher, photographer and videographer, sound engineer and translator), but the two initial stages that are subject to this proposal require only myself. Certainly, this is an ambitious undertaking for one person alone, but in my defence (if such is needed), ambitious projects - and their successful conclusions - are certainly not a novelty: aged 18-19, I cycled alone from the UK to the Gambia, a six-month, 8000-kilometre trip that took me clean across the Sahara. Subsequently, I wrote a book describing the journey (my first foray into serious writing), which was published in 1996 as Chasing the Lizard's Tail (Impact Books, London). More recently, I've researched and written two guidebooks: the 320-page Rough Guide to Zanzibar, and the 800-page Rough Guide to Tanzania (of which I am inordinately proud), and which together required a full-time commitment of 25 months - the reason for having had to shelve work on the website.
The funding currently sought, $10,000, will entirely cover the cost of Phases I and II, being sixteen months of full-time work, including four in Kenya, with completion scheduled for the end of August 2004. By any standards, this is extremely cheap for the completion of nothing less than an encyclopaedia! Incidentally, the non-profit nature of the site, and the explicit terms of copyright permissions obtained for reproducing photographs and texts from third parties, exclude the possibility of commercial advertising.
I do hope that you'll find this proposal to be of interest. Should you require a copy of the website as it currently stands on CD-ROM, I'd be happy to oblige - just let me know.