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February 28, 2004

Duluth News Tribune

"Maasai music is like a window into Maasai culture. Each age (group) writes their own songs. They don't take from the old ones," Johnson said. "Songs live and die with each age set. I couldn't find any songs that were over 70 years old." Since 2001, Johnson has made it his mission to try to preserve the traditional a cappella music sung by the Maasai. After his first three-week trip in 2001, Johnson released "The Music of the Maasai" on compact disc and its sales allowed him to provide Saitoti with enough money to finish high school. Now numbering about 250,000, the Maasai have struggled to maintain their pastoral lifestyle while becoming surrounded by development and urbanization. Many warriors and young men earn a living by singing traditional songs at tourist lodges in the nearby wildlife preserves.

Maasai culture is threatened once more, this time by the lodges that exploit the Maasai as tourist attractions and develop the region with no regard to environmental and cultural preservation, said Serena Wilcox, executive director of the Maasai Heritage Preservation Foundation. "The problem comes in when there's big money in the Mara," Wilcox said. "There's half a billion dollars generated in the Maasai Mara alone." Singing is an important element in Maasai culture, Wilcox explained. Songs can identify groups, tribes or age sets. They serve as encouragement, entertainment and capture the immediate history of the people writing them. More

Posted by acapnews at February 28, 2004 8:52 AM

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