I love old books, and I'm lucky enough to live close to the first Booktown in Norway, which is part of an international network of Booktowns. Every summer the tiny village of Fjærland goes through a metamorphosis. Throughout the whole winter this village - located by one of our more spectacular fjords - is as quiet as any Norwegian village can be, and that's quite quiet. In summertime a dozen bookstores with second-hand books of every kind bring life and people to this place. There are hundreds of thousands of books and magazines to look through, and almost every category of literature is represented, in several languages: novels, poetry magazines, old classical works, scholarly texts of yesteryear, religious volumes, comic books, guidebooks for travelers, to mention just a few genres.
Earlier this summer my friend and colleague Hanne Oftedal found a copy of an American poetry magazine from the 1930s. The magazine had a kind of familiar name: Voices. Nice as Hanne is, she bought the magazine and gave it to me as a present. It was in fact quite interesting to read, with many fine poems in it! Some weeks later, on one of my own visits to the Booktown, I found a volume that gave me the idea for the title of the present column. The book was simply called "Jambo." It was written in the mid-1950s by the Swedish reporter Olle Strandberg, after a travel he had made through Africa; from Tanger in north, to Lagos in west, to Mombasa in east, and to Cape Town in south. On the back cover the publisher had explained the title in the following way: "'Jambo' Means 'Hello' in Africa." The naïveté of this explanation astonished me, as Africa is a rather large place. It would be kind of surprising if "jambo" was the word for "hello" in all of the several hundred languages of this continent.
The title got me thinking: Are we still capable of similar naïveté and ungrounded overgeneralizations when discussing issues of culture? Could we speak of a "Jambo' Means 'Hello' in Africa Syndrome" in scholarly thinking? Let us hope not. But don't we even today sometimes see the use of the generic term "African" in relation to one or another quality or description, as if every African person or context is the same? I must say that I over the last decade have read several books and articles with this fallacy integrated in the argument.
In days as ours, when community music therapy has become part of the agenda of more and more music therapists, this issue is of clear relevance. In my interpretation, one of the reasons why people take interest in community music therapy is that they have been sensitized to the relevance of cultural considerations to clinical practice. Community music therapy is context-based, and change in context therefore is change in content. I believe that in the years to come sensitivity to context and culture to increasing degree will be considered a crucial element of a music therapist's professional qualifications. Hopefully we will soon get beyond "how do you say hello in Africa" and questions of that caliber, but the fact is that what constitutes a context is not a very simple question. People are integral parts of contexts, and people usually don't restrict themselves to their immediate surroundings. In an increasingly glocal world people have a large range of options when choosing elements for the construction of their identities. Contexts then, are more than the circles surrounding us, they are also the links we make ourselves (to artifacts, meanings, works, people, etc.), and such links may be constructed between continents. Let me give you an example:
One of the community music therapy activities in the town where I live is a choir for elderly people; most of them are pensioners, 70 or 80 years of age. At the time being, this choir is led by my colleague Solgunn Knardal. Recently she told me that the favorite tune to sing for the members of this choir is "Malaika." This is a love song, made famous some decades ago by the South African singer Miriam Makeba, but written in Swahili, an East African language where the word "jambo" in fact is in use. The pensioners just love this love song; they enjoy its melody, its rhythm, and they like the sound of the words too. So - while the word "jambo" may not work in all of Africa, it works very well for the pensioners in Sandane, a small town in Western Norway.
Stige, Brynjulf, 2002 The 'Jambo' Means 'Hello' in Africa Syndrome. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2002-jambo-means-hello-africa-syndrome