Born in Morogoro (Tanzania), Ras Nas aka Nasibu Mwanukuzi, is an African musician who blends african music and reggae with a dash of poetry. Ras Nas is singer-songwriter, poet, guitarist, percussionist and producer based in Oslo. Ras Nas' latest album "Dar-es-Salaam" is out now and available from Kongoi Records.
Interview by Jack Little, UK/Mexico (Published in Issue 8)
1. As a poet and a musician, what languages do you perform in?
I mainly use English and Swahili languages. This is because these two languages are the main languages spoken in Tanzania. There are however a lot of other tribal languages in Tanzania, but these are not used to communicate on a national scale. I love the Swahili language as it is very poetic by nature.
2. How has African music, especially from East Africa influenced you as an artist?
Yeah, I grew up listening to a lot of musicians from East Africa. When I was a kid we did not have many options as there are today with the advent of the internet and other media. So, the main source was the radio and, of course, the gramophone. I was especially drawn to Congolese rumba as this was hugely popular in East and Central Africa in the 60’s. It was kind of “in” and also the music was very captivating.
So, when I started playing music I naturally copied the styles of musical greats of that period like Luambo Luanzo Makiadi aka Franco (from Congo) and Mbaraka Mwishehe (from Tanzania). This is how I learned to play the African guitar and develop my own style.
3. What is your favourite African album of all time?
I would say “Mario” by Luambo Luanzo Makiadi (1989)
4. How old were you when you became interested in music, theatre and poetry?
I have memories of me playing music at around four years, which was beating bamboo sticks and producing different sounds together with other children in the neighbourhood. However, I started to develop a serious interest in singing when I joined a church choir in 1968. At the same time I started playing acoustic guitar as well as traditional African drums.
My interest in theatre came later when I went to secondary school and here we had different drama groups. I also started to read plays written by African writers like Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I was also very fascinated by William Shakespeare’s “Julius Ceasar” and “The Merchants of Venice” which were translated into Swahili by Julius Nyerere (the first president of Tanzania).
When it comes to poetry I started writing when I was around 16 years. Poetry was a substitute for painting because there was a time it was very difficult to buy paints in Dar-es-Salaam. The only choice I had was to start painting by words, and that is how I develop an interest in poetry.
5. You have performed at many festivals and concerts all over the world. Do you interact differently with your audiences depending on the country that you are performing in?
Yes I do although the difference is not all that big. Fortunately, music is a universal language. So whether I am in Europe or Africa the audience has been reacting positively. I have, for example, performed in places like Sri Lanka, Egypt, Norway, Tanzania and Germany and in all these countries the audience has shown genuine interest and love for the music. Although the sometimes audience does not understand the language I am singing in this has not been a problem. It is the music, the soul and the rhythm that matter. Even when I perform to different age groups I do not see a big difference in how the audience reacts to the music.
6. Please tell us about your proudest achievement as an artist and performer.
I always think my performance for Nelson Mandela in 1992 was the most memorable and inspiring performances that I have ever done. This was in Oslo, Norway, when Mandela made his first trip abroad after he was released from jail.
7. What is your favourite thing about being an African artist in Norway? What is the most challenging thing?
Living in Norway as an African artist has in a way made me appreciate African music and art even more. Being away from home creates a sense of nostalgia and a need to keep one’s roots so as not to lose track of oneself. It is also a very good feeling to know that by playing African music in Norway I also take part in promoting African culture abroad. This is one of the best ways of fighting stereotypes about Africa.
The most challenging part is the fact of being away from home and fighting against prejudice. Living in Norway has also meant learning a new language and adapting to another system of weather. The winter season with a lengthy dark period can sometime be overwhelming.
8. Apart from music, what other projects are you working on at the moment?
I am working on publishing a collection of poems and short stories. I hope to be able to realise the project in the near future.
9. Do you have any advice for young aspiring performers who may be reading this?
I would like to say this: Don’t give up and one should always believe in one’s talents no matter how long it takes. There are no short cuts in realising one’s dreams. Believing in one-self is the key!
Find out more about Ras Nas' latest projects at: http://www.rasnas.kongoi.com/