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Tanzanian Albinos, Harassed and Persecuted All Their Lives, Sing Their Healing in Powerful Songs

( [email protected] ) Jun 01, 2017 08:25 AM EDT
From the time of their birth, albinos in Tanzania face the risk of being hunted for their body parts for witchcraft purposes. Politicians and businessmen employ the services of witch doctors who use albinos' body parts for rituals borne out of a misguided belief that these bring luck and wealth.

A record producer gathered together a group of albinos from Tanzania to give them a voice and help them express what they have gone through because of the intense persecution against them.
The Tanzania Albinism Collective recorded a 23-track album, White African Power, that will be available for download starting on June 2. Tanzania Albinism Collective

A record producer gathered together a group of albinos from Tanzania to give them a voice and help them express what they have gone through because of the intense persecution against them.

On June 2016, Grammy award winning producer Ian Brennan traveled to Ukerewe Island in Tanzania together with his wife and co-producer Marilena Delli to search for people with albininism who would be willing to work with him in recording an album, Newsweek reported.

Ukerewe is known to be a place where albinos in Tanzania find refuge. Brennan said he chose albinos because they are among the most persecuted in the country.

"When you're talking about a population that is being raped and murdered and mutilated alive, that's pretty extreme by any standards of all the bad things that happen in the world," Brennan told Newsweek.

From the time of their birth, albinos face the risk of being hunted for their body parts for witchcraft purposes. According to reports, politicians and businessmen in Tanzania employ the services of witch doctors who use albinos' body parts for rituals borne out of a misguided belief that these bring luck and wealth.

A 2009 Red Cross advocacy report stated, "the market for albino body parts exists mainly if not exclusively in Tanzania, generated by big-money buyers who use them as talismans to bring luck and above all wealth."

A "complete set" of albino body parts could fetch for about $75,000, the report said.  

The attacks are heightened during election season, as candidates resort to witchcraft to boost their chances of winning. In 2015, an election year, the police noted increased attacks and killings of albinos in the first few months of the year alone.

Over the years, the attacks have left many Tanzanian albinos dead. Many of those who survive live with disabilities for the rest of their lives. Others live in fear that they could become victims.

Aside from facing the risk of being hunted by witch doctors, albinos also find it difficult to integrate with society. In Tanzania, they are considered different and are often treated with contempt. Having an albino in the family is considered as a bad omen.

These are the reasons why Brennan chose to launch a recording project with albinos in the country. He wanted to give a voice to Tanzania's highly persecuted minorities. He was able to gather around 20 albinos to participate in the recording.

Brennan admitted the project wasn't easy at first; the albinos, who had been prohibited from singing even in church because they were "different," approached the recording with a lot of stored up hurt.

"There was such a lack of confidence-almost a total shut down of creativity," Brennan said, according to Bandcamp Daily.

However, when he encouraged them to write about their experiences, they began to really open up. The loneliness and isolation they felt came out, leading to powerful song titles like "They Gossiped When I Was Born" and "Never Forget the Killings."

The result is a 23-track album, White African Power, featuring touching and deeply personal songs. The album became a channel through which the Tanzania Albinism Collective, as the group is called, was able to tell their stories. 

"The project showed us we could do things we never thought possible," Julius, a member of the Collective, said. "I love music. I enjoy the opportunity to express myself through singing."

The album will be available for download starting on June 2. 

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