How the nose flute became a cultural treasure in Tanzania

(CNN)One of Tanzania's most endangered possessions isn't its wildlife; it's its music.

Dozens of musical instruments -- and the skill set to play them -- are facing extinction in Tanzania, which is why Rebecca Corey, co-founder of the Tanzania Heritage Project, is on a mission to save them.
"Music in Tanzania is a repository for knowledge, beliefs, rituals, traditions, even historical events, so this heritage is important to keeping the fabric of social life whole and vibrant," she says.
    Corey's organization has set itself the monumental task of digitizing hundreds of thousands of hours of traditional Tanzanian music. With this aim, she goes out on "recording safaris," to meet with and record the few musicians left who both make and play the country's traditional instruments, musicians like Kauzeni Lyamba, who is connecting with his roots by playing the flute. But not with his mouth. Lyamba plays the nose flute, an ancient instrument he says comes from Morogoro, 105 miles west of the capital Dar es Salaam.

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    "It's the expression of our ancestors," he explains in the run up to a performance with his group the Wika Band. And when Lyamba takes to the stage, he plays with not one but two flutes, made from bamboo and lodged up each nostril.
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    Lyamba is looking to pass on the skills, if not the flutes made and used by himself. The nose flute is not as niche an instruments as you might think -- versions have been part of indigenous cultures from Hawaii to India -- but Lyamba faces an uphill battle keeping the instrument alive in his own country.
    "There's a danger that these instruments (will) not be made and (will not) exist as they are right now," he says. Lyamba cites television as introducing a variety of western influences and mainstream music -- a tough environment to tout what some might see as an unsexy instrument.
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    He insists that it's still possible to keep the flame alive. "Some of us who have knowledge with this and who are still young," Lyamba says, "have to find a way to teach others because this instrument and the music is very good."
    "Traditional musical instruments first of all are part of (our) history, and second, it's part of (our) identity," he argues. "It's where we find out where we are coming from."
    By running workshops he's sharing ideas about African music, but that's not the only means of preserving the sound. Working with the Tanzania Heritage Project, Lyamba is able to digitally record the unique sounds of the nose flute, available online for generations to come.
    "We have to make sure this music is alive," he says.