The reel deal: Rare musical gems saved from oblivion in Tanzania

Story highlights

  • The Tanzania Heritage Project is digitizing 100,000 hours of audio
  • Dating from the 1960s to the 1980s, the collection spans music, news and plays
  • The collection is under threat from an adverse climate and old age

CNN's On the Road series brings you a greater insight into countries around the world. This time we travel to Tanzania to explore the places, the people and the passions unique to this African nation.

(CNN)"A country which lacks its own culture is no more than a collection of people without the spirit which makes them a nation."

These are the words of Julius K. Nyerere, Tanzania's first president and Baba wa Taifa ("Father of the Nation"), spoken to parliament on December 10, 1962.
It's a sentiment being preserved both literally and figuratively by the Tanzania Heritage Project, a non-profit initiative on a mission to protect and promote the country's rich aural culture.
    The organization has set itself the monumental task of digitizing 100,000 hours of rare audio recordings from the reel-to-reel archives of the country's public broadcaster. But far from being a monotonous task, what they've discovered is a vital source of Tanzanian history. From Swahili jazz to interviews with Mohammed Ali, there's a host of gems from the past waiting to be rediscovered and reclaimed by the nation.

    Building a nation across the airwaves

    Tanzania Heritage Project
    "Storytelling and oral history are very important to Tanzanian culture," explains project co-founder and director Rebecca Corey. "Stories, myths, legends, even proverbs, rhymes and songs, all play a part in forming the identity of Tanzanian people and culture as a whole."
    Rebecca Corey