In 2016, producer and author Ian Brennan (best known for producing Tinariwen’s Grammy-winning album, Tassili, as well as the critically-acclaimed Zomba Prison Project releases) traveled to the far north of Tanzania, to an isolated island on Lake Victoria called Ukerewe. Because of its remoteness, Ukerewe is now a haven for many Tanzanians living with albinism. Albinism, of course, is a disorder most commonly characterized by a complete lack of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes.
People with albinism in Tanzania and eastern Africa face enormous challanges because of the way they look. Some East Africans believe those with albinism to be “demonic” in nature and that their body parts can transmit magical powers if made into tinctures or potions. This has led not only to the ostracizing of those with the condition (like on the island of Ukerewe), but to grisly killings, often involving dismemberment.
Given this context, it’s not hard to understand why Ukerewe has become a refuge to those with albinism. The island is so remote that, historically, parents would travel there to abandon their children with albinism. Among families that do keep their children, those with albinism are often kept apart from the rest of the family, forced to eat outside and are forbidden from singing at church, among other restrictions
Brennan journeyed to Ukerewe to work with members of the Standing Voice community. On the island, he held songwriting workshops, encouraging volunteers to to write about their experiences and to express what they wanted others to understand about their existence.