I’m sitting at Cafe Latte on Grand Avenue and Victoria Street sipping a hot cup of coffee. I know it’s summer, it’s really humid, but my nerves are on a roll and need calming. I’m early for an interview with Innocent Galinoma, a reggae artist based in Minnesota, but originally from Tanzania. The coffee helps me relax as the minutes tick away. I go through my questions for the tenth time and revisit in my mind, the songs I know by Innocent. Before long, I’m sitting face to face with the artist himself. Two things immediately stand out: one, I gave him the wrong directions, however, he still made it, and the second, his long dreadlocks are no more. He’s cool about it all and seems very comfortable with the new look. We chat for a few minutes before getting into the interview.
Innocent begun his music career in Tanzania where he sang in the Church choir with his mother and two brothers. He recalls when a famous choir master attended his Church, St. Immaculate Church in Upanga, Dar es Salaam, and recognized his music talent in front of the congregation. This, he says, is one of many moments he is proud of and also marks the moment when he realized he could really sing. When he was in high school, innocent begun playing the guitar and listening to different styles of music. On occasion, he and a few of his friends got the opportunity to perform at wedding receptions before the main band performed.
It was not until he listened to Bob Marley, that Innocent’s love for reggae music materialized. In the early eighties, Innocent moved to the United States to attend college and pursue his love for music. While studying Computer Science, Innocent confesses that his mind was rarely attentive enough, as his interest lay in music. After a short three years in the United States, he decided to move back to Tanzania and concentrate on his music career.
Back home, Innocent joined a band, Mionzi – which means sunray – and toured with the band for two years in Tanzania. During the band performances, Innocent played different roles; a drummer, a bass player and singer. Though he enjoyed singing, Innocent does mention that it was somewhat difficult because he didn’t always get to perform the songs he wrote. Besides that, the experience with the band for those years he says was wonderful.
As the interview progresses, Innocent who is quite humorous, accompanies most of his answers with anecdotes. While on tour with the band and traveling by train to Kigoma, near Gombe Innocent remembers a violent downpour that broke the railway tracks apart. Unfortunately, the carriage he and the band were riding in was separated from that which had their musical instruments. Though stranded, Innocent got to meet Jane Goodall, the famous "ape lady" who lived in Tanzania then, before finally getting their equipment back, three months after the accident.
After a few years home, Innocent once again moved to the United States, this time focusing solely on his music. He lived in New York for a while before a friend living in Minnesota invited him to visit. In a matter of a week, Innocent decided to permanently move to Minnesota which turned out to be a good call on his part.
He joined Les Exodus, a reggae band that performed across America. Les Exodus released a CD titled Kilimanjaro before part of the members decided to go separate ways. Despite this, Innocent’s musical talent didn’t fall short as it won him the Minnesota Music Award for best male vocalist for World Music. This stands out as another proud moment in his career and he lets me know that the award is back in Tanzania at his fathers’ house, well polished and appreciated.
Of his music, Innocent says his favorite songs are always the ones he is currently working on. Though he gets a lot of requests on particular songs – Kilimanjaro, Mama I’m coming home, Sote ni Ndugu – he personally enjoys working on new music.
Having listened to his music which is soulful and heartfelt, Innocent affirms that his message, which has mainly been a better life for Africa, has not changed over the years, it’s only grown stronger. This message is clear throughout his other CDs that include Greetings from Africa, Full moon and Shine Africa.
Recently he performed in Duluth at the Bayfront Reggae Festival with artists such as Sister Carol, Third World and Gizzae. Throughout the years, Innocent has been opening for artists like Burning Spear, Lucky Dube, Freddie McGregor and Sugar Minott, who has been a major influence in the reggae music scene.
He has also worked on projects that highlight issues going on in Africa. A few years ago he collaborated with Red Cross for a fund raiser to help aid the situation in Rwanda, and a few months back, he was involved in a concert to aid Darfur. His future prospects include concerts in Africa on AIDS awareness, similar to the Wrap It Up campaign in America. He also has CDs in the works, one in Swahili and the other in English which he hopes to release soon.
On Friday nights, Innocent performs at the Blue Nile in Minneapolis and continues to have performances in different States in America.
It’s always interesting to meet an artist because you never know what you get. We idolize them, long to know this life that they live and be a part of it. But with Innocent Galinoma, it’s not the glamour or the fame. It’s the fulfillment of a dream through music and having a purpose in it all. He’s funny, interesting but importantly particular about his music, his words, his message and the way he delivers it.Go to photo gallery for images.
About Helen Kinuthia
Helen blogs on the Minneapolis nightlife and entertainment scene. You can read her entries here.
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Really appreciate all your posts on lesser-known African musicians residing and performing in the Twin Cities. I’m always surprised by the depth, story, and variety of musicians and culture that you present. Thank you and keep on posting. Always look forward to reading your pieces. The piece on Innocent, I have featured on my own blog, Minneapolis World Beat (www.mnworldbeat.com).
Are you planning to cover any of the musicians performing at Afrifest?
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