Brooklyn to Tanzania: “Mama Creator”

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By: Lisa Russell, Documentary Filmmaker and Co-Founder,

As a documentary filmmaker who creates films with UN/NGO agencies, I get the luxury of walking in two distinct worlds. The socially conscious creative world and the humanitarian/development world. Both are infused with passionated, committed people, both strive for social progress and both experience the webs and flows that come with the success as well as the challenges in trying to make change in the world.

As co-founder of I have been working to bridge these two worlds around the issue of maternal health. And this week, I have seen the power of that bridge during a workshop taking place in Dar es Salaam Tanzania and at the he Sauti za Busara festival (East Africa’s biggest music festival that occurs in Zanzibar each year and showcases more than four hundred African musicians over five days.)

With the support of the UNFPA office in Tanzania, I brought Brooklyn based artists, Maya Azucena (an award winning singer and co-founder of and Okai (one of NYC’s most talented percussionists and emcees) to write and record a new song on maternal health in collaboration with some of Tanzania’s top musicians. This included “Mzungu Kichaa” (a Danish citizen who has lived in Tanzania for a large part of his life and speaks fluent Swahili), Lady JayDee (known as one of the most famous R&B singers in East Africa), Fid Q (a famous emcee and hip hop artist who works with NGOs such as EngenderHealth, FHI, USAID, and others) and Mrisho Mptoto (a well known TV personality and spoken word artist). The song was produced by Ambrose “Dungu” – known as Tanzania’s most prominent music producer.

As part of our workshop, I screened my film “Not Yet Rain.” Afterward, the UNFPA Representative in Tanzania, Julitta Onabanjo, sat with all the artists and presented to us the challenges facing women in pregnancy and childbirth in Tanzania. She answered questions from the artists who then took pen to paper to start writing the lyrics. It was an inspiring process to witness, especially between artists who have such different cultural and lingual references but share similar professional and musical inclinations.

After the workshop, the artists spoke about how interesting it was to be able to interact with an institution on such a unique level. We all agreed that having the sort of access and support that we received from the UNFPA Country Office enabled us to be more on point with lyrics that can touch on the important messages and ideas about maternal health.

The song that resulted is called “Mama Creator” which is sung in Swahili and English. At nearly 4 minutes long, it is an uplifting song with a memorable chorus and strong lyrics. Many who have heard it in Tanzania believe it has the ability to become popular with local radio stations because it has so many famous musicians and is such a strong song. We also see its importance in the mission of in bringing it to an international level and engaging other artists around maternal health.

The test will come when we release the song and music video on our website and through local Tanzania channels on International Women’s Day (March 8th). I’ll be editing a mini-documentary about the creative process and producing Advocacy Packets that provide guidelines to organizations on how to attract and retain the involvement of creative communities in the maternal health movement. We then hope to return to Zanzibar for the Zanzibar International Film Festival to do a live performance of “Mama Creator” with all participating artists, show the mini-doc and host film and music workshops with other artists attending the festival.

My hope is that by bringing these two worlds together around the issue of maternal health, that we draw new audiences into the fight to make the world a better place for women.