From the streets of Tanzania to success on the dance floor

Tuesday February 23 2021

Tadhi Alawi (left) and Samwel Japhet Silas at Nafasi Artspace. PHOTO | COURTESY | NICHOLAS CALVIN

By The EastAfrican

An ability to accept the now' is Samwel Japhet Silas' mantra.

“I learnt to accept the present moment whatever it brings.”

This is his most cherished lesson from living on the streets for more than 10 years.

Silas, now in his early thirties (he doesn't know his exact age), is a professional dancer and a rising star in the contemporary dance field in Tanzania. He has performed on various platforms in the country and abroad in places like South Korea, South Africa, Uganda, Netherlands, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Senegal and Germany.

Silas recounts the fateful day he left his uncle’s home in Shinyanga and decided to go and live on his own despite being a child with no money and the streets as his destination.

He moved around the streets of Singida, Mwanza, Dodoma, Shinyanga and Tabora. He had two stints in Dar es Salaam, a city that would later change the trajectory of his life for good.


Silas was well versed with the charitable deeds of ‘dada’ Nyakwesi Mujaya, the executive director of Makini, an NGO that uses art to alleviate the ills encountered by street children in Dar es Salaam. He recalls nonchalantly how they were rounded up by Makini but the counselling didn’t really sink in for him. It was the free meals or trips to the beach that had him interested.

He then left the city. And when he returned to Dar es Salaam, he encountered Makini once more and  began to participate more fully in their programmes in 2011.

“I like exercising and they gave us plenty of that. We would rehearse at the University of Dar es Salaam FPA campus and the perform at various platforms like the Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise or Nafasi. I learned various art skills as we got to perform through drama plays, drawing, dancing and so on. We would jump on a bus, be sponsored with meals and transport for the day, and just show up to perform at these art centres in the city.”

In 2013, Silas got on the bus for such a trip to Nafasi Artspace, not knowing that it was an audition. A new dance school was being established and they were auditioning for their first batch of students of Muda Africa. Silas was among the two who got a full scholarship for a three-year dance diploma. In 2014, Silas was enrolled formally at Muda Africa and the rest as they say is history.

He brushed shoulders with the best in the world like Zimbabwean-born Nora Chipaumire, a renowned USA-based choreographer .

Silas and Tadhi Alawi, his classmate at Muda, established Nantea Dance Company in 2016. Though he mostly works as a solo artiste, participating in workshops and residencies worldwide has solidified his career as an international dance star.


This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on January 23, 2021.