Knights of Columbus Tanzania

Members of the Tanzania Ceili Band (seated l-r) Ray Lucas, fiddle, Meg Ferguson, guitar, and Claudette Sikora, band coordinator and Irish button accordion. (standing l-r) Norm Myers, Bodhran drum, Martin McCann, wooden flute, Tim Lynch, President of Tanzanian Children's Project, and Harry Ferguson, hammered Dulcimer. The band is rehearsing for one of their up-coming performance at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. The traditional Irish band started in 2010 out of the Tanzanian Children's Project to raise funds to support orphans from the African country by building orphanage and medical center. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / March 11, 2014)

It's not often you hear of a traditional Irish band that features the name of an impoverished African nation in its title.

But the Tanzania Ceili Band, which performs lively Irish music for social dancing, isn't your average group.

The seven-member band was formed to raise money to build a medical clinic, Catholic school and orphanage in a remote region of Tanzania in East Africa.

The musicians bolster the fundraising efforts of the Tanzanian Children's Project, a nonprofit formed five years ago by Knights of Columbus Columbia Council 7559.

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The compound that the local council is raising funds to build in the rural village of Mahida — which will be known as Our Lady of Fatima Children's Center — is "a pretty massive concept, and it comes with a $500,000 price tag," said Timothy Lynch, project president since its inception.

That's why the organization's fifth St. Patrick's Day Celebration on March 22 would benefit greatly from community support, said Lynch, a Clarksville resident.

Lynch, a Boston native of Irish descent, came up with the idea of tying a fundraiser to St. Patrick's Day revelry. With a catered dinner featuring corned beef and cabbage and shepherd's pie, along with performances by two bands and Irish dancers, the event has contributed to the project since 2010.

Lynch's wife, Claudette Sikora, took her cue from her husband's Irish theme and formed the Tanzania Ceili Band to perform at the first St. Patrick's Day Celebration in 2010.

"The relationship between the band and the project is symbiotic," said Sikora, who plays button accordion with the group.

While members hold formal practices instead of approaching their music casually, as traditional ceili bands do, she said, they "stay true to Irish traditions."

"Ceili" (ppronounced KAY-lee) is a Gaelic word meaning a social gathering with music.

Musicians in the Tanzania Ceili Band play fiddle, accordion, mandolin, guitar, piano, wooden flute, tin whistle and hammered dulcimer. This year, guest performers will join the band on banjo, accordion and bodhran drum.

"American Irish traditions involve parades, green hats and songs like 'Danny Boy' and 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling' — which are great," Sikora said. "Our [band's] music goes way, way back to the heart and soul of the culture."

The band plays traditional jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas and waltzes, she said.

The Tanzania Ceili Band has also branched out to take part in other performances and competitions, and was the 2013 winner for Celtic ensemble at the Deer Creek Fiddlers' Convention, which is held each year in Westminster.

A Columbia band called Dileab Phriseil, (Gaelic for "precious heritage") will also play at the St. Patrick's Day Celebration, and members of the Broesler School of Irish Dance will perform.

The project's genesis

The long-term commitment from the Columbia Council started with a plea in 2008 from the Rev. Mark Mlay, a Tanzania native, for aid to some of the 700 orphans living in eight parish villages near Mount Kilimanjaro.

The children, some of whom have since been taken in by relatives, have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis, the priest told council members. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 1.5 million orphans in Tanzania.

Lynch said he knew right away that he wanted to help.