Hukwe Zawose

Name ID 700

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Extract Author: Robert Ambrose
Extract Date: 1996 Oct 5

Dense Tapestries of Sound By Hukwe Zawose MUSIC REVIEW

Artist: Hukwe Zawose

CD: Tanzania Yetu (Triple Earth, 1985)

CD: Chibite (Real World/Caroline Carol 2358-2, 1996)

One of the albums I most treasure is Tanzania Yetu, the 1985 debut release from Iain Scott's pioneering Triple Earth label. The recording is a profound musical statement built around the magical vocals of Tanzania's Hukwe Zawose.

Dense tapestries of sound are woven by chirimbas ('thumb pianos'), marimbas, izezes (traditional stringed instruments plucked and bowed), and layered, polyphonic singing. Zawose's uniquely expressive voice anchors the whole, producing in Tanzania Yetu a rendering on vinyl of something essential and timeless.

At the beginning of 1996 I read that Hukwe Zawose had been recorded during the 1995 Real World Recording Week, at the state-of-the-art Real World Studios, and I began checking my mail frequently in anticipation.

Finally an advance cassette arrived, which I began to devour regularly at the risk of wearing out that fragile, antiquated medium.

Now, at last, the digital product is here, and I struggle to write this column as Chibite passes through my computer and blasts, full volume, from the speakers inches away, threatening to transport me to some other reality with its subtle-yet-insistent rhythms and hypnotic vocals.

Chibite is gorgeous, exquisitely recorded music. Zawose generates amazingly complex sound from his humble instruments, sound that builds to slowly envelope listeners and prepare them for the intense, powerful vocal assault. The opening 'Sisitizo La Amani Duniani', a reflection on Hiroshima, is spectacular, while the vocal cacophony on the following 'Chilumi' focusses Zawose's powerful vision into two minutes of pure energy.

Zawose sings of life in Tanzania, simple songs that celebrate the ordinary, the mystical, and the cause of Tanzanian and African independence. Chibite has a tribute song to Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzanian liberation and the country's first president, as do all previous Zawose recordings.

Hukwe's son Charles lends able support on vocals and ilimba thumb pianos, indicating that the preservation of Tanzania's musical heritage has become a family occupation. It could not be in better hands.

Robert Ambrose produces 'The Rhythm Connection' for public radio, and he writes about African music for The Beat magazine. The curious can reach him by e-mail at

Extract ID: 1533