Name ID 765

See also

Africa Online
Extract Date: 1999

The Music of Tanzania

Africa OnLine

For decades Tanzania has enjoyed an unparalleled live music scene, despite the paucity of its recording facilities. Whether playing traditional drums, songs and dances (ngoma) or the latest styles (mitindo) of dance bands, music groups enjoy many opportunities to perform. Tanzanian musicians have drawn a regular salary as employees of the state-sponsored organizations which buy instruments, run nightclub establishments, and oversee general business management. In Dar Es Salaam, bands rotate through the suburban circuit, offering live music entertainment on a near-daily basis in the various districts.

In the 1940's Tanzania, along with its neighbor Zaire, responded enthusiastically to the influx of Cuban music hitting the market. These recordings, released on heavy, shellac 78's bearing the imprint of HMV's "GV" label, introduced music lovers across Africa to the classic sounds of sones, rumbas and boleros from legendary Cuban groups like Trio Matamoros and Sexteto Habanero. Tanzanian groups of the 1940's, Mogoro and La Paloma, clearly showed this rumba influence which was to continue unabated through the 1960's. La Paloma, formed in 1948, went on to become Cuban Marimba Band which ruled as one of Tanzania's most popular bands until its leader, Salim Abdullah's, death in 1965.

The year 1961 marked "uhuru" (freedom) as Taganyika gained independence under the leadership of Julius Nyere. A few years later, in 1964, Taganyika merged with the island of Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania. A policy of "ujamaa" or togetherness, was established to help build and coalesce national identity. This included the establishment of KiSwahili as a national language to unite Tanzania's 120 ethnic groups, and, for similar reasons, in 1973 state radio station Radio Tanzania Dar Es Salaam, (RTD), banned all foreign music (with the exception of Zaire) on national programs. Due to a severe lack of studios and production equipment, RTD became the main supporter and chief promoter of the country's musicians and helped to foster the growth of Tanzania's music scene. A national music council BAMAUTA (Baraza la Muziki la Taifa), was created in 1974 which coordinated all official national music policies, including regulation of musical instrument imports and discotheque licenses.

In addition to Cuban Marimba Band, other groups such as Kiko Kids Jazz, Western Jazz Band and Dar Es Salaam Jazz Band played their guitar-oriented music through the 1960's, (the "jazz" moniker inspired by seminal Congolese-Zairean bands of the same epoch). 1965 marked the emergence of what would become Tanzania's longest-running band- NUTA Jazz. Named after the National Union of Tanzanian Workers, Nuta changed their name in 1977 to the Swahilized Juwata Jazz, and continue strong today. The 1970's in general saw an explosion of talented groups including Orchestra Maquis Original (originally from the Lubumbashi region of Zaire), Orchestra Mlimani Park and individual musicians like Mbarka Mwinshehe (known as the "Franco of East Africa"), and Remmy Ongala. By the end of the decade, statistics indicated that Tanzania had 6000 ngoma (traditional groups), 120 Swahili jazz bands, 60 taarab groups, 50 choirs and 30 brass bands.

Dance bands in Tanzania are distinguished by their trademark dance style or mtindo (plural: mitindo). Juwata Jazz is known for msondo, Maquis for zembwela and sendema and Mlimani Park for sikinde (proudly blazoned across their tour bus). Mlimani Park is one of Tanzania's most loved bands, revered for their lyrical poetry and cohesive instrumental arrangements. For years their musicianship was particularly distinguished by lead guitarist Michael Enoch, a graduate of Dar Es Salaam Jazz. Like many music scenes, bands in Tanzania tend to grow off-shoots or spawn other incarnations. Mlimani itself was an outgrowth of Juwata Jazz and in 1985 six members defected to form International Orchestra Safari Sound (IOSS).

The Tanzania music scene since the 1970's has included many Zaireans who adapted readily to the East African idiom by forgoing their Lingala in favor of Kiswahili lyrics. Remmy Ongala is a Zairean-born singer who has achieved great fame in Tanzania and internationally. After a stint with his uncle's band Orchestre Makassy, Ongala formed his own group Super Matimila where he focused on social and political issues confronted by the poor. In songs like "Mambo kwa soksi" he has addressed forthrightly such subjects as AIDS and condom protection. Ongala has toured Europe with British rock artist Peter Gabriel's WOMAD festival and recorded two albums, Songs for the Poor Man and Mambo for Gabriel's UK-based Real World label. For more complete information on Tanzania and Dar Es Salaam's music industry see Werner Graebner's articles in The Rough Guide to World Music (Penguin / Rough Guide, 1994). And we recommend the following CDs:

Recommended CDs:

    Various, Dada Kidawa, Sister Kidawa- Classic Tanzanian Hits from the 1960's (includes Cuban Marimba Band, Kiko Kids, NUTA Jazz, Dar Es Salaam Jazz), (Original Music)
    Mlimani Park Orchestra, Sikinde (Africassette)
    Various, Musiki wa Dansi- Tanzanian Hits vol. 2 (includes Maquis Original, Juwata Jazz, IOSS) (Africassette)
    Remmy Ongala, Songs for the Poor Man (Real World)

Extract ID: 1413