By MIGUEL SULEYMAN
When the three East African heads of state met in Arusha in March to seal the Customs Union Protocol, had they cared to go out on the town after a hard day’s document signing, they would have found the music being played in the city’s entertainment spots and on its radio stations almost the same as that which was all the rage when Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote and Jomo Kenyatta foregathered for the frequent summit meetings of the first East African Community. (It is somehow easier to picture this earlier trio letting their hair down in the evenings and settling back with a drink to enjoy the music of, say, Fundi Konde.)
In the form of remixes and sampled tunes, going by names such as Zilizopendwa (old favourites) and Rumba Classic, East African music of the late 1960s and the 1970s is winning back the hearts of East Africans in almost all the region’s big cities – Tanzanians in particular.
“It’s no mystery, really,” said a Tanga fan when the song was chilling out weekenders at a bar in the Chuda area. “I mean, Samba Mapangala’s Dunia Tunapita [one of the most popular of the ‘revived’ songs] is the complete Swahili song – beautiful melody, sentimental lyrics – reminding you of what it was like in the 1960s and ‘70s, when the region was united and people were full of hope.”
Mapangala’s music and Ahmed Kipande’s golden hits of the late 1960s have fired Tanzania’s popular imagination once again, rivalling Bongo Flavour, the music of the new generation, and played an important role in loosening the grip of the overplayed Congolese music on Tanzania’s music scene.
As the late Mussa Bomboko, bassist with the Jamhuri Jazz and later Mwenge Jazz bands, said in 1983: “The music recorded from 1965 to 1977 was the best ever. It contained all the beauties of the region prior to the later stage of studio music played in the era of disunity, corruption and selfishness.”
In every bar and recreation spot, East African “classical” music from legendary performers such as Fundi Konde, Daudi Kabaka, Naschil Pitchen, Wildon Peter Kinyonga and his brother George Peter (of Simba wa Nyika), Mbaraka Mwinshehe or Marijani Rajabu can be heard being played either on the sound system or being rendered in a live “cover” by local bands, who, whether jazz or Ndombolo-influenced, use the classical music to warm up the crowd before playing their own numbers.
With the exception of students and youth who are under the spell of the Swahili version of hip hop and R&B, the gentle and meaningful old songs still grace the night at many East African dance halls, bars, hotels and social functions in Arusha, Tanga, Morogoro and Dar es Saalaam.
The trend has brought a new lease of life for musicians like Ndala Kasheba of the defunct International Safari Sound, Zahir Ally, who penned some of Tanzania’s strongest lyrics, saxophone virtuoso Akulyake Saleh King Maluu and Abdul Salvador, who are now among the most successful solo entertainers in Dar es Salaam’s big hotels. “Your repertoire must contain all the hits of the past and a bit of Congolese rumba and some contemporary popular music; if you don’t master that formula, next time you are out,” said Zahir Ally, who is currently playing the Sea Cliff Hotel in Dar.
The old music has many lessons for the Tanzanian musicians of today, says Karama Legesu of TOT Band. “When Juma Kakere called me to record his Zing Zong, we thought the best way to win market share was to model away from the noisy Congolese Ndombolo style – and it worked well! We thought a Les Wanyika-style subtlety was the best, since it has sold well for the band in East Africa. Our album sold well and did extremely well in terms of radio and TV airplay.” After Zing Zong, Karama Legesu, who sang lead on the album, was a “wanted man” and the Tanzania One Theatre (TOT) group managed to recruit him.
However, the most successful musician in Tanzania now is Muumin Mwinjuma. In every Tanzanian town, Mwinjuma attracts the biggest audiences and his clear, mellow voice wins him fans and admirers among all classes of Tanzanians.
Mwinjuma, who returned to Tanzania after a long, unsuccessful stint in Kenya, is now one of the country’s music stars and a hero of the struggle to shake off the bear-hug of Congolese music.
The silky voiced singer, who now leads his own band, Double M Sound, has quickly shot to stardom. His lyrics in the style of legendary singers George Peter of Simba wa Nyika and John Ngereza of Les Wanyika saw him surpass in popularity such singers as Ramadhan Masanja (Banza Stone) and Ally Choki, who was then with African Stars Twanga Pepeta.
Muumini Mwinjuma was a regular singer with Washirika Tanzania Stars before trying his luck in Kenya, where with Baby Rehema he composed the suggestive Tunda. The song did not do well in Kenya, but when he reproduced it in Dar es Salaam upon his return home, it became a hit that stayed in the top 10 for almost a year.
He renamed the modified song Tunda Special, and it made him not only the most successful disciple of the legendary Wanyika vocal section but also one of the biggest composers after Mabaraka Mwinshehe, Jerry Nashon and Marijani Rajabu.
Muumin Mwinjuma’s rise to fame comes at a time when people are tired of Awilo Longomba-like stagecraft. Says he, “They want good and chilling words of wisdom– Visit any bar in Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Arusha, Tanga, Mbeya or Moshi and the hot numbers that keep people glued to the place all observe the old discipline – four singers, a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and horn section.”
Probably the biggest market for the classical style is at wedding ceremonies.
“The singers compose lyrics that reinforce what the MC says. We try to select songs that are meaningful to the particular wedding. If the couple are named John and Joyce, songs that contain one of the two names will be used,” said Mathew Hozza, who runs Mount Usambara Sound.
The biggest hit at weddings, though, is that old favourite of Les Wanyika, Afro, which goes, Ingawa wapo wengi wazuri mamiii lakini nimekuchagua wewe, tabia zako sawa na sura yako, nimeridhika kuwa na wewe… (There may be many others as beautiful in this world, my darling/ but I chose you/ because your character is as sweet as your face/ because you are all that I need…)
MEANWHILE, THE UPSURGE OF Bongo Flavour or Bongo Fleva, the shockwave genre of music that has conquered both younger and older generations in Tanzania, find itself collaborating with the 1970s music to undermine the domination of Ndombolo and other commercialised Congolese styles.
Bongo Fleva has revitalised the recording industry, with names like Mr Nice, TID or Wagosi wa Kaya reportedly earning more in the region of $30,000 (Tsh30 million) in royalties from their hit CDs. That is serious money in Tanzania terms.
Others like Mr Paul, Professor Jay, Juma Nature, Dully Sykes, Rehema Chalamila (Ray C) and Lady Jay Dee are also topselling figures, blending hip hop with elements of the 1970s rumba. Other top recording artists are Daz Nundaz Family, Das Mwalimu, Sajo, Man Clitic and LC.
Both Bongo Fleva and Bongo Muffin (Tanzanian Ragamuffin), which now dominate the 20-plus FM radio station’s hit charts, have harnessed the power of the 1970s music. Ironically, their hits borrow liberally not only the popular East African music of that time but also from Congolese stars of the past such as Tabu Ley and Franco, whose successors they are displacing in the Tanzanian scene.
In Mr Nice’s megahit Fagilia, the lyrics, ‘Kuku kapanda baiskeli, bata kavaa raizoni’ (A chicken on a bike, a duck in high-heeled shoes) are backed by a sampling of the rhythm section of Orchestra Les Kamale’s hit, Ngali, which rocked the East African airwaves in the mid 1970s.
Mr Nice, who is in his early twenties, was not even born in 1975 when a traditional banjo player, Mzee Kanyau, began playing the same tune at the Mnazi Mmoja grounds in Dar es Salaam.
Likewise, Judith Wambura, aka Lady Jay Dee, has taken “remixing” to new heights. Wambura, who was a gospel singer before turning to dance music, says she finds the really deep human themes in the works of the legendary musicians.
Among the popular numbers she has reworked are Marijani Rajabu’s Zuwena and the raunchy Muhogo wa Jang’ombe, composed long ago by the great Zanzibari Taarab singer, Bi Kidude.
Her mastery of all the popular genres of East African music also makes Lady Jay Dee the most sought after sessions singer in the recording industry. I appear in countless Bongo Fleva hits, all of which have sold well in the market, she says.
Marijani Rajabu, now the most sampled artist in Tanzania, also counts Mr Paul among his disciples. Mr Paul was all the rage on Valentine’s Day 2003 with his number Nakupenda (I Love You), and is now one of the most successful artistes in Tanzania.
Mr Paul himself says the Marijani Rajabu hit Zuwena was the inspiration for his own number.
Meanwhile, the “old guns” of jazz – Mlimani Park Orchestra, Ottu Jazz, Police Jazz, Mwenge Jazz, Tabora Jazz and JKT Kimbunga Stereo – have also gone back to their 1970s roots.
“The feeling and humanity in that music makes it far better than the music of today, when human beings have left behind their humanity and humility,” said Adelgot Haule, bandleader of Police Jazz.
Until the mid 1990s, Tanzania had virtually no recording industry. On the mainland, the only recording studio that has operated consistently over the past 25 years is Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD).
Once or twice a year, the bands would come to its one-track studio for a session, recording about five songs at a time.
Before the launch of private recording studios, the bands usually received only around Tsh50,000 (worth about $80 in the 1990s), and so treated the recordings as publicity for their live performances that would improve gate collections. Often, RTD recordings were pirated and released in neighbouring countries like Kenya, where Tanzanian music has a good market.
After the entry of private studios, RTD revised its policy so that the band had to pay RTD for the recorded work, if it wanted to sell the songs to other distribution companies.
The private studios have reworked a number of old “jazz” hits, polishing them into more commercially accepted music. “The songs are handmade and original compared with the music of today in which most of the work is done by midi, sequencers and other gadgets. The music lacks real feeling,” said Machaku Salum, a trumpet player with Mlimani Park for 26 years now. “In our music, we do all the arrangements, singers, guitarists and horn men all contributing their idea. This kind of refinement is probably what makes it difficult for the young musicians to include our music in their remixes.”
One of the bestsellers in this category is Maquis Du Zaire’s Seya, remixed by Nguza Viking and his son Papii Cocha. DDC Milimani Park have reworked their 1970s numbers while Ottu Jazz, who have been around for 40 years – the band was formed in 1964 – have also reworked their albums, including their masterpiece, Msafiri Kakiri.
Bongo Record Company, Kamanda, P Funk, FM Studio, Mawingu Studio and Marimba are currently the most successful recording companies in Dar es Salaam.
Another “resurrection” has been that of Tabora Jazz, who recorded Dada Asha, one of Tanzania and East Africa’s biggest hits, in the 1970s. It was subsequently “renovated” by Soukous Stars. Shem Ibrahim Karenga, master guitarist and band leader, says he was totally forgotten after Tabora Jazz disbanded, but found himself in demand again after Soukous Stars released Dada Asha No 2 in the late 1980s.
“Baraka Mayaula called me to Dar es Salaam to reinforce his then newly formed MK Beat and I began my stint with them with Bella Ombe, a 1970s song based on the traditional dances of the Nyamwezi and Manyema from Tabora and Kigoma. I stayed on in Dar es Salaam, and later reformed Tabora Jazz, calling back on stage nearly all the old members of former Tabora Jazz band,” he said.
The exception was bassist Salum Luzila, who ignored the offer to join the band in Dar es Salaam and opted to remain in Tabora, 900 kilometres west of Dar es Salaam. A businessman, Ibrahim Didi, sponsored the rebirth of Tabora Jazz.
The songs that won them back some of their past glory came in the old Kabango style, with Shem Karenga’s guitar underlining the mellow ’70s flavour of the band’s past identity.
The success of both older and younger generations is creating new partnerships and new fusion concepts.
There is the duet by Ally Choki of African Stars (Twanga Pepeta) and Muhidini Mwalimu of Ottu Jazz in a well-received album, Lady Jay Dee re-recording Bibi Kidude’s Muhogo and the Kwanza Unit reshaping Mimi Msafiri of King Kiki.
Likewise, Muhtaji Mbaraka, the daughter of the late Mbaraka Mwinshehe, is enjoying great success with her reformed Super Volcano band.
Last but not least among the “new traditionalists” is Saida Karoli from Bukoba on Lake Victoria, today probably the most successful solo folk artiste in Tanzania. In the short time since she was discovered by Felician Mutta, director of FM Studio, Saida has become a much sought after female artiste all over East and Central Africa.
Apart from selling recordings, she has staged live shows in almost all parts of Tanzania, and has been on several successful tours in Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Zanzibar.
June 2003 saw the release of her new album titled Mapenzi Kizunguzungu, which took the market by storm with its unique traditional touch and the fact that it was released in audio CD, video and DVD formats.