Mzungu Kichaa on the Tanzanian music scene
We feel pretty much up-to-date on the Kenyan and Ethiopian music scene. But when it comes to what is happening further south on the streets and venues of Dar and the rest of Tanzania, we are on more unfamiliar ground. So in search of insights on contemporary Tanzanian music, we turned to one of the pioneers of Bongo Flava, Mzungu Kichaa, who since the release of his debut album ‘Tuko Pamoja’ in 2009 has been one of the key architects in popularizing Tanzanian music in the rest of East Africa and Europe. The ‘crazy white man’ has a new EP called ‘Relax’ out in May (it is already available on iTunes pre-order 15th April) and we took the opportunity to ask him about recent trends and developments on the Tanzanian music scene and the potential for stronger music ties across East Africa and we asked him to name some of his favorite Tanzanian acts these days.
Do you see any new trends on the music scene in Tanzania these days?
I find that the Tanzanian music scene is always developing and constantly changing. This is what makes the music interesting and relevant. At times I feel that Bongo Flava has become too simple and commercial, but that is hard to avoid in today’s global pop culture. Most recently Tanzanian Bongo Flava has started to adopt more and more Naija influences in some of the productions that make it to the radio airwaves. We have even seen collaborations between local artists and Nigerian singers such as J Martins and Davido.
Another interesting trend is in the growth of live bands performing on the cultural scene. I host one of the important events for new live bands in Dar es Salaam. We also feature some of the legends, which is an inspiration for the younger artists. We have hosted the likes of DDC Mlimani Park, FM Academia, Jagwa, King Kiki, Ashimba, Jhikoman and many upcoming bands too.
Who are some of the most interesting Tanzanian musicians right now?
An obvious act would be Jagwa. They are are a street punk percussion based group who have performed at international festivals such as WOMAD, Roskilde Festival and a number of other international festivals over the past few years. Other than them, and myself, there are not that many other international touring artists from Tanzania at the moment. However, Ashimba has also done well for himself. His most recent album made it into the top 20 on the World Music Charts Europe. He also performs in a band called Wika Band, which is one of the greatest performances I have seen. I saw them during a showcase festival in Jinja, Uganda (at DOADOA, the East African Performing Arts Market). Lumumba, which is a product of Lumumba Theatre and originally Lumumba Primary School is also a great act. Their new lead singer Swahili, is very talented. The wealth of amazing music in Dar es Salaam is endless. I am constantly finding new and old treasures.
On the hiphop scene there are also some great acts. The most commercial being Joh Makini, AY and Professor Jay, although legends such as Juma Nature also still shine. When mentioning hiphop we cannot omit the most influential producer P Funk Majani. He founded Bongo Flava and has recorded more than 100 albums over more than a decade. He is also experiencing a comeback and working on some interesting new projects. The most interesting new hiphop artist at the moment is without a doubt Wakazi, who is working hard to make his mark not only in Tanzania but also abroad.
On the Bongo Flava scene, Diamond is probably making the biggest impact on the mainstream market at the moment. It is his influence and stature in society rather than his music that I find interesting. He is a good case study of how to create a pop icon that works not only in Tanzania, but also in the rest of East Africa. I could go on and on, but before I stop I would like to mention two more. The first is Dogo Janja, who was one of the youngest artists to enter the hiphop / Bongo Flava scene. He uses his Arusha dialect to create his trademark and has had huge success on the scene. The second is Kala Jeremiah who has created a big following through his conscious hiphop/spoken-word style. His song ‘Dear God’, which discusses some of the injustices in Tanzanian society and politics is particularly moving.
Seen from Nairobi, there seems to be only fairly limited collaboration, i.e. joint performances or recordings, between Kenyan, Tanzanian and other East African musicians. Do you share this view and what do you think is needed to create stronger ties between the different music scenes in the region?
I think that there is a fairly strong collaboration culture between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. But there are very few collaborations with artists from Rwanda, Burundi and even less with countries further afield such as Ethiopia. In general, there needs to be more collaborations happening across the region. One thing that makes it difficult is accessibility. The main reason for an artist to be motivated to collaborate with an artist from another country is the desire to make it in that particular market. To get this motivation you actually need to visit this country to find out why this could be attractive. Personally I have managed to do two collaborations in Kenya one of which has not been released yet. Kenya is an important market for me, as I often perform there and also sell my music there.
Is your music received differently in Africa vs Europe?
The question of whether our music is received differently in Africa vs. Europe is difficult to answer. In general we are considered to be more commercial in Africa, as we have a much bigger following and in Europe we are considered more niche and in most cases we get categorized as world music. But it all varies from place to place. We also have a lot of the African Daspora attending our shows in Europe, which also influences the dynamic of the crowd. At the end of the day, my music was never made for the European market, so I am always pleased with whatever recognition we get during our visits to Europe.
Do you have any new album or tour plans for 2014?
We are releasing a new EP called ‘RELAX’ in May and we hope to also release a full-length album at some point in 2014. The EP is part of a crowd-funding project where people can support the production in return for a signed copy of the CD before it is officially released. Apart from focusing on our home market in Tanzania, we will do a small tour in Denmark during September and October 2014. We have signed a deal with our first booking agent who will be taking care of all the bookings. We are happy with this deal, as it will give us more time to focus on our performance, rehearsals and productions.
Kigoma All Stars is a group of artists, incl. Banana Zorro, Chege, Diamond and Queen Darling, all hailing from Kigoma in Western Tanzania who have put their hometown on East Africa’s music map with the massive hit “Leka Dutigite” in which they praise Kigoma for being Tanzania’s doorstep.
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