The Music of Tanzania

Tanzania music

Today we bring you a collection of Tanzanian music, the one that plays on the radio, whether in shops, homes, discos or in the church itself.

Whether it’s because the driver of your safari plays some music, or because in Arusha walking down the street sounds like a nightclub, surely we have the opportunity to hear the latest musical hits in Tanzania.  Music is very important in the life of the Tanzanian people.

The usual gospel music of Sunday mass is intermingled with other more modern rhythms such as bongo, a hip hop style, fast rhythms, rhymes and lyrics in Swahili.

If you take a walk through any city or village in Tanzania, you’ll be surprised to see or hear the small shops, which turn the music up to a volume; as if they wanted to share their musical tastes with the whole neighborhood. It is easy to get an idea of the mood of each one and one depending on the music that plays in your butcher’s, hardware, hairdresser’s …

We begin with the gospel, music with a strong spiritual and religious message, accompanied by a very lively rhythm, which turns Sunday Masses into an “almost” festive activity, where dances are frequent. It is not surprising that in private homes, there are dozens of CDs with this style of music. As they tell us, it encourages them and helps them to face the bad times.

As you can see, in the gospel there are also several currents, more traditional and more commercial. Because the truth is that gospel is a music that does not have age, we can see old people and young people listening to the same style of music, although sometimes with nuances.

This other example is the most common in homes, a woman soloist and a female choir, or sometimes a mixed choir.

But as we have said, a new trend of commercial gospel has broken out with force.

In addition to gospel, a music for which there is no age, the other great musical rhythm very popular, especially among young people, is the bongo.

Bongo has its origins in the influence of American music such as rap, R&B, or hip hop. On occasions of vindictive character, on aspects that worry the society, like the HIV, the poverty, the corruption, or aspects more people like the love, the family, the life or the relations.

The word “bongo” that gives name to musical style comes from the Swahili word ubongo, which means brain. So this music “bongo” becomes “what your brain needs”.

Here is a sample of the songs that are having more success within this musical current

With this material you have to prepare the choreography and if you have the option of being able to let yourself be carried away by its music, surely you will cause a sensation.

We already know that it is not easy to be able to carry their rhythm, they have it in their blood, but we can still free ourselves from the label they have given us to the “muzungus” (white people who are in the country of passage) that our joints are not made for dancing…

Hip Hop in Tanzania – The Dead End for Message Songs

The hip-hop variant Bongo Flava stood for the democratic awakening of Tanzania. Meanwhile a media company dominates the country – and Bongo Flava has degenerated into bagpipe music.

In post-socialist Tanzania, where radio stations can be leading media, where the illiteracy rate is high and where music is still purchased on cassettes, independent local hip-hop fulfilled until a few years ago the tasks that the Internet took over elsewhere: it was a democratic instrument of co-determination, a place of criticism, a medium entirely in the sense of the famous sentence of the American rapper Chuck D, rap is the CNN of the blacks. Today, Tanzanian hip-hop is hardly recognizable.

The managers of the Clouds Media Group, the country’s most powerful media group with the best connections to the government, degraded it to toothless light music. With Tanzanian pop culture, the company did everything it was accused of elsewhere in the big Internet networks: it focused its cultural production on the mainstream and pushed everything else to the margins of attention.

And so the Tanzanian hip-hop genre Bongo Flava, which was once the symbol of the political and social awakening of the East African Empire, has degenerated into bagpip music. Listening to the radio station Clouds FM in the summer of 2014 gives the impression that you are standing in a Tanzanian department store. Clouds FM only play background music that sounds as if it is not intended to spoil your shopping mood.

This development is not untypical: it is simply what happens when a creative economy is controlled by only a few companies. Anyone who wants to can see a connection here with the development of the Internet. In the case of Tanzania, a dominant entertainment and media group created the framework conditions for cultural production almost on its own and then aligned them to the mainstream.

Swahilingual Hip-Hop was the Sound of Post-Socialism

The history of the Clouds Media Group is almost symbiotically linked to the history of Bongo Flava from the very beginning. Clouds emerged in the 1980s as a series of events that infected Tanzania’s youth with American hip-hop. The first rap album with Swahili lyrics was recorded in 1993 in a Clouds studio. Five years later, the radio station Clouds FM was founded and had been privatized in the meantime. While the state-owned monopoly broadcaster, which above all educated the people, had rejected Western music in the sense of nation-building policy, private broadcasters now made popular music from all over the world known in the hinterland as well.

Swahilingual hip hop – soon called Bongo Flava, where “Bongo” colloquially means Tanzania – became the sound of post-socialism and could be heard almost everywhere, in buses, hairdressing salons and bars. The older ones were of course horrified, the boys loved the music, which was soon called “music of a new generation”. Those who promoted hip-hop were considered good. Those who were against it were not. Clouds, soon the radio station most listened to by the young people, was of course good. It was about opening up to the world.

Bongo Flava was a medium of renewal and freedom. One could participate without having studied guitar, rhetoric or journalism – and was even heard. In the noughties the Clouds finally became the most important platform for the Bongo Flava.

Today Clouds is responsible for its decline. Clouds FM is part of a conglomerate of companies. The Clouds Media Group is an integrated entertainment and media group that generates a dollar turnover in the single-digit million ranges – a very considerable figure by East African standards. Clouds and other companies run by Clouds managers operate event organization, music agencies and music management, booking, promotion, casting, training, production and media mediation.

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