Much has changed in Tanzanian music since I first worked on this discography back in the mid-90s. My background and knowledge of Tanzanian music is in dance music "muziki wa dansi" and taarab. Since that time, new Tanzanian pop genres have come to the forefront. Bongo Flava, encompassing Tanzanian versions of hip hip, rap, and other styles is heard everywhere. New R&B and pop sounds are also making inroads with artists like Ray C and Jay Dee. I have not really tried to cover these developments here.
What follows, then is unfortunately quite dated in terms of the current scene but still quite relevant for dance music and taarab in Tanzania. I hope to update these pages in the coming weeks to bring this segment of Tanzanian music a little closer to the present.
One of the current releases of Tanzanian music is the following:
Legends of East Africa
ARC Music, EUCD 1909.
One of the most welcomed releases of 2005, is actually a CD re-release of the Orchestra Makassy recordings made back in 1981 in Nairobi. These originally came out of the UK as the Agwaya LP on the Virgin label. These are some superb recordings of music that has stood the test of time. They are now back as a CD titled Legends of East Africa along with three additional tracks that weren't on the original. Luscious guitar work, catchy melodies, and sweet harmonies.
The following is a discography of pop music selections prepared for The Rough Guide to World Music. I have tried to include all the CD releases available in the North America and Europe. I've also included a few interesting LPs that may be available in used records shops.
The two Africassette CDs listed below are productions I put together for release in the USA. If their descriptions seem like advertisements, it's because I think it's the best music on the planet (and I'd like you to rush out and buy it). For an independent assessment, check out Cliff Furnald's African reviews at Rootsworld.
The Music of Kenya and Tanzania [The Rough Guide], World Music Network RGNET 1007 CD
This is an excellent introduction to the music of Kenya and Tanzania. It samples traditional and popular music, including taarab from the coastal region. Tanzanian artists include Mlimani Park Orchestra, Juwata Jazz, Master Musicians of Tanzania, traditional music of the Wagogo, and Culture Musical Club (now Mila na Utamaduni). The CD notes are edited from articles by Werner Graebner and Douglas Paterson contained in the Rough Guide to World Music.
Musiki wa Dansi: Afropop Hits from Tanzania, Africassette AC 9403
Four of Tanzania's Hottest Pop Dance Bands
Juwata Jazz (aka OTTU Jazz, NUTA Jazz, and now Msondo Ngoma)
Picture the setting . . . . A steamy tropical night in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's sprawling urban magnet. It's nine or ten in the evening and finally the temperature is getting comfortable. And wafting through Dar's various neighborhoods is the sound of muziki wa dansi (dance music). Among the tall palm trees lining the roads, people are slowly making their way to the social halls and bars to meet friends, take in some refreshment, and dance to the sounds of the big dance groups. They call them "orchestras" or "jazz bands" but these groups sound nothing like an American or European orchestra or jazz group. They are electric guitar bands with a corps of vocalists, full horn/sax sections, and conga rhythms on top of the standard drum kit. The bands are huge--as many as 25 - 30 people, although maybe only 14 or 15 are playing at any one time. The guitars feature that delicate interweave of parts, characteristic of the great East African rumba bands.
Musiki wa Dansi features four of Tanzania's most famous and best loved groups. The CD is a brilliant cross-section of the great musical tradition emanating from the studios of Radio Tanzania in the ten year period from 1982. No studio gimmickry here. The recordings are live, one-take, mega mixes that truly highlight the excitement of their dance hall performances. Superb East African big band rumba/soukous!
[To Cliff Furnald's Review of Musiki]
Sound, Original Music OMCD
Dada Kidawa Sister Kidawa, Original Music OMCD 032
These two CDs feature some of the important Tanzanian bands of the 1960s--bands such as Kiko Kids Jazz, Cuban Marimba Band, Western Jazz, NUTA Jazz, Dar es Salaam Jazz. In the early numbers, the Cuban/Latin sound permeates the music but by the late sixties, a distinct Tanzanian rumba sound emerges. The two CDs are fine collections but do not reflect current trends in Tanzania.
Tanzanie·Tanzania, Air Mail Music (Productions Sunset France), SA 141007
This is a budget priced compilation of original recordings made in a village near the Tanzania-Malawi border. The music would fit under the banner "roots music" with percussion and vocal ensembles (ngoma)or guitar-based, percussion, and vocal ensembles. The music is all-acoustic but the styles are contemporary.
Artists and Bands
Leila, Dakar Sound 2002968
Peter Toll's CD notes proclaim,
Bana Maquis are beyond doubt the hottest new band to emerge from the Tanzanian pop scene recently. They come with the right credentials as well, since the group is largely made up of veterans of the celebrated Orchestre Maquis Original and fronted by their star vocalist Tshimanga Assosa.
They do sound much like Orchestre Maquis and that's not bad. (In fact, several songs were recorded as Orchestra Maquis Original.) The vocals are good; the guitars are great, and the groove is definitely there. Recorded in Dar es Salaam in 1995.
Mlimani Park Orchestra
Sikinde, Africassette AC 9402
Every Saturday night on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, over a thousand music and dance lovers jam Magomeni-Kondoa Social Hall. They've gathered, as they have the past 18 years, to listen to Tanzania's most loved dance band, the twenty-six member Mlimani Park Orchestra. They've won numerous awards such as the Tanzania Ministry of Culture's national competition in which they were declared "musical champions of Tanzania." The song Neema, the first title on Sikinde, was voted song of the year for two years in a row by Radio Tanzania listeners.
The affection Mlimani fans have for the band is multifaceted: Mlimani has consistently attracted the finest musicians in the country. Their tight instrumental arrangements, under the direction of bandleader Michael Enoch, are recognized as among the most creative in all of Africa. The interplay of the three guitars and a superb horn section generates an energy that sustains these six or seven minute compositions from beginning to end. The song lyrics are eloquently poetic while, at the same time, addressing the contemporary concerns of Tanzanians in entertaining yet thought provoking ways.
[To Cliff Furnald's Review of Sikinde.]
Sungi, Popular African Music PAM 403
More sikinde sounds in new recordings made while on tour in Europe in 1994. Includes some new renditions of major hits like "M.V. Mapenzi," "Hiba," "Duniani Kuna Mambo."
Remmy Ongala & Orchestre Super Matimila
Songs for the Poor Man, Real World
Mambo, Real World
Sema, Womad Select WSCD0002
The Kershaw Sessions, Strange Roots/BBC
(See also the LPs section below.)
Remmy's music is indeed for the poor man or, at least, the comman man in Tanzania. People love his music as a commentary on politics and society in present day Tanzania. Even the non-Swahili speaker will feel his passion in these songs, but the driving guitar-based music will make-up for whatever is missed in the translation.
Chela Chela Vol.1, RetroAfric, Retro 9CD
Members of the elder generation of Tanzanian musicians came together in 1993 to form Shikamoo Jazz with its laid-back Chela-Chela style... and a very pleasing style it is. There are some very good tunes on this CD including some great rumba numbers in the classic Tanzanian tradition. The disc suffers however from poor recording quality on most songs and, occasionally, some badly out of tune instruments.
Bongoland, Amanda Music, CD AMA 9504
(Amanda Music, Box 277, DK - 6200 Aabenraa, Denmark)
Tanzanian Beat/Tatunane; King Record Co., Ltd.; KICC 5221
Recorded in Japan in 1992, released 1997.
nominee for East Africa for the 1997 Kora All-Africa Music Awards (held in South Africa at Sun City on October 4th), Tatunane may be more famous outside Tanzania than in their home country. The successors to Watafiti (see below), this group draws on the musical traditions of different regions throughout Tanzania. Their music is quite varied along a spectrum from traditional African to mainstream Tanzanian pop to international popular music and jazz. It's interesting music but not very representative of pop music in Tanzania.
Mila na Utamaduni (Culture Musical Club)
Umoja, Koch International 322 414
Billed as a music research group in Tanzania, Watafiti came together as a Netherlands Government project to "develop and promote Modern Tanzanian Music based on the wide variety of traditional music in the country." Notes on the CD claim that, "An ORIGINAL TANZANIAN SOUND has never developed," a contention that is absolutely ridiculous. (Just listen to any of the other CDs in this discography including "The Tanzania Sound.") The music of Watafiti is actually quite good. It runs the gamut from Afrobeat to socca, from something akin to Zimbabwean pop to jazz. It may indeed build upon indigenous Tanzanian rhythms (while borrowing heavily from international pop as well) but it certainly does not present an identifiable "Tanzanian sound." See, Tatunane, above.
Spices of Zanzibar
Club is one of two big orchestras that dominate the Zanzibar music scene and
have helped to institute the distinctive sound of Zanzibar taarab."
The following are worthy LPs that are long out of print but might be available in used record shops.
Agwaya, Virgin V2236
Orchestra Makassy was a Congolese/Tanzanian group based in Dar es Salaam that included some of the most famous names in Tanzanian music: Kitenzogu (Professor) Makassy, Mose se Fan Fan, Remmy Ongala, Tshimanga Assosa. This album is a product of the Nairobi/UK recording industry and is one of the finest European releases of African music in the early eighties.
The Greatest Hits of "Makassy", Editions Makassy (AI Records) EMKLP 01
For the record, the real Makassy sound as released in East Africa. Two examples of this sound are also found on Mose se 'Fan Fan' Belle Epoque, (songs "Molema" and "Ciska") RetroAfric, Retro 7CD. Audio sample: Athumani Part 1.
Remmy Ongala and Orchestre Super Matimila
Nalilia Mwana, WOMAD 010
This is a 1988 compilation of materials Remmy recorded at Radio Tanzania, Dar es Salaam (and never authorized for use by RTD). It's the authentic Matimila sound as heard in Tanzania. The song "Arusi ya Mwanza" presents an interesting alternative version to the Makassy version called "Mke Wangu" in Agwaya (above).
East African Music - African Radio
To contact Douglas Paterson, send email to DPaterson@EastAfricanMusic.com.
Last updated August 24, 2005.
Copyright © 1996-2005 Douglas B. Paterson, All Rights Reserved.