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Music of Tanzania

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Title: Music of Tanzania  
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Subject: Music of Africa, Tanzania, Tanzanians in the United Kingdom, Outline of music, Economy of Tanzania
Collection: Tanzanian Music
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Music of Tanzania

The music of Tanzania stretches from traditional African music to the string-based taarab to a distinctive hip hop known as bongo flava.


  • National anthem 1
  • Art music 2
  • Bongo flava 3
  • Traditional music 4
  • Mtindo 5
  • Taarab 6
  • History of Tanzanian popular dance music (dansi) 7
  • Reggae and hip hop 8
  • Other modern styles 9
  • Freddie Mercury 10
  • Distribution and access to music 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

National anthem

The Tanzanian national anthem is Mungu Ibariki Africa (God Bless Africa), composed by South African composer Enoch Sontonga in 1897. The tune was ANC's official song and later became the National Anthem of South Africa.The song is also the national anthem Zambia. Swahili lyrics were set to this tune.

Art music

The music industry in Tanzania has seen many changes in the past ten years. With a mix of influences from other countries along with the original feel of local musical traditions, Tanzanian musicians have become some of the best artists in East Africa. From artists such as Dionys Mbilinyi, Sabinus Komba and many others, to new artists in R&B, pop, Zouk, Taarab and dance music.

Art musicians include:

Bongo flava

The Tanzanian artistes have devised a new style going by the name of "Bongo Flava", which is a blend of all sorts of melodies, beats, rhythms and sounds. The trend among the Tanzanian music consumers has started changing towards favouring products from their local artists who sing in Swahili, the national language.

Traditional music

Tanzania has a large number of traditional instruments, many of which are specific to particular ethnic groups. The Zaramo people, for instance, perform traditional dance melodies such as "Mitamba Yalagala Kumchuzi" on tuned goblet drums, tuned cylindrical drums, and tin rattles.

The multi-instrumentalist Hukwe Zawose, a member of the Gogo ethnic group, was the 20th century's most prominent exponent of Tanzanian traditional music. He specialized in the ilimba, a large lamellophone similar to the mbira.

A famous song of Tanzania is "Tanzania Tanzania"

Saida Karoli is a famous traditionalist Tanzanian female singer and performer, who sings in Haya. Karoli's music is described as natural with mellow vocals and hypnotically rhythmicism. Songs like Ndombolo Ya Solo or Maria Salome were huge hits in Tanzania and the countries around; she was nominated at the 2005 and 2006 Tanzania Music Awards in the Best Folk Album category [1] and for the Best Female Vocalist category.[2]


A mtindo (pl. mitindo) is simply a rhythm, dance or style identified with a particular band. Sikinde, for example, is associated with Mlimani Park, and is derived from the ngoma (musical events held by the Zaramo). Some bands maintain the same mtindo throughout their career, while others change along with personnel or popular preference.


Taarab is a popular genre descended from Islamic roots, using instruments from Africa (percussion), Europe (guitar), Arab Middle East (oud and qanun) and East Asia (taishokoto). It is sung poetry and are a constant part of wedding music, and is associated with coastal areas like Lamu and Zanzibar, as well as with neighboring Kenya.

Taarab is often said to have an Egyptian origin, due to the long-term popular of the Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club. While the Egyptian influence is undeniable, coastal East Africa is a cultural melting pot and has absorbed influences from across the Indian Ocean and even further abroad. The first taarab superstar, indeed the first Swahili superstar, was Siti bint Saad. Beginning in 1928, she and her band were the first from the region to make commercial recordings.

Over the next several decades, bands and musicians like Bi Kidude, Culture Musical Club and Al-Watan Musical Club kept taarab at the forefront of the Tanzanian scene, and made inroads across the world. Kidumbak ensembles grew popular, at least among the poor of Zanzibar, featuring two small drums, bass, violins and dancers using claves and maracas. More recently, modern taarab bands like East African Melody have emerged, as has related backbiting songs for women called mipasho.

The 1960s saw a group called the Black Star Musical Club, from Tanga, modernize the genre and brought it to audiences far afield, especially Burundi and Kenya.

Taarab music [1] is a fusion of pre-Islamic Swahili tunes sung in rhythmic poetic style spiced with general Islamic melodies. It is an extremely lively art form springing from a classical culture, still immensely popular with women, drawing all the time from old and new sources. Taarab forms a major part of the social life of the Swahili people along the coastal areas; especially Zanzibar, Tanga and even further in Mombasa and Malindi along the Kenya coast. Wherever the Swahili speaking people travelled, Tarabu culture moved with them. It has penetrated to as far as Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in the interior of East Africa where taarab groups compete in popularity with other western-music inspired groups.

Tanzania was influenced heavily after the 1960s with the influence of African and Latin music. Tanzanian soldiers brought back with them the music of these cultures, as well as Cuban and European music, when returning from World War II. These musical influences fused and brought together the Tanzanian people. Eventually the country and its people created its own style of music. This style, called "Swahili Jazz" was a mix of beats and styles of Cuban, European, Latin and African music. Swahili jazz gave Tanzania a sense of independence and togetherness as a country.

These days a taarab revolution [2] is taking place and much heated debate continues about the music which has been changed drastically by the East African Melody phenomenon. Melody, as they are affectionately known by their mostly female fans, play modern taarab, which, for the first time, is 'taarab to dance to' and features direct lyrics, bypassing the unwritten laws of lyrical subtlety of the older groups such as Egyptian Musical Club and Al-Wattan Musical Club where meaning to their songs was only alluded to, and never directly inferred. Today, taarab songs are explicit - sometimes even graphic - in sexual connotation, and much of the music of groups like Melody and Muungano is composed and played on keyboards, increasing portability, hence the group is much smaller in number than 'real taarab' orchestras and therefore more readily available to tour and play shows throughout the region and beyond.

History of Tanzanian popular dance music (dansi)

The first popular music craze in Tanzania was in the early 1930s, when Dar es Salaam Jazz Band, which was founded in 1932. Local bands at the time used brass and percussion instruments, later adding strings. Bands like Morogoro Jazz and Tabora Jazz were formed (despite the name, these bands did not play jazz). Competitions were commonplace, a legacy of native ngoma societies and colonial beni brass bands.

Independence came in 1961, however, and three years later the state patronage system was set up, and most of the previous bands fell apart. Musicians were paid regular fees, plus a percentage of the gate income, and worked for some department of the government. The first such band was the Nuta Jazz Band, which worked for the National Union of Tanzania.

The 1970s saw the popularization a laid-back sound popularized by Orchestre Safari Sound and Orchestre Maquis Original. These groups adopted the motto "Kamanyola bila jasho" (dance Kamanyola without sweating). Maquis hailed from Lubumbashi in southeastern Zaire, moving to Dar es Salaam in the early 70s. This was a common move at the time, bringing elements of soukous from the Congo basin. Maquis introduced many new dances over the years, including one, zembwela, (from their 1985 hit "Karubandika", which was so popular that the term has become synonymous with dancing.

Popular bands in the 60s, 70s and 80s included Vijana Jazz, who were the first to add electronic instruments to dansi (in 1987) and DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra, led by Michael Enoch. Rivalries between the bands sometimes led to chaos in the scene, as when Hugo Kisima lured musicians from Mlimani Park and disbanded the wildly-popular Orchestra Safari Sound in 1985, forming the International Orchestra Safari Sound. International Orchestra Safari Sound was briefly popular, but the Orchestra Safari Sound was revitalized by Nguza Viking (formerly of maquis), who became bandleader in 1991; this new group lasted only a year.

The most recent permutation of Tanzanian dance music is mchiriku. Bands like Gari Kubwa, Tokyo Ngma and Atomic Advantage are among the pioneers of this style, which uses four drums and a keyboard for a sparse sound. Loudness is very important to the style, which is usually blared from out-dated speakers; the resulting feedback is part of the music. The origin of the style is Zaramo wedding music.

Reggae and hip hop

After Tanzania gained its independence, the leaders of the country failed in their mission to produce a successful economy. Structural Adjustment Programs were put into place, which mimicked the same colonial practices that the country was trying to free itself from. Tanzanian youths turned to crime in order to survive. “It is not surprising that most Tanzanians viewed these conditions, especially the rise in crime, and the almost simultaneous rise or rap music, as a single phenomenon. The political establishment and older generation did not accept rap music or uhuni music- since it becamse synonymous with disruption and anti-social behavior. Yet for the youner generation, traditional Swahili music did not address contradictions of the ‘liberalized’ Tanzanian economy.” [3]

In 1991, Tanzania hosted a hip hop competition called "Yo Rap Bonanza.” While most rappers were performing American songs word for word; Saleh Ajabry, a Tanzanian, wrote his own Swahili lyrics to a song based on Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” and won the competition.[4]

Dar es Salaam's Kwanza Unit was the first Tanzanian hip hop crew, but technical limitations hindered commercial success. Mr. II and Juma Nature are the most famous Tanzanian rappers; Mr II's (then known as 2-Proud) "Ni Mimi" (1995) was the first major hit for the field. Groups like X Plastaz have moved away from American-style hip hop and incorporated Maasai vocal styles and other Tanzanian musics. Tanzanian hip hop is often called as Bongo Flava.

Global popular culture, particularly U.S. hip hop, has played a major role in influencing Tanzanian culture since its independence. This is most evident among Tanzanian urban youth, who have absorbed global hip hop music and produced their own varieties. With the increased mediatization of Tanzania in the 1990s, Tanzanian urban youth have had more access to hip hop music, and the incorporation of global culture has become more prevalent and visible in urban Tanzania, not only in the music, but also in fashion, food, dance, and sports.[5] Hip hop has essentially provided Tanzanian urban youth and young adults with a means of expressing themselves and forming an identity, such as the conceptual identity of msafiri (the traveler), a classic subject borrowed from Swahili lore, and a recurrent theme in Dar hip hop.[6] While Tanzania hip hop was influenced by American hip hop it was also distinctly localized. Whereas American Hip Hop is the product of black urban youth and heavily influenced by race, Tanzania bongo flava took root in the in slightly better off part of the city with those that more access to the Western world. Furthermore, Tanzania hip hop artist saw themselves as distinct from American artists in that they focus more on economic issues and less on violence"[6]" Rapper Sam Stigilydaa put it poignantly when he said, "American rappers talk about crazy things-drinking, drugs,violence against women, American blacks killing blacks. I hope African doesn't turn crazy"[7]

Other modern styles

Mbaraka Mwinshehe was the most popular and original musician of Tanzania, also there is a greater influx of musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), who were entering the country as refugees and made residence in the country. But in recent years, mainly from the mid-nineties, new generation of musicians has emerged and are coming up with popular tunes which are Tanzanian in composition. Bands like Twanga Pepeta have managed to carve a new tune distinct from imported Zairean tunes, and are competing with Zairean bands in popularity and audience acceptance.

Jah Kimbuteh was the first major reggae star in Tanzania, beginning his career with Roots and Kulture in 1985. Newer artists in the field include the Jam Brothers and Ras Innocent Nyanyagwa, who includes songs in Hehe and Swahili and uses indigenous rhythms.

At present, Ras Nas is considered as one of the most known reggae musician from Tanzania. Ras Nas combines reggae, afro and dub poetry. His latest release "Dar-es-Salaam" contains eight tracks.

Many musicians work in bands that play at a hotel, usually led by a keyboard and including a rock-based sound. The Kilimanjaro Connection is perhaps the most respected of these hotel bands, along with Bantu Group and Tanzanites.

There are however changes in with music trends happening in Tanzania. In Arusha region now bands are diversifying and experimenting with different music genres. One of the genres that are being embraced are those of jazz. Stiggypop band is currently one of the only bands that offers this unique style of music within the kilimanjaro region. For more details on stiggypop band refer to

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury, singer born in Tanzania

Freddie Mercury, born Farouk Bulsara into the Indian Parsi community of Stone Town, Zanzibar, later moved to England and rose to worldwide fame as the lead singer, and a songwriter and instrumentalist, of the rock music group Queen. He died on 24 November 1991. Efforts to honour his life and work on the 60th anniversary of his birth were abandoned in September 2006 following the protests of a radical Islamic group on the archipelago, Uamsho, who said he had violated Islam with his openly gay lifestyle. (Zanzibar criminalised gay and lesbian sex in 2004 [3] [4]; see also Islam and homosexuality.)

Distribution and access to music

The mushrooming of FM music stations and reasonable production studios has been a major boost to the music industry in the country. Contemporary artists like Diamond Platnumz, Juma Nature, Lady Jaydee, Mr. Nice, Mr. II, Cool James, Dully Sykes, Professor Jay and many others command a huge audience of followers in the country and neighbouring countries.

More information about Tanzanian music and events can be found on the various web portals that have sprung up recently. Tanzania has an enormously high growth rate for internet technologies, estimated at up to 500% per year. Because costs for computers are still quite high, many users share connections at internet cafes or at work. business directory, Movie and Sports information, Arusha locality information all are part of an increasing number of websites dedicated to the region.


  1. ^ Tanzania Music Awards - Nominees 2005
  2. ^ Tanzania Music Awards - Nominees 2006
  3. ^ Lemelle, Sidney J. “‘Ni wapi Tunakwenda’: Hip Hop Culture and the Children of Arusha.” In The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 230-54. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Pres
  4. ^ AFRICAN HIP HOP IN TANZANIA - Highlights of a Conversation with Alex Perullo 2005. <>
  5. ^ Remes, Pieter. "Global Popular Musics and Changing Awareness of Urban Tanzanian Youth." Yearbook for Traditional Music. Vol. 31 (1999), pp. 1-26.
  6. ^ a b Lemelle, Sidney J. “‘Ni wapi Tunakwenda’: Hip Hop Culture and the Children of Arusha.” In The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 230-54. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.
  7. ^ James Astil, "Tanzanian rap breaks free of past,' Guardian (London), February 3, 2001, P.18
  • Graebner, Warner. "Mtindo -- Dance With Style". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 681–689. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Graebner, Warner. "The Swahili Coastal Sound". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 690–697. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Askew, Kelly M. Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania. 2002. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-02981-6

External links

  • BBC Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Music of Zanzibar - Taarab and Ikwan Safaa. Accessed November 25, 2010.
  • BBC Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Culture Musical Club and Bi Kidude. Accessed November 25, 2010.
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