On Music and socio-political development in Tanzania- ‘Bongo Flava’ as a reflection of socio-political situation in Tanzania

We live in Machame with a young boy called Boso. Boso goes to school in Moshi town and we ride in the same car every morning and evening as I also work in the same town. In the evenings Boso keeps singing for me different ‘bongo flava’. He does that also when we work at my mom’s’ small-scale dairy industry (making and packing Nshara Yoghurt) over weekends. He sometimes change lyrics, for example, instead of singing ‘Kigoma aee Kigoma eeh’ He sings ‘Kiroba aee Kiroba eeh…kunywa kikulaze’ etc. So I used to just laugh a lot but I never took him seriously. This has now changed. I am starting to seriously consider the role of music in social-political development of Tanzania. In this regard, I have been wondering if there is considerable scholarly work on that. I know of one paper published in the African Affairs 104/145, 2005, that explained the role of ‘Unbogwable- a song by Gidi Gidi Maji Maji’ in the 2002 Kenyan elections that removed KANU out of power, but I do not think there is yet any academic work analyzing the same in Tanzania.

Of the types of music Boso likes to sing are the hip-hop rap songs. Last week but one Boso kept ‘free styling’ very interesting lyrics that stroke my attention. I was like ‘wait a minute Boso, are those your own lyrics or somebody’s?’ Boso told me that those were #ROMA Mkatoliki songs. To be honest, I had never heard of this guy before. This is partly because I’ve not really got time to listen to new bongo flava that keeps coming up everyday. So I asked Boso to actually play his songs for me. I found that he has a collection of all #ROMA songs in his Chinese ‘I-phone’ type cell. I could not stop listening to those lyrics…they were so real, reflecting issues pertaining the country at the moment. I had just came back from #Serengeti district to evaluate a project that fights FGM, and some of the issues in that project are the established positions of the ‘ngaribas’ (those who actually facilitate FGM practices) ’ in the society.  Most interesting, I heard in one of #ROMA’s song a line that goes ‘utapiganaje na ukeketaji wakati ngariba ni diwani ….’ (i.e. how will you fight FGM while the ngariba is a ward councilor’). That shocked me. I could not stop listening to him and was impressed by how he can speak out on major issues that most people are too ‘politically correct’ to say anything in public.

I need to admit that I am kind of bias here as #ROMA songs are informed by religion and its role in the society. I have always been interested in religion. My research revolves around the role of religion in development. #ROMA’s song titled ‘I am the Pastor of this Church’, for example, rebukes false prophets whose aim is to get money from believers. It is doubtless that there is a proliferation of such prophets in Tanzania. The singer is also philosophical in a way that in one of his songs he argues that the sins of priests and nuns do not change Catholicism. This is indeed true as many people are quick to judge established churches or even religion out of individuals’ mistakes. If you want to criticize a certain religion, do it on the basis of its doctrine and not individuals.   Other good songs by  #ROMA that I recommend people to listen to are titled ‘Tanzania’ and ‘Mathematics’. Both songs have lots to teach.

Many songs in Tanzania from gospel to secular ones are a manifestation of socio-political development in the country.  A number of gospel songs put forth warnings against corruption and immoral behaviors that can lead to HIV/AIDs and other negative impact on societies. Similarly, secular songs propagate same issues but in different styles. A song known as ‘Mr. Politician’ by #Nakaya is an example of how political issues are manifested in songs. In that song, among many issues, the artist asks why are the politicians seen only in times of elections?

Last year and this year, a group of artists who are originally from one region- Kigoma hence the name #KigomaAllStars came up with two potentially award winning songs- #LekaDutigute and #Nyumbani. Both of these songs are expressions of patriotism, which, by and large, is key to any country’s socio-political development. The two songs reminded me how songs were key to the ‘nation building’ project in Tanzania that started with the 1967 Arusha Declaration. I vividly remember singing about our love for Tanzania and other patriotic songs in the primary school almost every morning in the parade lines. Such songs included ‘Tanzania Nakupenda, Nchi Yangu Tanzania…’ I am not very sure if pupils still do the same in schools? In fact we should ask how many pupils know the whole of the National Anthem by head and the ‘rule’ that we have to stand still whenever it is sung?  Such practices are even more important in this age of globalization and neoliberalism if we want to maintain our identity and to keep building our nation. Actually, more than anytime in its history, Tanzania needs to enhance its ‘nation building’ project in order to maintain the precious peace we have.  In recent times we have seen incidents that may lead to polarization between Christians and Muslims in the country. What happened in Geita on the 11/2/2013 between Muslims and Christians over issues of ‘halal’ meat etc is the latest indication of peace threats in Tanzania. Musicians can help up in this.

The role of music in Tanzanian politics is growing. In political campaigns, candidates use music to mobilize people. Those with lots of campaigning money, like some CCM candidates, move around with famous artists who perform and sing live in rallies. Some good musicians are now Members of Parliament. These include #CaptainKomba, Joseph Mbilinyi (#Sugu), and #VickyKamata.  I hope they will further enhance the role of music in the socio-political and economic development. This will start by them thinking out of the box and out of the partisan frames and by ensuring that their music (property/intellectual or….) rights are protected with appropriate laws.

All in all, this short blog post is just to highlight the role of music in Tanzanian society. There is a need for sociologists and anthropologists to look more into this matter in the Tanzanian context. I was very happy to find out the paper about ‘Unbogwable’ as we all fell in love with the song at that time. I remember my USIU friends and I dancing to it on many occasions.  One memory I have of the late Nobel Peace Laureate Prof. Wangare Maathai was when she gave a public lecture in USIU and said ‘I am Unbogwable’…and indeed she was!

2 thoughts on “On Music and socio-political development in Tanzania- ‘Bongo Flava’ as a reflection of socio-political situation in Tanzania

  1. Alilya Emmanuelle

    This is a great entry which reflects our real society. As you have recommended, we should pay attention to the social impact which is brought by Musicians.

  2. Teddy Millan

    This is very true that the musicians have a big impact in the society. And the role of music in Tanzania politics is growing.


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