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Popular Music in Tanzania

 Mlimani Park Orchestra

by Werner Graebner
Excerpts of the CD Notes from "
Sikinde."

Image:  Mlimani Park Orchestra Logo.  Click for audio clip:

Let us be happy today with the Sikinde guys.
Let us dance ngoma ya ukae.
If you want to be happy
Come refresh yourselves with Sikinde.
Today let us dance Sikinde.

[from the song "Tucheze Sikinde," Let's Dance Sikinde]

Play an excerpt of Tucheze Sikinde.

 

Mlimani Park and the Dar es Salaam Dance Scene
The Band
The Music and the Songs
Sikinde: Details about the Recording
Companion article [Muziki wa Dansi] on Dance Music in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


Mlimani Park and the Dar es Salaam Dance Scene

Dar es Salaam’s more than 20 professional bands play five nights a week in a changing circuit of clubs and dance halls. Mlimani Park’s Saturday night stint is at the Magomeni-Kondoa Social Hall. Usually the open-air place is jammed by more than a thousand people, the biggest audience you will find on a normal weekend in Tanzania’s capital. But on this August night in 1987 something special is in the air: The place is more crowded than ever. Close to midnight the band is in full swing with Cosmas Tobias singing his latest hit Mtoto Akililia Wembe. After one more song Benno Villa, another singer with the band, announces the next tune, and starts a riot: Hassani Bitchuka, Tanzania’s most popular singer/songwriter, is back with Mlimani Park after a two year contract with International Orchestra Safari Sound. Bitchuka immediately mesmerizes the crowd with Hiba, one of his old favorites with the band. While he sings, bank-notes are showered over his head in typical African fashion. This is called tuzo in Swahili. Rivalry between bands in Dar es Salaam is big, and when Bitchuka and Benno Villa share a joke on the dance style of Bitchuka’s former band the place roars with joy.

The contrast in singing style between Bitchuka and Tobias could not be bigger: Tobias is very energetic and emotional, straining his voice to its limits so that his entire body seems to vibrate while he sings. His vocal style and his outstanding talent as a songwriter are well caught here on Neema, Mtoto Akililia Wembe and Usitumie Pesa. Bitchuka’s stage behavior is relaxed, he dances. His beautifully controlled high pitched voice being easily discernible in the complex orchestral arrangements. Bitchuka is the lead singer on Tucheze Sikinde and Fikirini Nisamehe, and his voice can also be heard in the chorus of most other songs. Tanzanian bands are big (Mlimani Park has 26 members at the moment), but still no band seems big enough to accommodate the talents of the two leading singer/songwriters in Tanzania. Both of them acknowledge Mlimani Park as the strongest force in Tanzanian music. Despite this both have left the band - and have come back. Now it is Tobias who has left yet again.

The Band

Mlimani Park was formed in 1978 as the resident band for the Mlimani Club in the Dar es Salaam suburb of Mwenge. Among the founding members were Abel Balthazar, Muhiddin Maalim, Cosmas Tobias, Joseph Mulenga and Michael Enoch. Bitchuka joined shortly afterwards. When the club owners (Tanzania Transport and Taxi Services) went bankrupt in 1983, the band came under the auspices of the Dar es Salaam Development Corporation (DDC). Like many other African countries Tanzania has import restrictions on ‘non-essential items’ - musical instruments among them. Most musicians therefore work as employees of diverse organizations, para-statal or private, which invest in this lucrative business: The sponsors buy instruments and organize practice and performance facilities. The musicians are under contract, draw a regular salary and a percentage of the gate collection.

In Tanzania the first and foremost way of appreciating a song is via the lyrics. Mlimani are famous for the themes and the intricate poetry delivered by their lead-singers. Yet other bands feature well-known lyricists as well, so what makes Mlimani really outstanding are the tight instrumental arrangements: The interplay of the three guitars and especially the horn section. Composing and arranging are usually a group process, i.e. someone brings in the lyrics for a new song which is then worked out collectively at the rehearsals. The final authority here is Michael Enoch whose knowledge and experience is the force behind the development of the distinct Mlimani sound. Michael Enoch has been a legend since he joined the Dar es Salaam Jazz Band in 1960 as a solo guitarist. He soon became the bandleader and developed into one of the leading solo players and composers in Tanzanian music. A multi- instrumentalist, who has taught many Tanzanian musicians, it is only with Mlimani Park that he picked up the saxophone full-time. Michael Enoch plays the alto solos on Tucheze Sikinde and Nalala Kwa Taabu and heats up the faster ‘dance section’ of Usitumie Pesa on the sax mouthpiece.

The Music and the Songs

The musical and performance style of each band as well as the dancing style associated with it is called mtindo. In fact, it acts as a kind of second name for band, fans use it to express their affection for the music of their favored band. Often it acts as a synonym for ‘dancing’ per se. Most mitindo refer to the musical traditions of Tanzania. Mlimani Park’s mtindo, called Sikinde, derives its name and inspiration from a ngoma (i.e. the performance of music-song-dance) of the Zaramo people who inhabit the Dar es Salaam area. The catch-phrase ngoma ya ukae, as featured in the band’s emblem, means ‘the ngoma (dance-musical-style) from home’. Tucheze Sikinde is something like a theme song, advertising the mtindo and naming the band members.

In Tangazia Mataifa Yote Mlimani incorporate elements of another musical tradition: The song follows the rhythm and melody of a dance song of the Gogo, one of Tanzania’s many ethnic groups. In the second part of the song the guitar sound and the interplay of the guitars resemble the Gogo chirimba (an instrument of the sanza or mbira family). The song, which praises the beauties of Tanzania, was especially composed for a nation-wide band contest organized by the National Music Council and the Ministry of Culture in 1982. Mlimani Park won this contest.

Contemporary Tanzanian songs mostly deal with social relationships and urban life in general. A love theme, or the relationship of the sexes, may be at the outset of a song, yet they seldom follow the line of fulfilled or unrequited love so common in Western popular musics. Instead, they tend to reflect on the wider social sphere which these relationships are a part of and talk about the changes brought about by the material conditions of urban life:

Usitumie Pesa Kama Fimbo (Don’t use money like a weapon): "If you love a girl, tell her slowly until she agrees. There is no need to talk bad about someone else, only because he has no money. In love there should be no question of money. Even a dove has a companion in its nest and a dove knows neither bank-notes nor coins."

The title of Mtoto Akililia Wembe is a proverb: "If a child cries for the razor-blade, give it to him", which means, a child has to make it’s own experiences, but don’t forget to educate it on the dangers or the truth of a matter. "Our sister, you were already married. Because of your greediness you have fooled around with your marriage and left your children. You said you wanted a man who could be useful in your life, to get you a car and a house. We have warned you before, this man is a cheat. He has had other women, we see them in the streets everyday. They go on public buses, have neither a car nor a simple hut. Don’t cry now, it was you who said you wanted a husband who would be useful in your life."

Nalala kwa Taabu (I sleep in distress) deals with the problems of poverty and feeding one’s family. In Ubaya (Bad character) the singer reproaches the behavior of his brother who boasts about his meanness and wants to quarrel with him. Muhiddin Maalim Gurumo, the lead singer on both songs, lives up to his name - gurumo means ‘a roaring voice, like a lion’s or thunder’ - with his singing style. But, he says, this is not only a matter of natural voice, the way of giving almost each note or syllable a melody of its own derives from his studies of the singing style of older Zaramo musicians.

At first sight Mnanionyesha Njia ya Kwetu (You show me the way home) looks like a simple case of family quarrel over an inheritance. The wife of the deceased reproaches her husband’s relatives over their greed and tells them that her children are the rightful heirs. Behind this, a conflict between two value systems emerges. According to customary law, which is based on local traditions, the children belong to the husband’s family. The widow, however, bases her appeal on the new formal law of the country and also a general change in values which pay more respect to the ties between a mother and her children. "If it is a custom let us forget about it, it brings so much harm. You called me wife, others aunt, or sister-in-law. Now you have forgotten all of this. Because my husband died, everything is yours . . ."

Among the songs on this record only Fikirini Nisamehe (Consider Forgiving Me) and Neema (My comforter) deal with love in the narrower sense of the word: In Neema a problem between the lovers arises when the former husband and father of her children returns into the woman’s life. The singer is trying to understand the problematic situation, but he cannot give her up. The poetic language and the outstanding arrangement made Neema one of Mlimani’s greatest successes. Two years in a row, in 1985 and 1986, the listeners of Radio Tanzania voted it song of the year.

Sikinde: Details about the Recording

The musicians featured on Sikinde are: 

Hassani Bitchuka, Muhiddin Maalim Gurumo, Cosmas Tobias Chidumule, Hamisi Juma, Benno Villa, Francis Lubua, Max Bushoke vocals; Joseph Mulenga, Abel Balthazar, Henry Mkanyia, Michael Bilali solo guitar; Abdallah Gama, Muharami Saidi, Mohamed Iddi, Huruka Uvuruge 2nd solo and rhythm guitars;

Suleiman Mwanyiro, Julius Mzeru bass guitar; Habibu Abbas, Chipembere Saidi drums; Ally Omari, Mashaka Shaban tumba; George Kessy Omojo organ; Boniface Kachale, Ibrahim Mwinchande, Machaku Salum, Hamisi Mirambo, Ally Yahya trumpets; "King" Michael Enoch, Juma Hassan, Joseph Bernard, Shaban Lendi saxophones;

All songs were recorded at Radio Tanzania, Dar es Salaam (RTD) and engineered by James Mhilu.

This collection was compiled by Werner Graebner and licensed by D.B. Paterson from DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra. It was released in cooperation with Dar es Salaam Development Corporation (DDC), Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD), the National Arts Council (BASATA), and Chama cha Muziki wa Dansi (CHAMUDATA)

Dedicated to the memories of Muharami Saidi, Joseph Mulenga, and Hezron Mwampulo

These excerpts, Copyright © 1994 and 1996 by Werner Graebner.


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To contact Douglas Paterson, send email to DPaterson@EastAfricanMusic.com.

Last updated 31 August, 2010.


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