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Popular Music in Tanzania

 "Muziki wa Dansi"

Swahili for "Dance Music,"
The Pop Music of the Nation

by Werner Graebner

Excerpts of the CD Notes for "Muziki wa Dansi."

Introduction to the Dance Music Scene in Dar es Salaam Tanzania
Orchestra Maquis Original
International Orchestra Safari Sound
Juwata Jazz Band
Mlimani Park Orchestra
The Broader Perspective
The Recording Industry in Tanzania
Companion article on Mlimani Park Orchestra



Open the pages of Dar es Salaam's Swahili language daily Uhuru (called Mzalendo on Sundays) and you'll come across two or more pages of advertisements for live music: About 20 of these list the big names in muziki wa dansi (dance music) like DDC Mlimani Park, International Orchestra Safari Sound, Juwata Jazz, Maquis Original, Super Matimila, Vijana Jazz, etc. Add to these the lesser names and the various performances by groups that combine ngoma, taarab, and theater and you've got a live music scene hardly equaled in any of Africa's cities.

Aside from a few discos and posh hotels like the Kilimanjaro and New Africa that feature dinner-dance music for tourists and local upstarts, central Dar es Salaam is dry as far as music is concerned. Almost all the bars and dance halls that feature live music are located in residential areas like Kinondoni, Magomeni, Manzese, Msasani, Mwenge, Ubungo, Yombo and as far as Kimara about twenty kilometers from town.

Throughout the week the bands rotate through the different parts of town. Transportation is difficult especially at night and this arrangement gives almost everybody a chance to have their favorite band within walking distance once a week, or at least every couple of weeks. On weekends (Saturday night and Sunday afternoon) the bands play their home base. Sometimes home is a bar or dance hall run by the same people or organization owning the instruments. Other times, it might be a place where bands have a special arrangement with the owner – a place where they can rehearse, store their instruments, and maintain an office.

Tanzania's foremost dance band, DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra, was highlighted in the Africassette release titled Sikinde (Africassette 9402). The CD, Muziki wa Dansi, introduces three more bands that, with Mlimani, belong at the top of Tanzania’s dance music hierarchy. With their formation in 1985, International Orchestra Safari Sound set out to become Mlimani's strongest competition on the Dar scene. Their style, especially the singing, is somethimes quite similar to the Mlimani sound. This shouldn’t be any surprise, however, as numberous musicians have moved back and forth between the two groups.

Juwata Jazz is Dar's oldest surviving band. It has served as a breeding ground for many of Tanzania's best musicians, including members of both Mlimani and Safari Sound. Juwata's rough sound and brassy arrangements form a marked contrast to Orchestra Maquis Original. Many of Maquis' leading members hail from eastern Zaire. To the outsider, their style (especially the vocal harmonies) may sometimes sound close to Kinshasa soukous. However, it would be misleading to say that Maquis play in a Zairean style. To the contrary, even their Lingala numbers show Maquis' roots in a specifically East African music culture.


Maquis Original's headquarters are at the Lang'ata Social Hall in Kinondoni, one of Dar es Salaam's more affluent quarters. Ever since they popularized their Kamanyola bila jasho ("dance Kamanyola without sweating") style in the late seventies, Maquis' image has been one of laid-back, easy entertainment, hence, the perception of their dances as ‘civilized’ affairs preferred by a more high-class clientele.

Maquis are not merely a band. They also run a farm and you can buy their produce from Dar es Salaam's main market in Kariakoo. This move to diversification was made, when the Tanzanian government in the late seventies strove to oust 'foreign' bands. To be able to stay, Maquis established themselves as a cooperative society. Chinyama Chianza was its first president, as well as band leader until his death in 1985. (He plays the saxophone here on the title "Mabruki.")

The band was formed in the eastern Zairean town of Lubumbashi in 1970. Its core, including Chianza, had left the Super Teo band, when they could afford to buy their own instruments. In 1972 Maquis was invited to play in Kampala, Uganda. Their journey took them to various towns in Tanzania including Dar es Salaam. It was here that they decided to stay. They never made it to their original destination Kampala.

Other founding members of Maquis include Mbuya Makonga 'Adios', Tshimanga Assosa and Nguza Mbangu 'Viking'. Nguza's hard-driving guitar solos can be heard on "Mpenzi Luta" and 'Mabruki'. He took over from Chianza as president and band leader until 1987, when he left to form his own band Sambulumaa, and later to lead Orchestra Safari Sound. He now leads his own band again, called Achigo. Since Nguza left, Mbuya Makonga, singer and organ player, has been the president of the Maquis organization. Recent band leaders, i.e., those responsible for the music as well as the stage management, have been singer Tshimanga Assosa and bass player Ilunga Mbanza 'Mchafu.'

In the seventies Assosa had left for some time to go to Kinshasa (playing there with such groups as Soki Vangu's Orchestra Bella Bella). Back in Tanzania he joined Orchestra Makassy, and he composed "Mambo Bado" which was the hit of their 1982 European release Agwaya. In 1983 he rejoined Maquis and has since become one of the group’s leading singers and composers. Assosa composed and sang most of their recent favorites, including "Makumbele" and "Ngalula", the latter winning Maquis a first place in the 1989/90 national band contest. The early nineties saw Assosa leading the band Legho Stars, but public demand brought him back to Maquis in the spring of 1992, and he has since established himself as the band leader again.

"Ngalula" and "Makumbele" also feature guitar prodigy Dekula Kahanga 'Vumbi', 'Dust' as he is called, because of his high-pitched guitar licks. He is considered by many as the outstanding discovery on the Tanzanian scene in recent years. At the time of these recordings, in 1988/89 and into 1990, Kahanga's guitar solos were one of the main attractions of Maquis' live performances. The name 'Vumbi', shouted by Assosa throughout his solos, almost supplanted the official mtindo of Maquis Original called Zembwela-Sendema [55 second mp3 clip of Vumbi in action on the song: "Ngalula", 1.26mb]. Kahanga has since 'retired' to Sweden, but he is still a member of Maquis, and plays with them whenever he is in Dar es Salaam.

The mtindo is the musical performance and dance style associated with each band. Most bands stick with their mtindo, but, every so often, Maquis will introduce a new one. This disc showcases several of their mitindo (plural of mtindo) of the last fifteen years: "Mabruki" is still in the Kamanyola style, an incarnation that is called Sanifu. Nineteen eighty-three saw the introduction of Ogelea Piga Mbizi, 'swim and dive' which aptly describes the movements of the accompanying dance. Then in 1984 came the Zembwela style of slow dancing, represented here by "Mpenzi Luta." Maquis' mitindo have so endeared them to the general public that the names of the these styles feature prominently in everyday speech. These days for example kuZembwela is widely used as a synonym for 'dancing' per se.


IOSS was created in a kind of coup in 1985, when the bandowner, businessman Hugo Kisima, disbanded his Orchestra Safari Sound (OSS) led by Ndala Kasheba and hired six leading members of Mlimani Park to form the nucleus of the new IOSS. Singer Muhiddin Maalim Gurumo and lead-guitarist Abel Balthazar were the new bandleaders, Hassani Bitchuka the leading vocalist and composer (featured here on "Chatu Mkali" and "Homa Imenizidia").

Tanzanian bands typically come in rival pairs, each with a large group of loyal followers. This competitive situation may well go back to the older ngoma dance societies, and was also widespread among the dance clubs of the 1930s to the 1950s. While in the early eighties the two most prominent competitors were Ndala Kasheba's OSS and Nguza's Maquis, the new pair became IOSS and Mlimani. Muhiddin Maalim, acknowledged master of mitindo, devised IOSS's new mtindo Ndekule. Originally ndekule is a men's ngoma of the Zaramo people who inhabit the area around Dar es Salaam. It was a warriors dance, performed during celebrations, the men carrying their swords or sticks. Ndekule is also the name of a particular snake and the ndekule ngoma may well have been the dance of a snake-charmers society in earlier times. The contemporary associations become more clear if we look at the song lyrics of "Chatu Mkali," 'beware, a snake is dangerous.' The public read this as referring to the rivalry between Mlimani and its former members leading IOSS. In fact, in IOSS newspaper advertisements of the time, an elephant is seen tugging a motor vessel out of the sea, a snake (i.e., IOSS/Ndekule) waits dangerously at the shore. A ship, 'M.V. Mapenzi' (meaning Motor Vessel Love), featured prominently in one of Mlimani's songs of that period, a song that teased Muhiddin for abandoning his M.V. Mapenzi (M.V. Love, read Mlimani Park) and throwing himself into the sea only to be eaten by the sharks.

For a time IOSS were indeed contenders for Mlimani's position as the number one band. However, in 1987, Hassani Bitchuka rejoined his former band Mlimani with Muhiddin Maalim following in 1989. Since then, both returned to their erstwhile band Juwata/OTTU. Other members left IOSS to join newly established bands made possible by the economic liberalization program which allows importation of musical instruments by private businesses. For example Abel Balthazar and several others including Skassy Kassambula (the featured singer on "Somboko Ama") left to form a new band called the Magereza Jazz Band. IOSS went through several less successful editions before experiencing a short revival at the top in 1991/92 under the leadership of Nguza Viking of Maquis fame. They had a nationwide hit with "Mageuzi" (Changes), a song on the political changes taking place in Tanzania at the time. Despite their resurgence and quite inexplicably, the owner of IOSS disbanded the band a short time later.


Founded in 1964 Juwata is the oldest band currently active in Tanzania today and has been one of the most prominent groups ever since. The band was formed under the wings of the National Workers Union, hence their original name NUTA Jazz Band, and provided the model for many of the bands to come in the seventies and eighties. The music and dance clubs that had dominated the forties and fifties became increasingly obsolete during the sixties. The new model, organizing bands under the wings of government or para-statal organizations, became the dominant form in the seventies, and remains so today: The organization owns the instruments and employs the musicians, who draw salaries like regular workers plus some percentage of the gate collection. Today numerous bands work along this line and include Mlimani Park, Tancut Alimasi, and Vijana Jazz.

The original name Nuta Jazz was changed to Juwata Jazz Band in 1977 to mark a new beginning after a number of prominent band members, Muhiddin Maalim, Abel Balthazar, Hassani Bitchuka among them, left the band to form Dar International and later Mlimani Park Orchestra (Juwata is the Swahili equivalent of Nuta and stands for Jumuiya ya Wafanyakazi Tanzania). Recently the name was changed again to mirror current political changes. Since the mother organization changed its name to Organization of Tanzanian Trade Unions (OTTU), the band has also been renamed and now calls itself OTTU Jazz Band, with the adage baba ya muziki ('father of music') to reflect its standing as the oldest band in the country.

The two mainstays of Juwata are Joseph Lusungu, trumpeter and vocalist, and sax player Mnenge Ramadhani. Both joined Nuta in 1966 and both a different times have been band leaders. The two members still dominate the brassy sound and general character of Juwata's music with their arrangements. The band leader throughout the eighties has been Saidi Mabera who joined in 1973. Mabera is also the band's solo-guitarist and the composer of many of the tunes. The words of two of Juwata's songs on this disc "Tupa Tupa" and "Msafiri Kakiri" are by Moshi William. He is also the singer on these tunes, and occasionally doubles on second-solo or bass guitar. Since their return to Juwata in 1991 Muhiddin Maalim and Hassani Bitchuka have again taken prominent roles in the band with Muhiddin reappointed as band leader. "Usia kwa Watoto" is one of Muhiddin's more recent compositions. The song became a hit for Juwata in 1991. Juwata's mtindo is called Msondo and derives its name from a drum widely used in East Africa. Msondo is also a dance-song genre performed at the initiation celebrations of girls of various ethnic groups in Eastern Tanzania.


Mlimani Park Orchestra was founded in 1978 by some of Tanzania's prominent musicians, among them Muhiddin Maalim, Hassani Bitchuka, Abel Balthazar (all coming over from Juwata at the time), and Michael Enoch, former band leader of the Dar es Salaam Jazz Band. The band established itself soon as Tanzania's leading band, winning a national band contest in 1982. They have soothed Tanzanian audiences ever since with a never ending string of hits. Many of their greatest hits throughout the 1980s may be found on Mlimani Park Orchestra's CD titled Sikinde, (Africassette 9402). The liner notes to Sikinde also contain a detailed history of the band, excerpted on the Mlimani Page. The song included here dates from 1982 and features the voices of Hassani Bitchuka and Hamisi Juma.


For all these bands, it is the collective image they project to their audiences that matters most. This is only natural with bands that have to play for five or six nights a week and up to six hours at a time, a task beyond the capability of a small ensemble. Thus, Tanzanian bands are large, featuring from twenty to thirty musicians. This situation is also bound to introduce problems: There is considerable rivalry within the bands. Many musicians think that they get neither enough room for individual expression nor appropriate financial remuneration. As a result, musicians frequently move from one band to another, always in search of a possibly more advantageous position.

If the system of wage employment for musicians and the lack of a proper recording industry in Tanzania does not favor stardom or easy money (if that is even possible in African music), it also has its advantages: At least it gives the musician a kind of security with regular wages (plus a percentage of the gate collection), housing, health care, etc., which is well above the income of the average Tanzanian. Considering the situation in neighboring countries like Kenya, where musicians barely manage to make a living, the Tanzanian dance band scene is indeed a healthy one.


Tanzania has virtually no recording industry. On the mainland the only recording institution which has operated consistently over the last twenty-five years is Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam (RTD). Once or twice a year, the bands come to its one-track studio for a session, recording about five songs at a time. Both parties involved depend on each other: The radio gets music for its programs at a negligible sum, the bands in turn get publicity for their live performances. However the relationship is not always smooth. Often RTD recordings are pirated and released in neighboring countries such as Kenya, where Tanzanian music is in high demand. As a matter of fact almost all releases featuring Tanzanian bands in the last ten to fifteen years have used tapes stolen or illegally copied from the library of RTD. No proper payments or contractual arrangements have been made. In contrast, the recordings included in this compilation have been authorized through negotiations with all the various parties concerned with their release.

Finally RTD deserves a special credit for its support of local music. Since the 1960s the radio has consistently sponsored and exclusively featured Tanzanian bands on its Swahili programs, thereby contributing to the development of a specific Tanzanian musical style. Today, the music scene in Dar es Salaam is among the most vivid and creative in the whole of Africa.

1994 and 1996 Werner Graebner

East African Music - African Radio

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

Last updated 22 August, 2010.

Copyright 1996-2010 Douglas B. Paterson, All Rights Reserved.