Why Bongoland jazz band ‘dance music’ seems to be on oxygen 

26Nov 2019
Michael Eneza
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Why Bongoland jazz band ‘dance music’ seems to be on oxygen 

PUNDITS in the music industry and acknowledged experts, practitioners in its commercial side as well as veterans of all sorts of music patterns had a festival of sorts to exchange views on the state of music in the country, where it appears the crucial issue was what is happening to ‘dance music.’

Msondo Ngoma Music Band‘s singers put their skills to show in the band’s recent show in Dar es Salaam.

 

This expression is used apparently for lack of a better term as all music is about dancing – that there is no such thing as somber music to be listened upon rather than dance, with possible exception of funeral music. In the latter case people stand in one minute silence, total disconnect.

To be sure the matter was not new, but after the ground breaking public forum, there will be less itching to raise such and similar opinions in the grand public as it will be assumed that the issues are known anyway, if indeed earlier there was a feeling of being locked out in a sense. Possibly all important actors in the music industry were present or in the wings, and the situation was so charged and involved that the ITV-Radio One-Capital Radio management decided to add an hour to the discussion, well beyond the usual allocated time. It means everyone must have been heard.

Or at least the major lines of argument, as there are as many opinions and variations of opinion as there are individuals, so the particular opinions could not all have been presented, but hardly a shade of opinion was missing from start to end. Even the other sequence, of opinions reacting to views and perspectives presented in the talk show there were plenty that same night, in which case most pundits and even routine enthusiasts will have a balanced view of things, as each one has had a missing portion beefed up. Exchange educates everyone to be balanced in perspective.

The crucial issues remained a pair, or say one issue was pivotal and the other was an accessory to  critical defenses of the principal matter, namely the state of ‘dance music’ or say traditional jazz band music, though the words were scarcely spoken in the dialogue. It is routinely asserted that ‘bongo fleva’ music or rather hip hop kind of throb music has taken the stage so strongly that ‘dance music’ or jazz band musical artistry is bent on one knee, literally begging for audiences. There is an auxiliary point in that assertion, namely that ‘bongo fleva’ lacks ethics, ruins culture.

As to the last point, some strongly insisted towards the end of the show that producers care for the customer, that it is to them that products are styled, edited or synchronized, not to abstract ethical preliminaries that ought to inform all music industry products. Two issues come up on this point, that ‘dance music’ fails because it doesn’t cross ethical boundaries and thus those who dare to do so get the audiences as they tend to fill halls with mischief-minded youth, instead of the respectful adults of yesteryears, as it were. How far this is the case is debatable, in the least.

What though sparks the debate isn’t ethics of local hip hop but its success in the face of the slumber of erstwhile jazz band music. There is a chasm between these types of music and their public performances, as jazz band music has permanent or contracted staff members, all of them technicians in their given areas, playing this or that instrument or vocals.. There is usually a bevy of showgirls to enliven the place, bring the crowd to their feet or at times move to give out cash.

It is this kind of adult music, group performance and staid culture of slow moving and thoughtful lyrics which were often punctuations of national life as a whole, whose fate is being quizzed. Not only did many performers of yesteryears slide into poverty in their old age – in like manner as soccer players, to be sure, and we ought not to forget a bevy of civil servants and political leaders – unlike the more enterprising musicians of later years. They have indisputably individualistic performances where they need some backup but the songs are theirs, and often such back up is pieced together by the producer, leaving the musician starring on his own, stuffed up with cash.

It means that it isn’t just musicians of the earlier period who give airs of having failed in life but really it is a specific format of doing things – collective music and dance hall based fans – vis a viz the more enterprising individual sort of performance albeit with auxiliaries, and on-line fan base for the better part. Yet this isn’t a hip hop vs adult jazz music per se but a Tanzanian sort of environment, as in DRC the best part of jazz music is in the past where they were legends locally and abroad. Tanzanian musicians lived with the general level of income, on a regular weekend-based earnings routine, and its group character doesn’t allow real stardom, personalized earnings.