King Majuto: 60 years of hilarious presence in Tanzanian film, drama

10Aug 2018
Michael Eneza
The Guardian
King Majuto: 60 years of hilarious presence in Tanzanian film, drama

VETERAN local comedian Amri Athumani, better known by his popular stage name of King Majuto, has left the stage virtually at the height of his career, with his beaming face still a common sight on posters of various commercial adverts, -

President John Magufuli pays his last respects in Dar es Salaam yesterday to long-serving star artiste Amri Athumani, popularly known as King Majuto. Photo: Correspondent Miraj Msala

constituting endorsement and adoration that his very image created on the public stage.

As is the case with most current Tanzanian artistes including those working from outside the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, King Majuto became a popular figure with the advent of television.

But he was also a household name under various epithets and stage namesakes for a city generation preceding sitting-room TV. There was a brief era of videos and, a bit earlier, Radio Tanzania alone.

Meeting with death at the rather unripe age of 70, King Majuto has over the past 20 years been a joyful character showing the frailties of an old man beefed with wisdom and a bit of streetwise cleverness in various television casts.

His main role was that of a father, or joking sort of old man; an asset or - for his adventurous outlook and carefree manner - a sort of liability in the family scenes he personalized, most often as the star attraction even among much younger cast fellow members in their prime.

As other artistes basked in their youth, he basked in his elderly persona, managing to channel it into more lucrative spheres with the passing of time as commerce backed up entertainment, all needing his talent.

Chroniclers who have followed his interviews over the past decade, where he was already an iconic figure in the local film industry, may recall one vital datum of his career; that he started off at the age of nine, in 1958.

It is clearly part of the stuff with which exceptional talent is made of; that it is precocious, comes up naturally, and is noticed at an early age - not the result of school dramas where it only gets room to excel.

And if there is a 'ngoma' group (local cultural troupe) around, then he is rapidly absorbed as a starlet - changing his act with age, rather than developing the art itself as it is basically inborn. It is just exhibited.

The career of King Majuto was to that extent a mirror of the changing cultural and commercial landscape in Dar es Salaam, from his precocious start as a child prodigy before independence - where he must have been known that way for a while - changing rhythmically in subsequent years.

By the end of the first phase of his career, he was a robust youth going into the drama profession more or less as an occupation, where prospects could only stagnate for a certain period. Artistes reveled in direct shows, and in earlier periods were often brought into national cultural groups for extended periods during key local festivals or shows abroad. Commerce not yet.

An intermediary period during the late 1980s saw videos come to the fore, leading local artistes to scramble for the pockets of local viewers addicted to the scores of foreign cheap video shows available while locals needed greater price quotations to survive.

In this scenario, King Majuto and his fellow local entertainers did not see much change until much later, when the broadening scope of local television enabled more film producers to break through. Though it wasn't nirvana for everyone, it did allow a breadth of really talented entertainers such as King Majuto to shine in a wider forum, as household viewing rapidly rose.

Other achievements were in waiting, including increasing commercial endorsements where a lively acted scene can help an advertisement carry the punch it needs.

Beyond films that are reserved for the devoted, these commercials were there for everyone to watch, before and after prime time TV news bulletins. King Majuto was often the only actor per se in these short scenes, others being passers-by or bystanders.

The late entertainer appeared to have intense affinities with the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa, which has quite often attracted musicians and other entertainers with Tanga and Coast region backgrounds, the more notable of whom included Mbaraka Mwinshehe, who died in an accident in that city after shifting his music there in the early1980s.

Taarab musicians of the likes of Mombasa's Juma Bhalo and Tanzania's Shakila Said were also prominent during the early post-Uhuru years when the border was more of a formality than a hindrance, while more lately, Bongo Flava music icon Ali Kiba held a galactic wedding bash in Mombasa which drew mixed reviews from pundits and colleagues.

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