Blaming elders, lack of national music genre after independence  

03Nov 2021
By Guardian Reporter
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Blaming elders, lack of national music genre after independence  

​​​​​​​AT 60 years of independence, observers in all sectors of society are closely examining what we have achieved during that period, and music is no exception, despite that the limelight is usually on sports.

Msondo Ngoma Music Band's Saxophonists perform during the troupe's recent event, which took place in Dar es Salaam.

Music is a field that is characterized by a lack of organized competition, in which case people remember music groups and contributions from a strictly social level, that is, personal affinities, dance attendances, music purchasing, or these days visiting sites of various musicians on the internet, etc.

The competition is informal but equally intense, as public affinities and earning levels can’t be hidden from the public view.

In that case, it isn’t possible to separate the commercial aspect from artistic considerations per se, as music must but be appreciated and people dip into their pockets in one way or another to access it and make use of it, thus living the music as it were.

The artistic aspect comes up singularly in the manner in which music touches people’s contemplation of their own lives, as music acts as a therapy, what the Greeks used to call ‘parrhesia,’ namely speaking in public about an issue to your heart’s satisfaction.

Music enables people to express their feelings to themselves, as someone relives what happened and offers them solace.

That is one reason why building a music genre is not an easy matter, as first there has to be an atmosphere where an issue comes up around which music is built or dedicated, explored in a myriad of incidents at the social or personal level and accompanying skills of expression, or delivery.

The real history of music isn’t in the sentiments it expresses but in the delivery, as the use of instruments and patterns of singing in tune with those instruments.

That is the physical aspect of the music, while the sentiment is the content, the morale of that activity, and through which the condition of the social fabric it espouses gets mirrored.

In this manner, one can map out the history of Tanzanian music and figure out if there was a line of cohesion in instrumentation and delivery, and if indeed those who came before the current generation did little in the way of generating distinctive content of Tanzanian music.

A key pundit on the local scene, ‘the music Manju’ of the state broadcasting entity, affirms energetically, even repeatedly, that Tanzania has lacked its genre of music since independence, contended with living in the shadows of our giant musical neighbours, Congo – then Zaire and later, or now.

As in any value-laden formulation, where personal sentiments are integral to what is being postulated as true, we see questionable tenets here.

The Manju can be faulted at two levels, first largely failing to see that in the first place it isn’t possible to have a single orientation in music in a country short of intense cultural homogeneity.

For instance, it is relatively easy for Somalia to have a national music genre because of its ethnic cohesion, but even then variations will be noticed, which will be seen as marginal to outsiders but locally (in the country) such variations will be seen to be a matter of ‘life and death,’ for instance if they were politicized.

During the World War II period, the music of German classical legend Richard Wagner was known as the favourite or even an inspiration to German fascist Chancellor Adolf Hitler, thus many hated the musician to this day.

The plurality of local music is plentiful and there for all to see, as the coastal areas have had their Taarab since the classical era of Swahili civilization, but the delivery and sentimentality curves along a certain period, but largely remains the same.

The reason is that Swahili society, centered within the culture of polygamy and the constant threat of being dropped and another woman is married, hangs over the music like a ‘sword of Damocles.’

Things like ‘twist,’ followed by short-lived beats like calypso, ‘pachanga’ or ‘jazz’ in an unclear sense of the term passed by, and ‘rhumba’ largely stayed, but in the 1970s a faster or rapid pace came up, known in Zaire as ‘kavasha’ but here it morphed into dance music, without a label.

If one talks about a national music genre in Zanzibar chances are that taarab will occupy the whole floor, while the same can’t be said of the Mainland, where Taarab can’t be left out but is certainly not dominant.

In like manner ‘twist’ dominated the Kenyan scene after independence while just being audible on this side of the border, more receptive to jazz, pachanga, rhumba, etc.

The influence of Congolese music was intense, even predominant but local music isn’t an extension of the Congo as beats are different, not by choice firstly but by dictates of language, native phonetics.

Musical genre or modality is basically how people speak and this is transposed into music, so Griot is Senegalese and ‘kwela’ is South African, etc.