Popular Music, Genre, and Performance in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
This collection of videos represents a broad cross section of popular music found in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. During fieldwork between 1998 and 2003, Alex Perullo worked with artists in different musical genres to learn about their relation to popular music and the contemporary music industry. The many videos recorded during this fieldwork, a portion of which are included in the EVIA Digital Archive, provide an important record of performance and practice spaces, festivals, dance movements, musical techniques, singing styles, and urban nightlife. The value of this collection is that it provides an important glimpse at urban African musical forms in the neoliberal period.
Several themes run through each of the eleven events that appear in this collection. Social interaction—the ways in which people act, respond, interpret, and assign meanings to social events—is a particularly significant quality of each recorded performance. Performances that do not inspire people to dance, sing, talk, and otherwise interact with one another tend to be poorly received. In 2001, for instance, many attendees of a classical music concert mocked what they considered the selfish and tiresome ways in which the performers sat onstage without engaging the audience, who sat motionless throughout the event. Social interaction, then, is about creating a participatory experience in which the performers, audience members, club owners, and general community believe that they are interacting with one another to heighten their engagement with the event.
Musical borrowing is another important theme for this collection. In most of the genres presented here, artists borrow, consciously or not, sounds, timbres, techniques, and vernacular from other styles of music. Sometimes referred to as muziki wa changanyika (mixed music), music borrowing is a key form of establishing credibility for music in urban areas. It establishes a band or artist's musical knowledge and cosmopolitanism, which is a highly respected quality in many forms of urban popular music. In this collection, musical borrowing, whether in dance or music, is only occasionally discussed in the context of specific songs or dances that are exemplary of muziki wa changanyika, since it can be found in the majority of the songs presented here.
Finally, a subtle theme of generational distinction—in which various age groups relate to their music, audiences, lyrics, and dances differently—pervades this collection. For instance, in several of the recorded interviews, elder statesman of the popular music scene debate the approach, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively, that youth use to engage, compose, produce, and sell their music. Often a subtle distinction is made in the ways elders and youth approach social responsibility in musical compositions and performances. See, for instance, discussions of "Old is Gold" by Ndala Kasheba and Kasongo Mpinda Clayton. The younger generation, while acknowledging their elders, often approach music, entertainment, and leisure in a much different way—less informed by the country's nationalist and socialist past than a sense of global connectivity to youth in other parts of the world. See, for instance, the Mambo Club event.
Included in this collection are the six most popular genres of music in Dar es Salaam: ngoma, kwaya, dansi, taarab, mchiriku, and hip hop.
1. Ngoma is a form of traditional music and dance that remains popular in rural areas of the country and, to a lesser extent, in cities. The term ngoma itself can mean drum, dance, or the combination of music and dance performance. As discussed in this collection, urban ngoma is quite different from rural ngoma because of the mixture of styles, practices, and movements from many areas of the country. The group Simba Theatre includes a variety of ngoma forms in their performances.
2. The term kwaya comes from the English word choir, and represents Christian choral groups that perform in churches and in competitions throughout Tanzania. In Tanzania, many groups also distinguish their music from the hymnal-style singing done in churches. These groups refer to their music as gospel music and have a popular music sound, incorporating electric instruments, upbeat tempos, and catchy pop lyrics. In this collection, St. Joseph's Choir represents the kwaya style of religious song, whereas TOT Kwaya performs in the gospel tradition.
3. Dansi is a form of popular dance music that draws on European ballroom dance and Congolese, Cuban, and traditional Tanzanian musics. Dansi groups feature anywhere from 10 to 40 members, depending on the number of backup musicians and dancers. The more classic dansi bands, such as Ndala Kasheba, Nguza Viking, and King Kiki, feature a horn section and a relaxed dance beat. The contemporary dansi bands, such as African Stars and TOT Band, use keyboards rather than horns and have a sound more akin to the Congolese soukous tradition.
4. Taarab music, also known as mipasho and rusha roho, is a form of sung, Swahili poetry often divided into two forms, classical and modern. Classical taarab features an orchestra of instruments, such as the udi (plucked lute), fidla (violin), dumbaki (goblet drum), daf (tambourine) and one or more vocalists who sing in either Arabic (taarabu ya kiarabu) or Swahili (taarab ya kiswahili). Classical taarab is most prominent in Zanzibar; no classical taarab groups perform in Dar es Salaam. Modern taarab, which is the more popular form in Dar es Salaam, is usually sung in Swahili by several singers, along with musicians performing on electric guitars, drums, electric bass, and keyboards. In this collection, TOT Taarab provides a sample of the modern sound of taarab song.
5. Derived from a traditional Zaramo ngoma, mchiriku preceded hip hop as a popular music among youth and is thought to have emerged in Dar es Salaam in the early 1970s (the mchiriku group presented in this collection, Mvita Dancing Troupe, formed in 1973). Often consisting of traditional drums and a keyboard, the music flows in continuous, repetitive cycles with lyrics that address local social and political issues. Mchiriku groups perform at weddings, small neighborhood gatherings, and naming or circumcision ceremonies (Graebner 1999: 687). The shows are often free for anyone to attend and, as a result, many of a neighborhood's wahuni (hooligans) drift in.
6. Hip hop, which includes rap, ragga, zouk, and R&B music, is the fastest growing genre of music in Dar es Salaam. Tanzanian youth use the percussive beats of electronic studio productions—few artists use live bands—and rap in Swahili about issues that they face in daily life. In early Swahili-based rapping, most lyrics addressed social and political issues that affected youth. A more current trend for rap, as well as R&B, is to sing about love, relationships, and sex, although a large portion of the music still is socially conscious. In this collection, the music of R&B singers such as Unique Sisters and Lady Jay Dee, typifies celebratory style lyrics; Mabaga Fresh, Magangwe Mob, and Mr. II make social commentary in their rapping.
Although other genres of music, such as reggae and cover bands, exist in Dar es Salaam, these six genres represent the most popular and commercially successful musical forms. Dansi remains the most popular form of live music, although hip hop has become the music that many young people listen to on the radio, in clubs, and throughout the city's transportation system (most drivers of buses, for instance, are young and prefer the sounds of hip hop over other genres). Kwaya, however, is the most successful genre—although it is not financially lucrative, since most groups perform for free.
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