Classic East African music from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, known as zilipendwa in Tanzania (or zilizopendwa in Kenya) – meaning literally “those who were loved” – today risks fading into oblivion, with only a handful of bands remaining active.
Fortunately, two like-minded people want to document and preserve the legacy of this infectious East African music in a new film. Filmmaker Amil Shivji and Rebecca Corey from the Tanzania Heritage Project (THP) are co-directing the documentary, dubbed Wahenga. Shooting is already underway in Tanzania.
In Tanzania, zilipendwa is considered something of a “meta-genre”, the characteristics of which vary depending on the time. The term was initially reserved for East- and Central African dance music that was popular during the post-independence period of the 1960s and early 70s, but over time came to describe the music of the mid-1970s through to the late 1980s, a time commonly associated with the socialist policies of president Julius Nyerere, whose policies ensured that Tanzania was a musical powerhouse of the entire region. In recent years, however, the genre has taken a hit from new sounds such as hip-hop. Fans of zilipendwa are most eloquent about its value in their lives when making humorous comparisons with bongo flava, the country’s own unique style of R&B-influenced hip-hop.