Promoting Tanzania's Musical Legends

King Kiki performs at the Beat Festival in February 2012

Promoting Tanzania’s Musical Legends

Every Thursday night at Wantanshi Afro Lounge in Oyster Bay, Dar-es-Salaam, maestro King Kiki and the Wazee Sugu Band perform until the early morning hours, long after many younger souls have gone home and to bed. Crowded as they are on the small stage in the corner of the club, they still manage to show off impressive dance moves and bring new life to a repertoire of old songs, a style of music now called “zilipendwa” — or “the ones that were loved.”

King Kiki is not the only Tanzanian musician from the “old days” who still performs. DDC Mlimani Park, John Kitime and the Kilimanjaro Band, the Kalunde Band, and many other groups still wow live audiences all over the city, making Tanzania’s musical legends more accessible than most famous musicians in the world’s more “developed” countries. Their counterparts in the United States and Europe have long since retired to luxurious lives hidden from public view — a far cry from the rough and rebellious lives they once lived as rock and roll stars– but Tanzanian musicians have kept going.

King Kiki performs at the Beat Festival in February 2012

King Kiki performs at the Beat Festival in February 2012

As their audience, we’re happy to still have the chance to see these famous names in action, long past the glory days of the 60’s and 70’s. But though we’re happy they continue to play, we should ask why — besides their love of music and performing — have they not packed up and called it a day?

Though there’s probably not a Tanzanian around who hasn’t heard King Kiki’s “Kitambaa Cheupe,” or another of his many hits, the King himself hasn’t exactly struck it rich. The reasons are many but they boil down to these undeniable facts: there is inadequate intellectual property protection by the law, rampant piracy in the market, and the inability of musicians and institutions to fight violations of copyright. Not to mention that world-wide, the ease of digital file sharing has moved the commerical music industry online and out-of-reach for musicians not versed in the techno-speak of the new generation.

The Tanzania Heritage Project started out with intention of preserving and digitizing old music trapped on analog reel-to-reel tapes at the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation, formerly known as Radio Tanzania Dar-es-Salaam. But as soon as we realized that a handful of the musicians who recorded at Radio Tanzania were still performing, we started getting in touch with them. Since January, we’ve been documenting their stories and recording their live shows, an active form of preservation for future generations. But what about right now? What can we do for them in the present?

This past Sunday we held a seminar at the COSTECH Innovation Space in Kijitonyama, Dar-es-Salaam called “Promoting Tanzanian Music Online.” Our co-founder Benson Rukantabula said,

“When people think about African music they think of West Africa. They think of Mali and Senegal and the Ivory Coast. But when they think about East Africa, about Tanzania, all they think of is Mount Kilimanjaro and safari animals.”

The crowd, most of them musicians, stirred in their seats, chuckling and nodding, but also making exclamatory sounds of protest and frustration. “But what about our wonderful music? Yes, we have great music here,” Benson continued. “And we need to take advantage of the internet and modern technology to share it so that you musicians can benefit.”

Benson went on to tell the seminar participants about the ways musicians and their promoters and fans can use social media like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, among other sites, to support the musicians and draw audiences to their shows. “How much would you pay for an advertisement on the radio or TV?” Benson asked the crowd. “Do you know how much you pay on YouTube? Nothing. It’s completely free.” The key message participants took away was the need to take advantage of technology to benefit from their careers as artists.

A representative from CHAMUDATA, the musicians’ union, stood up at one point and said, “We gave our voices and our songs to the government and to the country during liberation and after independence to support them. Now they don’t support us. If we died tomorrow, they wouldn’t care. This isn’t right. But we can’t do anything about it.” The musicians expressed thanks that an organization cared about their struggles. Later, reflecting on the weathered but indomitable men who attended the meeting, I was a bit star-struck at the line-up they represented: Shikamoo Jazz Band, Wazee Sugu, Cuban Marimba Band, Msonda Ngoma, and DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra. Meeting and hearing the viewpoints of Juma Ubao, Samata Rajabu, Waziri Nyampe, Ally Adinani, and Maymbile Alli, and Kikumbi Mwanza wa Mpango, galvanized our determination to protect, preserve and promote the music and stories of this ‘evergreen’ generation.

We believe that the digitization of the Radio Tanzania archives, alongside actively documenting and promoting their work, will help secure the livelihoods and legacy of Tanzania’s greatest musicians. There’s a long way to go and a lot to do, so we are inviting innovators, entrepreneurs, contemporary musicians and music-lovers to join us in our efforts. Please use our contact page to get in touch if you would like to get involved or leave feedback.