Bongo flava is back with a bang after two years of Naija dominance

Bongo music
Bongo music is back with a bang after years of Naija dominance Photo: Courtesy

A month after he released his latest video Utanipenda, Tanzania’s Diamond Platinumz is attracting a huge debate as to whether he is predicting his end. The emotional song sounds like a premonition where he predicts his downfall, posing the question on whether his fans and loved ones would still love him.

It is no doubt that the star is the biggest act in Tanzania. For over three years, he has been dominant across East Africa and even stood as one of the celebrated African exports with numerous hits making him a household name in Kenya.

Coincidentally, Diamond is teasing his fans about his fall at a time when Alikiba, the undisputed king some years ago, has made a big comeback bringing the memories of days when the Bongo music reigned supreme across the region.

In fact, there seems to be a fresh battle waged against Diamond by a section of Bongo artistes who are said to be working on a united front to dethrone him.

This week, Diamond was on the receiving end after he alluded that all Tanzanian music had to go through him to get endorsement for play in an international music station.

“They are attacking me yet I use my position to make sure all of us (Tanzanian musicians) succeed internationally. I facilitate all Tanzania-Nigeria collaboration done by artistes from this end,” Diamond was quoted as having said.

“If I decide a Tanzanian’s music video won’t be played on certain international media, it won’t see the light of day. Many international television stations listen and subscribe to my opinion. I have, however, not given any negative review for a Tanzanian artiste; though I can if I so wish,” he went on.

The sentiments got Alikiba responding saying he did not believe Diamond’s statement.

“He (Diamond) doesn’t carry the talent of everyone with him; each singer has his own talent, and has the right to showcase his work. Music nowadays is done for business; so, it would be unfair for only one person to determine if a country’s singers’ music videos meet the threshold to be played on international media – considering we put a lot of money in producing those videos,” Alikiba told XXL’s 255 show.

In 2009, Alikiba’s Mac Muga, a song that many still believe was directed at Mr Nice after his career dwindled reportedly due to lavish spending, was the biggest song in East Africa.

Then, leading Bongo artistes such as Wanaume TMK with hits like Dar Mpaka Moro, Hussein Machozi, Professor Jay, Mr Blue, Lady Jaydee, Ray C and AY led tens of their own in a takeover mission that saw the region sing the Bongo flava tune like a national anthem. They dominated radio and TV stations and claimed every concert at the expense of local artistes. Just like their Ugandan counterparts had done a year before, Tanzanian musicians became the darling of Kenyan fans. However, before long, that wave faded away giving room for the trendier Kwaito and Naija beat. And in came the Nigerians. We have been singing their tune since.

East Africa is slowly on its way to control the continental music scene and it was firstly affirmed with the last year’s All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) where East African artistes shone, an uncommon sight in continental awards.

The East African music involves a list of genres but the oldest genre is Swahili music, commonly known as Bongo music in Tanzania. Last year Swahili Rn’B music affirmed its position in the mainstream markets and if its composers go on, the genre is likely to dominate TV and radio playlists this year.

Memorably, the year ended with the Internet-breaking Swahili rendition of Adele’s Hello by Afro pop star Dela and an equally good Zouk rendition of the same by Otile Brown. Dela had released Mafeelings, a song despite its street slang title has everything written ‘Swahili’ all over it while Sanaipei Tande (Sana) released Ankula Huu.

It also had fresh Swahili Rn’B musicians collaborate with hip-hop artistes to perhaps make the first mark in the scene and new hits by accomplished acts, all this growing the popularity of the genre in Kenya.

The genre has refashioned from the long-held belief that it only appeals to the Coastal crowd.

Throughout the years the sound had been warmly embraced by older generation of entertainers Safari Sound Band, Juma Tutu, Them Mushrooms, Majizee and the Swahili Jazz Band but, increasingly, by a few young entertainers such as Prince Adios, Nyota Ndogo and Ally B.

It is a different story altogether in Tanzania whose Coastal cities are strongly influenced by the genre. The genre has won over the hearts of both the young and old musicians since its inception in the 90s.

Lately in Kenya, however, the Swahili sound has gone mainstream and no longer a preserve for corporate and hotel functions. It is slowly gripping the attention of television shows and radio stations.

Its composers are using fluent and poetic Swahili expressions; melodies influenced either by the cultures of the Coastal tribes or by the Arabs, or both; and a soft tempo that rings to bell Taarab music, the mother of all Swahili music.

The other artistes who are flying the Swahili genre flag are Sudi Boy, Rich Mavoko, Elani, Brown Mauzo, Idd Aziz, Hussein Machozi, Nessa, Masauzi Sauti and Amileena.

The sound, originally from the Coast, is slowly penetrating in Nairobi with Coast artistes shifting to the capital city to work with producers. Tedd Josiah is on the course of his journey to reignite Swahili Rn’B in the country. After successfully working on Wyre’s Chuki, Nikki’s Mapenzi Tele and others in the 1990s, the veteran music producer based in Nairobi is resetting the wheels in motion with singer Mswazi Masauti. The two are putting their time in use at the studio for the Mombasa-born artiste’s first single Mahabuba after producing Brown Mauzo’s Sipendi Ukilia.

“I stumbled on his music a few months ago and found that he had moved back to Mombasa. I started him down a journey in a different direction from what he was used to and got him involved in my Swahili Rn’B movement which I felt his voice was suited for. It is a movement that consists of sweet melodies fused with spicy Swahili lyrics and some Rn’B with a touch of funk,” Tedd explains.

Mswazi Masauti had released Uko Mbali, Siwezi and Usikate Tamaa with J Blessing last year. Tedd intends to produce the artiste’s album in the first quarter of this year.

These fresh faces have an attraction to hip-hop musicians, amassing a stronger fan base. Kaka Empire-signed Tanzanian artiste Rich Mavoko collaborated with Rabbit in Njoo, Otile Brown worked with Khaligraph in Imaginary Love and Hussein Machozi in Datisha with rapper Calvo Mistari.

“Swahili music lately is the in-thing in the Kenyan market. There is a way the market always dictates what sells at a particular time. I think it is the way the audiences respond to such music that has made many artistes switch and try to make the most out of their careers by doing what sells most,” Otile Brown says.

Otile says that his largest fan base is in Nairobi since it is his city of residence. Rich Mavoko who is yet to complete his first year stay in Kenya is overwhelmed by the support.

“Kenyans are starting to appreciate more Swahili music. Pacha Wangu and Roho Yangu paved my way into the Kenyan market. It has always been my dream to cross borders and Kenyans are appreciating my music and my dream is coming true. For that I am grateful,” says Rich Mavoko.

It is not only new acts who are making their mark in the industry with the genre. Versatile boy band Sauti Sol’s Sura Yako has a touch of the chakacha sound while Elani involves pure Swahili lyrics in their hits.

Swahili hip-hop artiste Hustla Jay informs us the sound attracts a large audience because of the use of the Swahili language that both the learned and illiterate can understand. He also points out that the reception of the sound has is because artistes are rediscovering the roots that they had lost.

“Producers are doing a commendable job. When Swahili artistes get the support of producers and agree to work with them, we will have more talents. We are seeing more of that with the young artistes because of the producers spot these talents and give them all the support they need,” says Safari Sound Band leader Juma Kidasi.

“I have seen many female artistes with the potential to sing this kind of genre but I do not know why they choose to do otherwise. That is a mystery that baffles me. Many Kenyans also run for quick fame hence end up doing shoddy music that can barely cross the borders,” says Otile.


JOIN THE CONVERSATION


next