In releasing Bongo Flava: Swahili Rap from Tanzania Out Here Records have cottoned on to this phenomenon coming out of Tanzania. The 14 tracks give anyone outside Tanzania and the East African region a feeling for the scene today — a sense of the sheer number of artists out there and the variety of rap styles and sounds they’re producing.
This isn’t a safe, stylised and exportable version — these artists and their sounds are pounding the nation’s airwaves as we speak.
The first track, ‘Umoja wa Tanzania’ by Juma Nature stands as a sort of anthem, a reminder to any listener that Bongo Flava is more than a music style but a mouth piece for and to the youth. In this track Juma Nature celebrates his roots, his country and the sense of unity Tanzanians enjoy. This may seem like a clichÈ to a non-African, but considering the state of play on the continent it is something to be celebrated. Juma Nature’s rap flows easily, accompanied by simple synthesised drum beats, keyboard, guitar and violin — it’s rap in its purest form. The words and rap rhythms take centre stage and have such a strong sense of story-telling that the roots of rap are right there to hear.
The difference between LWP Majitu and the rest of the featured tracks is huge. LWP stands for Live With Purpose — these guys are seen as the wild boys of Bongo Flava. The rapping is ‘hardcore’ — harder, slower and harsher than any of the other tracks on the album.
Sista P, the only female rapper featured on the album and one of very few in the Bongo Flava scene, pounds her way through her track ‘Anakuja (She’s Coming)’. She fights her corner with fast aggressive rapping backed up by synthesised drumbeats, charting her career with clever word play and rhythms and she shows she’s a force to be reckoned with.
The last track on the album comes from X-Plastaz who are from Northern Tanzania, near the heartland of the Maasai people — a self-contained tribe with their own language and identity fiercely guarded by its people. By creating ‘Maasai Hip hop’ and incorporating Maasai chanting and sounds X-Plastaz are taking Bongo Flava in a totally new direction. The rap booms out, complemented by the unique pitch of Maasai singing and deep acapella chanting. An exciting head-bobbing mix.
Out Here Records should be applauded for what could be seen as a risky release but there will be many Tanzanians out there saying ‘I told you so’.
Bongo Flava: Swahili Rap from Tanzania released by Out Here Records.
Visit their site for more info on www.outhere.de
The album is distributed by Sterns Music www.sternsmusic.com
See our feature on Who’s Who in Bongo Flava, and the feature on The Evolution of East African Music as well as the recent Mapito review.