Bongo Flava is the name for the music that has been coming out of the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania since the early 1990s. Bongo Flava isn’t one style: it has a mix of rap, hip hop, and R&B for starters but these labels don’t do it justice. It’s rap, hip hop and R&B Tanzanian style: a big melting pot of tastes, history, culture and identity.
Although Bongo Flava is a purely Tanzanian phenomenon, its use of Swahili and its strong roots in the East African reality means that the music translates across borders with a growing fan-base throughout the East African region.
Bongo Flava makes up its own rules and these guys don’t need to copy their brothers in America, but have a sure clear sense of who they are and what sound it is they’re making
Bongo Flava is about the street — ‘bongo’ means brain/intelligence in Swahili but it’s the street word for Dar es Salaam. Most of the artists in this scene are from or based in Dar es Salaam — living, working and studying in the unofficial heart of the country. The ‘flava’ they create — is varied and cutting edge — and is unique to the city and its people.
It has its roots in the rap, R&B and hip hop coming from America but from the beginning these styles have been pulled apart and put back together with African hands. Bongo Flava mixes up a whole host of styles and influences from black American music — hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, swing – and black American culture — the clothes, attitude and street look. All of these ingredients are combined with what East Africans have played with for decades — music styles such as African jazz, salsa, zouk, taraab — and the reality that is contemporary East Africa.
Bongo Flava lyrics are sung in Swahili peppered with words and phrases in English and tackle subjects faced by the continent and the world over: poverty, ambition, success, money, HIV/AIDS, education and experiences we can all relate to such as love, jealousy, beauty and loneliness.
The liberalisation of the media in Tanzania, post the Nyerere era, has created the opportunity for emerging Tanzanian artists to be heard across the country and the East African region via the radio and TV. With this of course comes competition within the music industry which is as fierce as it’s ever been. On the plus side, the easy access to national and international media is pushing up the standard of Bongo Flava writing and production. Bongo Flava makes up its own rules and these guys don’t need to copy their brothers in America, but have a sure clear sense of who they are and what sound it is they’re making.
The scene is small — everyone knows everyone — which means there’s a lot of collaboration and exchange of ideas and styles, making it an exciting and dynamic place to be.
This Who’s Who is just a taster of the talent out there – there are many more groups blasting the airwaves, as well as a few more girls who we weren’t able to meet.
Mwanafalsafa / Mwana FA (‘First Philosopher’)
Mwanafalsafa started performing on stage in 1993 at school in Tanga region. Early influences — even at primary school age — were his brothers, Chine Black and Kasir, known as Quite Gangasters Chronic. Mwanafalsafa formed the crew Black Skin with his schoolmates Robilus and Getheerics in 1995. In 1996, he came third in the Tanga region hip hop competition. Mwanafalsafa returned to Dar es Salaam in 1998 and studied A-levels at Ununio Islamic High School, where he majored in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. After completing A-level studies he started to work seriously at his music career in 2000. In 2003, he was voted best hip hop artist with his track ‘Alikufa Kwa Ngoma’ — an anti-AIDS song — at the Kili Music Awards, Dar es Salaam.
Album releases: Mwanafalsafa and Toleo Lijalo — include songs discussing AIDS, spiritualism, love songs and dance-beat songs.
He has worked with various producers, including Bonie Love (Mawingu Studio), Pfunk (Bongo Records), Master Jay (MJ Records).
He takes inspiration from a wide range of music genres: soul, tango, and American rap and artists including Gloria Estefan, Method Man and Kenyan hip hop duo Necessary Noize. He also takes inspiration for his writing from reading and watching films. His own style combines guitar and a more instrumental line up with rap with a unique use of intelligent word play and powerful imagery.
He has toured extensively in Tanzania and Uganda and is planning tours in Kenya and the UK.
Jay Moe aka Moe Technics
Jay Moe grew up in Dar es Salaam and went to school there, together with Solo Thang, Jahffarai (other big Bongo Flava artists) and Pfunk, a Bongo Flava producer. They started performing together during their time at school.
In 1999, Jay Moe formed the crew Underground Kingdom with Jahffarai and Solo Thang. In 2000, Jay Moe participated with Solo Thang, Lady Lu and Jahffarai in the Clouds FM’s Star Search Competition. They won and were given the prize of getting the opportunity to produce a CD with Bongo Records. In 2000, Jay Moe signed a contract with Bongo Records: hitting the big time.
After leaving Bongo Records, Jay Moe released his first solo album Ndio Mama in 2002.
Album releases: Ndio Mama — his first solo album includes the now-famous ‘Kama Unataka Demu”, which was so well-received it became an anthem for youth across the country. His second album Mawazo Ya Jay Moe (Jay Moe’s Thoughts) was released in 2004.
He has worked with producers Bongo Records and Active Audio Records.
Jay Moe is seen as one of the ‘grandfathers’ of Tanzanian hip hop – with his professional production and styles which take inspiration from American rap and hip hop with a proud nod to his homeland and African identity. Jay Moe has collaborated with Necessary Noize and Nazizi Hirji (big Kenyan hip hop names) and Tanzanian artists including Solo Thang, Crazy GK, Jahffarai, Lady Lu, Mwana FA and T.I.D.
He is well known across the East African region and has toured throughout Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.
Solo Thang grew up in Dar es Salaam and was a school mate of Jay Moe and Jahffarai. In 1993, he joined the group Hard Crewz. In 1996, the band separated and Solo Thang launched his solo career. In 1999, he became a member of the crew Underground Kingdom together with Jay Moe, Jahffarai and Pfunk.
In 2000, Solo Tang participated with Jay Moe, Lady Lu and Jahffarai in the Clouds FM’s Star Search Competition and was able to produce a collaborative CD as their prize. He has also found time to study International Legislation.
Album releases: His first solo album Homa Ya Dunia was nominated as best album at the Kili Music Awards (2001-2002). Solo left Bongo Records and worked with different studios to produce and promote his second album Kcc (Kima Cha Chini). Two of his most famous hits are ‘Kilio Changu’ (I’m crying), a song about his life as a musician, and ‘Hutafa Hutaumbik’ (Nobody’s perfect).
He has worked with a number of producers including Bongo Records, Soundcrafters, Poa Records, and Down Town Records.
Solo’s style is unique in the current scene, mixing international music styles including hip hop, R&B, Salsa, House with local/ African styles such as Souk, African jazz, Mduara (a style found on the East African coast) and Taraab. His lyrics are intelligent and contemporary- telling ‘real’ life stories about issues such as being young, love, poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Crazy GK aka Bokassa aka Amiri Jeshi Mkuu
Crazy GK is from Upanga East a district of Dar es Salaam city. He has been releasing singles since 1995 and in 1997 and was such a new force on the scene that on his third single Upanga East he collaborated with Carola Kinasha: a famous Tanzanian musician and singer from another generation with a more traditional style to her music.
In 2000, he decided to quit music for a while to finish his studies but resumed his music career the following year, releasing his first album in 2002.
Album releases: His first album Nitakupa Nini Mama includes the tracks featuring more established Bongo Flava artists including Pauline Zongo, TID, AY and Mwanafalsafa.
GK’s latest album Nitakufaje was released in 2004 together with the launch of the newly formed East Coast Team. Their video Ama Zangu, Ama Zao (featuring Lady JD) is very provocative and was almost censored by the government.
He has also worked with the producers MJ Records and GMC and the record label Smooth Vibes.
Crazy GK’s hip hop style combines rap with Taraab: the traditional music from the Tanzanian coast, and instruments such as the keyboard. He takes inspiration from Craig David, the UK R&B artist and the slower end of the hip hop style. He also takes inspiration from his Muslim faith.
He is now the frontman of the East Coast Team, a collection of young Bongo Flava artists who are friends and family members. Their image is BIG and provocative and there are 7 members in the crew.
Mike T aka Mnyalu
In 1992, Mike T started singing in a church choir and then emerged as an underground MC in the mid-90s with his crew TDC. In 2000, Mike Tee signed with Bongo Records.
His first single ‘Hivi Kweli Tutafika’ featured his younger sister Anna, a local celebrity in Dar es Salaam. His next single ‘Nyaluland’ was a hit and describes the reality of life in Iringa a region in Tanzania, showing his roots and identity with this rural area in the country. His latest hit single ‘Sintobadilika’ was nominated for the Kili Music Award in 2004.
Album releases: The first album Mnyalu Inc features a selection of Tanzanian artists including Mr. Paul, Mwana FA, Stara Thomas, Juma Nature, Q Chief, Tony Nice, and Bizzman.
Ukurasa Mpya is his new album, released in 2004.
Mike T is currently studying for an advanced diploma in Business Studies in Dar es Salaam.
He has worked with the producers Bongo Records and MJ Records.
His hip hop style is different to others on the scene because of the strong choral influences which are combined with rap. He takes his influence from country music, rock n’ roll, and artists like Brian Adams, Eminem, and Hashim.
Man Dojo & Domo Kaya
Ages: 25 and 20
Both Man Dojo & Domo Kaya were born and grew up in Arusha unlike many in the Bongo Flava scene who are Dar es Salaam city boys and girls. Growing up in Arusha they sang as children in church, and then later formed a group together. In 2003, they moved to Dar es Salaam to promote their music career and to find success and popularity.
Album release: Their debut album Nikube was produced at Bongo Records and FM Studios. They are currently writing for a new album.
Their style combines rap with acoustic guitar and singing as well as popular local rhythms. They are the new rising stars in the hip hop scene in Tanzania and have been touring extensively around the country to promote their group.
T.I.D. aka Top in Dar
TID started singing in 1994 with the Black Gangsters and five years after the group’s formation, he embarked on a solo career and began using the name TID.
TID’s solo career began when he featured on popular Bongo Flava albums such as Crazy GK’s Tutakukumbuka, TID’s talent was spotted and he was signed immediately to Poa Records at 21. He featured on a number of tracks of fellow Bongo Flava artists and then released his debut single ‘Mrembo’ in March 2002, he instantly shot to fame and has been following this success with the hit ‘Zeze’ produced by Pfunk.
In 2003 he took the main role in ‘Girlfriend’ – a Tanzanian film about the Bongo Flava life and music which put TID’s face and helped to confirm his popularity across the country and then East Africa where the film has been screened.
Album releases: His first album Sauti Ya Dhahabu was released in 2002 and sold over 200,000 copies in Tanzania alone, at least 350,000 across Africa, and received massive airplay in East Africa as a whole. His mix of R&B and Caribbean beats made the album a club favourite with tracks like ‘Siamini’ and ‘Kweli’.
TID received the Ijumaa Award for Best Song of 2002 (for ‘Zeze’) and a Youth Action Award for Best Performing Artist of the Year. This hit track, ‘Zeze’, was selected by the internationally acclaimed Putumayo Foundation for inclusion in a compilation album called Global Soul which was released recently. TID was nominated for Best Male Artist and Best R&B Artist at the Tanzania Music Awards in 2003.
His upcoming new album features artists from Kenya and Uganda.
T.I.D has toured in the East African region – Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda and has also branched out internationally with tours in the UK and USA.
Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe aka K-Lyinn
Jacqueline began her music career in 1997 when she joined the Tanzanite band, travelling to Dubai in 1999 as their singer. They had gigs in luxury hotels, bars and restaurants doing covers and gainin a lot of experience at performing. In 2000, she was nominated Miss Tanzania and represented Tanzania at the Miss World event that year.
In 2003 she began her solo music career and recorded and released tracks including ‘Vipi Nitakudhibiti ‘and ‘Machozi Ya Furaha’. Her first album will be released soon.
Producers: Soundcrafters, Mabuto and MJ
She has already toured in Tanzania and is now becoming famous for her music, rather than her modelling career. Her style isn’t rap like the rest of the guys in this Who’s Who, more the soft end of R&B with zouk mixed up in there too. Her influences come from Mariah Carey and BeyoncÈ Knowles. She is one of very few female solo artistÈs on the Bongo Flava scene.
Her goal is to collaborate with Kenyan and Ugandan artists to launch her career in East Africa.
Text by Birgit Quade and Lydia Martin
–All photos by Lydia Martin–