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Pan African Voyage on Afrobeat Part 3: East African Influence on music

The word “kucheza” means dance in Swahili. It is fitting for this week’s installment because the music featured has the habit of getting one dancing, be it consciously so or otherwise. While personal, this blog will touch on musicians from East Afrikan region and how I got to know about them. It is a narrative of sounds that come from the region that I have come to appreciate over the years.

I must admit that I had no knowledge of East Afrika beyond the stuff one was fed in the schooling system - so basically, I knew nothing. In fact, it was only after school that I began to learn more about the region - albeit the interest was sparked by adolescent experimentation. In the interest of sparing you the “not so savoury” details of the background, I came to be curious about East Africa through Joseph Hill and Culture’s Addis Ababa.

I didn’t have an idea of where to begin when finding out more about East African music. At the time, I knew nobody from the region who could point me in the “right” direction and so I turned to the internet - such is the power of privilege. One of the first groups I learned about was the Western Jazz Band - a rather interesting name if you consider that they’re from East Afrika. Upon further online searching it turned out that the gband were named as the Western Jazz Band because they were from the Western Province in Tanzania. Furthermore, Western Jazz Band was both a band and a social club. That sparked more interest in me and made me more curious. I also learned that it was common to refer to any modern music coming from Afrika as ‘jazz’. 

Morogoro jazz band. Image subject to copyright.

One of the elements that appealed to me about East Afrikan music was the way they played the string instruments.It reminded me of when we would travel long-distance via taxis between the then Transvaal and Zululand. The music that the taxis played would range from the likes of the late Max Mntambo, popularly known as Shaluza Max to the likes Tu Nokwe. While the taxis were a source of new sounds for me the radio was also a more accessible source. It was through the radio that I heard the more “adventurous” radio presenters include on their evening shows  songs from neighboring countries. Though unfamiliar to the ear, there was something enchanting about music from countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Names such as Oliver Mtukudzi from latter mentioned neighboring Zimbabwe became more familiar to me as I got to listen more. I learned about Thomas Mapfuno and the Blacks Unlimited, and how he developed a style of music based on traditional mbira music, but played with modern electric instrumentation. It was years later when I had befriended someone from Zimbabwe who spoke Shona, that I learned that the Blacks Unlimited characterized their lyrics with social and political commentary - a point that made them even more relevant for me. There were also names such as Papa Wemba, which I happened to come across by chance.

The musical experience curated through show and this blog is a celebration of the vast diversity of sound that the motherland has blessed us with. It is also a celebration of music, the people who make it, and those who enjoy it. As you listen to the music featured on this Sunday’s show, we invite you to try and spot the one song included in the playlist that comes from a different region. Once you know it, please leave a comment on this blog letting us know which one you think it is. 

Beats for the people, by the people!


Tune in on Sunday 2 August 2020 3pm (CAT) www.ubrfm.net

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