Check ya mziki: Quality Rap from Tanzania

Thursday 18th, October 2012 / 17:03 Written by


Nikki Mbishi’s Sauti ya Jogoo (“Voice of the Rooster”) reckons with Tanzanian politics and is a vital sign of the rap scene’s rebirth.

If you’ve come to scratch some music from Tanzania loads of Bongo Flava with all its kinds of obtrusive auto-tune, high-pitched synthesizers and decadent US-style have sure overrun your auditory canal. The quality of straight rap, which initially was the driving force to the rise of Bongo Flava, lately often came close to extinction. These days Tanzania’s rap scene fortunately proves an old proverb of rap culture to be true: “Hip Hop is not dead. It was buried alive and still lives underground.”

An overview

The tinny sound from the speakers in barber shops and one man run “put the latest tunes on your mp3-player-or-phone”-offices in Dar es Salaam constantly spit Bongo Flava tracks to the streets. Tanzania’s biggest city not only coined the name Bongo Flava (the urban slang term “Bongo” is derived from the Swahili word ubongo, which means brain and says a lot about what it takes to manage life in this bustling city). In the late 80s and early 90s Dar es Salaam also formed the breeding ground for the first big names in Tanzania’s rap scene like Mr. II who then again influenced other artists to develop what is now commonly known as Bongo Flava.

Unlike Mr. II and alike, who started translating the lyrics of their US idols and soon represented Tanzanias emerging upper class with their ambition to perform in English themselves, rap in Tanzania is today truly dominated by Swahili, Eastern Africa’s undisputed lingua franca (Mr. II these days again performs in Swahili under the name of Sugu). That said, current rap from Tanzania is anything but limited to national borders, as the use of Swahili itself helps the artists to promote their music all over Eastern Africa where the language spreads more and more. And of course Swahili nowadays is again heavily affected by English as the artists emerged from local backyard stars to internationally recognized players (no need to mention the ubiquitous sound of Lil Wayne, Sean Kingston and others who perfectly match Bongo Flava’s delight in high-pitched bubble-gum music).

Producer Daz Neledge is probably one of the most striking personifications of this young and globalized rap elite that takes their music back to its basics with meaningful lyrics and sophisticated beats. Founding member to one of Tanzania’s most prominent rap crews, Watengwa, ambitious Daz Neledge is not only one of the country’s most wanted producers and the mastermind at Watengwa Records studio but also proved his qualities when working with international heavyweights like dead prez. He further gained recognition throughout Eastern Africa for the groundbreaking production of JCB’s solo debut Nakala Za Makalla in 2011.

But it’s the whole of Watengwa crew whom not few insiders claim to be the crème de la crème of Tanzania’s underground rap scene. Apart from JCB (Jacob Makalla) Watengwa is currently represented by Jonas Lotuno (Umbwa) and Yuzzo Abuu Rubama though Watengwa is actually a dynamic family of rap and graffiti artists.

Based at their stronghold A-Town, the city of Arusha in the north of Tanzania, the crew formed in the early 90s when creating a community studio in the suburb of Kijenge which is also known as the breeding ground for the X Plastaz crew. X Plastaz became one of the earliest conscious rap crews in Tanzania when rappers Ruff, GSAN and Ziggy came together as musicians in 1995 after working at a haircutting saloon. Their track Bamiza went viral all cross Eastern Africa in 1999 and the crew is know well known for its roots in Maasai culture, reflected mainly in the use of some Kimaasai language, clothes and topics by singer Merege who joined the crew in 1997 and adds his unique Kimaasai chanting:

A first delicate step towards international recognition was the appearance of GSAN at BET Hip Hop Award’s 2009 The Cypher, where the X Plastaz head joined rappers like KRS ONE and Buckshot (GSAN steps in at around 5:10min):

Still, it was Watengwa’s debut album Iliandiwka (“It was written”) that became known as the first ever rap album to be released in A-Town. The albums Piko takatifu (“Holy shock”) in 2007 and Full ile Laana (“Overflow”/ 2008) followed before the three most prominent artists worked on their solo careers which made Umbwa move to the US and Yuzzo to Norway while JCB remained in Tanzania.

But Watengwa are due to reunite as in April they announced Full ile Laana Vol 2. to be produced this year in France which may bring them there long overdue international success.

There is hardly any hating between the various crews in Tanzania. Tracks like Watengwa’s Arusha bila visu (“Arusha without knifes“) underline the progressive attitude. Though tracks like JCB’s Sitowasahau (“I won’t forget them”) featured by John Massangwa bear witness to the harsh surroundings in which Tanzanian HipHop still roots: The track pays tribute to Faza Nelly from X Plastaz who was stabbed in 2006 when he was negotiating in an argument between neighbours:

Not only this shows that many of the scene’s members have long overcome the genre’s often criticized beef-attitude and bethink of the conscious part in rap. There are still lots of the topics like violence, HIV/AIDS, the perspective of youths, corruption or politics which made crews like Gangwe Mobb from Dar es Salaam’s notorious Temeke district popular in the early 90s. But today’s generation seems to have emancipated from the images of luxurious cars and other artists’ seemingly inevitable shiny bling-bling mixed with gangster attitude.

And even the youngest seem to have come up with this progressive notion of hiphop. One of them and fancied to be one of the most talented among young MCs in Eastern Africa is 16 year-old Dogo Janja (“Smart Kid”) who came up recently in a collaboration with his actual teacher, Easy Muchwa. Fittingly, their song Shikamoo Mwalimu (“Hail, teacher”) deals with Tanzania’s miserable education system which pays its teachers a salary hardly capable to pay their monthly spendings and leaving behind the majority of students:

Another of Tanzania’s currently most active and popular rap labels is TZ-HipHop. Self-confidently the crew claims

to balance between the nonstop love stories told by Bongo Flava artists and the conscious lyrics by Hip Hop MCs that seem to have been forced into exile for a while now.”

Representing some of Tanzania’s most promising rap artists like ZAiiD and Mecco South this self-imposed task does not necessarily seem presumptuous. Check the mixtape Hasheem Dogo Bars by DJ Agnapu for a convincing first hearing.

In case you like what you’ve heard so far check Fid Q‘s weekly broadcast on Cheusi Dawa TV. Streamed online, Fid Q who is one of the most respected rappers in Tanzania presents unheard talents and the latest releases on his show Fidstyle Friday.

This is just an overview, like the other video stuff added below:

Here is one of the very few female MCs in Tanzania, Witness featured on this track bei Fid Q:

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About the author

Marius Münstermann is based in Berlin where he works as a freelance journalist. Marius serves as editor-in-chief at

View all articles by Marius Münstermann

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