Who sows the beat, harvests the rhythm

IT baffled music fans in Tanzania when the popular Sindimba dance beat opened Gloria Estephan’s smash hit, ‘Mi Tierra, a few years after releasing her eponymous hits; Conga Beat and Rhythm Gonna Get You with Miami Sound Machine.

It was the band’s conga player, Edwin Bonilla who did a good job in Mi Tierra(My Homeland) the smash hit that also exposed Gloria Estephan as a musician with Cuban parentage and not pure American as most of her fans in Tanzania thought. Mi Tierra(English: My Homeland) is the third studio album by Cuban- American recording artist Gloria Estefan, released in 1993.

Produced by husband Emilio Estefan, it is her first Spanish-language album and pays homage to her Cuban roots. The album features Afro-Cuban musical genres, including Boleros, Danzan, and Son Montuno music.

To music analysts, notably Tanzanian music fans, finding a Sindimba-styled percussion in Mi Tierra looked a bit strange since the beat has never been heard in other countries besides Tanzania and the Kenyan coastal line where Makonde dance and carvings are widely practiced.

Tightly placed Sindimba beat is not even heard in many areas of Mozambique, a country whose northern provinces are closely related to the Southern regions of Tanzania, the home to Sindimba dance and its associated genres.

Hearing the Sindimba beat from the East African shoreline in the Spanish hit looked too strange dwelling on the historical fact Spain was not involved in enslaving East African people only the Portuguese whose majority slaves were shipped in big numbers to Brazil, via their posts situated in Mozambique and Angola.

The connection would be at least understood if that beat were performed by musicians from Brazil. Still, a close survey of Brazilian popular music acts, including the much-circulated Lambada dance, didn’t find anything closely associated with Sindimba beat in the Lambada collection that the Kaoma band circulated worldwide from France.

Though Makonde people, the owners of the Sindimba dance, are found in Tanzania and the northern provinces of Mozambique, their dance and music styles have been widely practiced in Tanzania and areas around Mombasa.

Though was most often performed as just a traditional dance, Sindimba beat officially stormed into urban dance music after Mozambique’s independence in 1974.

Sindimba dance won huge acclaim in 1974 as the only rhythm that represented the people of Mozambique as the then majority Tanzanians thought Makonde are the dominant tribe in Mozambique without having knowledge that Makua, Sena, Shona, and Tsonga are the dominant majority while minorities are Makonde, Swahili, Yao, Tonga, Chopi, and Ngoni.

Jamhuri Jazz band from Tanga and Lucky Star Taarab group penned the earliest songs of that hailed Samora Machel and his Frelimo party for their successful struggles for independence.

But a non-political song with a fully coloured Sindimba beat was Mariana recorded in the mid-1970s by Orchestra Mitonga Jazz. Halila Tongolanga’s Kila Munu Ave na Kwao (Everyone has his homeland) came a few years prior to Estephan’s Mi Tierra( My Homeland) and that hit made him the best performer of Sindimba-styled dance music.

It didn’t mean anything after Estephan’s ‘Mi Tierra’ looked to have taken the Sindimba dance beat upon its release in 1993, but it means a lot today, especially this time when Bongo Flava music has won a huge number of global enthusiasts.

It is this fact that initiated a hunt for the national rhythm which will identify the country’s music worldwide and the process is still going on. Recently the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Sports instructed the National Music Rhythm Committee to immediately complete the task of finding the best Tanzanian rhythm to capture the African market and the world as a whole.

Sindimba beat is likely to be included in today’s reign of tribe-less generation of Bongo Flava music. Already ongoing, Tanzania will soon create a database of rhythm and beat to be used by all musicians in branding their music, which today has won a global appeal.

The initiative was initiated by the then Minister for Culture, Arts, and Sports, Mohamed Mchengerwa, who last year appointed 13 committee members under the chairmanship of the National Arts Council Executive Secretary, Kedmon Mapana.

Mchengerwa urged the committee members of the National Music Rhythm Committee to finish up their job soon so that they can submit the country’s identification earlier and be used by all artists in the country at the global level. The committee is solely tasked to find and create the musical rhythm that will represent well the country.

Mchengerwa said having the rhythm is the major way to accomplish the government’s mission of investing heavily in Tanzanian artistry so that they can promote their works globally. While addressing this, he directed the committee led by the Executive Secretary, Mapana to classify ten artists who will be supported by the government in promoting the rhythm.

After the completion of the national music rhythm, he asked the committee to prepare the best strategy that will be a privilege in advertising the rhythm whereby it can be well-accepted worldwide. Mchengerwa said the artists who will be supported by the government will record their songs in a video accompanied by the rhythm to convey the specific intended message.

He insisted that on the day that the rhythm will be launched, the songs should be well recorded and performed live. And after that, the songs will be mainstreamed in all networks around the world.

On his part, one of the members of the committee and dance music legend, Zahir Zolo thanked President Samia Suluhu Hassan who initiated the move and her massive investment in the culture and arts sector.

Rhythm makers are not considered in popular music and no one takes an interest in them. It should be known that from reggae to dancehall rage, from funk to R&B, from Sikinde to Zembwela, from Zouk to Ndombolo rhythm guitar or rhythm section commands a pre-eminent role in supporting popular music.

For over six decades, rhythm has been the seed of all songs, the mother of all riffs, the core of all arrangements, and in many cases, the hook that makes the hit happen; yet the soloist or a solo guitarist gets all the attention as it has seen many of dance music era.

He and Raphael Padilla who played Conga in Dr Beat, Dance to the Conga, and Rhythm Gonna Get You have never been mentioned as rhythm inspirations to what made Gloria Estephan, among the greatest world music divas.

When trying to brand Tanzania rhythm, Captain John Simon of JKT Kimbunga Stereo fame had a better lesson in creating it after he injected traditional beat during the dance music era. Cheza Rhumba Kimbunga was the seminal hit of Captain John Simon’s innovation.

In it Lizombe’s beat was never mentioned, but it was crystal clear for those conversant with dominant traditional music. Though no one mentioned the contributors of the Kimbunga Stereo dance style of the mid-1970s, Mlimani Park Orchestra seemed to have the best answer to it when they snatched guitarists Henry Mkanyia, Muharami Said Remmy while Vijana Jazz roped in Suleiman Mbwembwe.

Under Captain John Simon, JKT Kimbunga Stereo released a number of smash hits most notably ‘Majambazi’, ‘ Cheza Rumba ya Kimbunga’, and ‘Radhi Kwa Mtoto’ which was highly flavoured by virtuoso saxophonist, Ally Moshi Mpomwa, guitarists Henry Mkanyia, Kiza Hussein, Vinyama Said and trumpeters Mathew Hozza and Matthew Mwanyasi.

The innovation that made JKT Kimbunga Stereo, though many didn’t notice it, was the addition of Lizombe dance flavours in their songs and the most noticeable was the Sebene part of Cheza Rhumba Kimbunga. Captain John Simon and JKT Kimbunga Stereo became the hottest acts in Tanzania in the late 1970s and early 80s.

Their innovation led to their punishment later when the key players of the band’s success; rhythm guitarist Muharami Said Remmy, the master guitarist, Henry Mkanyia, and singer Suleiman Mbwembwe left the band to join Mlimani Park and Vijana Jazz respectively.

They were unheralded stars, but others valued them. It is worth to learn that after the trio left JKT Kimbunga almost faded from the limelight though they are still performing today. Also worth considering is the Mwenge Jazz band hit, Maana ya Pete whose rhythm section is meant to correspond with the traditional dance of a woman mentioned in the song, Mwana Mwaipasi.

The band’s key players of the rhythm section; Farahani Mzee, Duncan Njilima, and bassist Mgoro Mohamed thought it better to play the rhythm of the Mapenenga dance from the Wanyakysusa tribe.

Also deserves a mention as traditional beats that helped to build strong rhythms that beautified the dance music era included the Tabora Jazz creativity in fusing Kisonge and Hiari ya Moyo dances in their music and that was highly noticeable in Mapenzi Hayana Mganga and the ever-popular Dada Remmy. Expertly sung by Nyota Waziri, Njenje Group’s Gere also spoke the best of artful Manyema rhythm and the hit has remained hot even today.

At Mlimani Park Orchestra, where percussionists; Ally Jamwaka, Chipembere Said, and Habib Jeff marshaled the rhythm section, ‘Tangazia Mataifa Yote’ remains among the best works of guitarist Abel Baltazal during his tenure at the band.

The song helped the band to win the top prize in the Best Music Award gala in 1987. Mheme and Nindo from the Wagogo tribe added a dimension to the beauty of that historic work. Most of the traditional beats are being widely used by Bongo Flava artistes. Yamoto Band added Lizombe beat in ‘Niseme’ and ‘Nitakupwelepweta’ while Harmonize, Diamond, Rayavanny and Mbosso preferred Segere dance and that can be heard in Aiyola, Wacha Waoane, Happy Birthday and Nasema Nawe being the most notable.

After the exercise, music fans expect to see the best from the national rhythm which will make Bongo Flava fame hit global waves. Miguel Suleyman is a Tanzanian ethnomusicologist based in Dar es Salaam.

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