.:: Zili(zo)pendwa: Dance music and nostalgia in East Africa

the world of music (new series), Volume 3, Issue 1 (2014)


East African "classic" music, known in Tanzania as zilipendwa or in Kenya as zilizopendwa (literally, “those which were loved”) is making a comeback. Artists such as Samba Mapangala, Les Wanyika, Daudi Kabaka, Mlimani Park Orchestra, Ottu Jazz, Mbaraka Mwinshehe, Marijani Rajabu, and Tabora Jazz can be heard being played either on sound systems at clubs or weddings, or being rendered live by cover bands to warm up the crowd before playing their own numbers. With the exception of youth who are under the spell of the explosive Swahili version of hip hop and R&B (called Bongo Flava in Tanzania, Genge or Kapuka in Kenya) these gentle old songs still carry meaning and grace the night at many dance halls, discos, bars, hotels and social functions in Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Mombassa, Arusha, Mwanza, Morogoro, Tanga,
and Dar es Salaam. These songs are also covered, remixed, and sampled by rap artists, and they are also played in church. What is fascinating about the nostalgia for this music is the intensity with which it is happening: it is nothing short of a nostalgia movement. The undergirding theme of this collection of articles will demonstrate how nostalgia for zili(zo)pendwa is far from being a melancholic rumination over days long-past, but is enacted instead for the sake of health and community well-being.  Zili(zo)pendwa is a conscious act towards musicking the values of a fading era, creating temporary autonomous zones where the perceived chaos and noise of neoliberal globalization are now rushing in. 

guest editor: Frank Gunderson

 

.:: Table of Contents

 

Rumba Kiserebuka! Evoking embodied temporalities through Tanzanian Zilipendwa
Frank Gunderson

Between Uptown and River Road: The Making and Undoing of Kenya's 1960s Zilizopendwa
Ian Eagleson

Zilizopendwa: The Development and Revival Ramifications
Donald Otoyo Ondieki, Sylvester Otieno Ogama, Emily Achieng' Akuno

Music, Memory, and Economy: NGO Initiatives of East Africa's Zilizopendwa Progenitors
Matthew M. Morin

"Youth of Many Days": Authority, Health, and Pension among Elder Musicians in Tanzania
Alex Perullo

"Naikumbuka Kesho": The Nostalgic Present in Tanzanian Verbal Arts
Aaron Rosenberg

Could Afrigo's Semadongo be Uganda’s Zilizopendwa?
Damascus Kafumbe

Tourism and Imagining Musical Traditions on the East African Coast: Harmony and Disharmony
Ivan Vander biesen, Christiaan De Beukelaer

 

.:: Book Reviews (Eva-Maria Alexandra van Straaten, ed.)

 

Nanette de Jong, Tambú: Curaçao's African-Caribbean Ritual and the Politics of Memory (2012)
Charissa Granger

Heather MacLachlan, Burma's Pop Music Industry: Creators, Distributors, Censors (2011)
Friedlind Riedel

Joshua D. Pilzer, Hearts of Pine: Songs in the Lives of Three Korean Survivors of the Japanese "Comfort Women" (2012)
Chungee Sarah Soh

 

.:: Recording Reviews (Robert Fry, ed.)

 

Charlie Poole with the Highlanders: The Complete Paramount & Brunswick Recordings (2013)
Nikos Pappas

¡Así Kotama!: The Flutes of Otavalo, Ecuador (2013)
Francisco D. Lara

Vision Action Change: Artists Against Female Genital Mutilation (2010)
Elizabeth Rosner

Drop on Down in Florida: Field Recordings of African American Traditional Music 1977-1980 (2012)
Trevor Harvey

 

.:: Website Reviews (Frances Wilkins, ed.)

 

The Music of James Scott Skinner---The Strathspey King
Peter Cooke

SonorCities---Learning Culture Through City Soundscapes
Aileen Dillane

The Song Collectors Collective
Fay Hield

Mbira
Shamôr Peeler-Dean

Playing for Change: Connecting the World Through Music
Yona Stamatis

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

.:: Individual Paper Abstracts

 

Rumba Kiserebuka! Evoking embodied temporalities through Tanzanian zilipendwa
Frank Gunderson

In Tanzania, zilipendwa is a look-over-the-shoulder meta-genre, whose musical subject is a moving target dependent on the current time reference. The term was initially reserved for east and central African dance music chestnuts popular during the 1960s and early 1970s post-Independence period, but recently encompasses the music of the mid-1970s through late 1980s, a time generally associated with the Socialist policies of Julius Nyerere. Fans of zilipendwa are most eloquent about its value in their lives when making humorous generational distinctions with Bongo Flava, the region’s hip hop and R&B. Zilipendwa fans are also quick to demonstrate their affinity through physical expression, dancing a style known as serebuka, translated as "blissful expressive dance." Recently popularized on the television show Bongo Star Search, Serebuka dancers take to the floor and bounce off the walls with a coterie of enthusiastic free moves and styles (mitindo) covering fifty years of popular music history. Based on discussions with professional and amateur musicians, club audience members, and wedding guests in Mwanza and Dar Es Salaam Tanzania (as well as with members of an Tanzanian expatriate community in Tallahassee Florida), this research will focus on one song in particular and its position in multiple diverse performative contexts, that of "Georgina" by Marijani Rajab (1973). The author will show how nostalgia for zilipendwa is far from being a melancholic rumination over days long-past, but is enacted instead for the sake of health and community well-being. Zilipendwa is a conscious act towards musicking the values of a fading era, creating temporary autonomous zones where the perceived chaos and noise of neoliberal globalization are now waiting to rush in. 

 

Between Uptown and River Road: The Making and Undoing of Kenya's 1960s Zilizopendwa
Ian Eagleson

During the 1960s Nairobi became the center of the East African recording industry. Due to the efforts of local entrepreneurs and the investments of multinational labels, a burgeoning recording environment attracted musicians from around the region. Against the backdrop of Kenyan independence and the sweeping tide of African nationalist sentiments, Nairobi’s zilizopendwa of this era are remembered by Kenyan fans, musicians, and critics as a golden era. Local musicians and studios created a viable, Kiswahili-based idiom that was superlative, providing Kenya with a distinct musical identity to accompany its new statehood. Yet, this period was short-lived, and was superseded by the ethnically oriented benga style that burst on to the scene in the early 1970s. To explain how events coalesced to define this era of popular music, as well as to bring about its subsequent decline, this article examines both the stylistic output and circumstances surrounding the releases of three pivotal groups of musicians (1) the "urban studio elite": a cadre of musicians recruited by British producers from a variety of ethnic and regional backgrounds who recorded in Swahili, playing in a "detribalized" style; (2) a group of Luhya musicians who were highly successful recording Swahili songs with Indian-owned River Road record labels, some of whom would branch out to start the first African-owned labels; and (3) musicians recording in vernacular languages, who pioneered the growth of ethnic benga. This article argues that the Kenya’s nascent conflict between rural parochialism and urban sophistication became more acute in the output of popular music recordings in the post-independence environment. This pivotal moment set the stage for a debate that would continue for decades over the future of Kenya’s contemporary musical identity.

 

Zilizopendwa: The Ramifications for Development and Revival
Donald Otoyo Ondieki, Sylvester Otieno Ogama, and Emily Achieng' Akuno

This article presents the historic and current re-contextualization, appropriation and adaptation of zilizopendwa. Zilizopendwa (literally, "those which were loved") is a term used in Kenya to refer to early Kenyan popular music, synonymous with the term ‘golden oldies’ as used in the United States. This music continues to play in clubs and is performed in most social functions, including weddings, music festivals and national celebrations. The music continues to attract cover versions, remixes, sampling, and has transformed into a choral genre with arrangements from almost every choral composer and arranger in Kenya. These choral arrangements have developed to become the most favored music performed by classes at various music festivals. Through various transformations, the music continues to find new (younger generation) and renewed (older generation) love for it, in the hearts of many Kenyans. The article undertakes a descriptive and analytical approach, with the purpose of exploring the historical background of this musical phenomenon, its current transformation, continued re-contextualization, appropriation and adaptation, and consequent revival ramifications. The article utilizes a conceptual framework and methodology drawn from Fabian’s (1997) analytical model for popular music.

 

Music, Memory, and Economy: NGO Initiatives of East Africa’s Zilizopendwa Progenitors
Matthew M. Morin

This article documents how prominent musicians and managers responsible for creating music now widely recognized in East Africa as zilizopendwa have utilized global networks of NGOs in response to what they view as a destabilized East African popular music economy and a generational disjuncture of "local" historical consciousness. Drawing upon participant-observation fieldwork conducted in Nairobi and Zanzibar in 2010 and 2011, this study documents the NGO-affiliated activities of Tabu Osusa and Samba Mapangala, a musician-manager team that spawned one of East Africa’s premier rhumba bands of the 1980s and 1990s, Orchestra Virunga. Barriers to attaining royalties through the unregulated networks of zilizopendwa production and supply chains caused Osusa and Mapangala to turn to NGO-affiliated music initiatives and festivals as an economic alternative to mainstream, private sector popular music markets. Responding to sentiments of nostalgia and dislocation reflected in the rising popularity of the zilizopendwa genre, they currently affiliate with and facilitate NGO initiatives aimed at igniting music-cultural remembrance and pride in localization for a younger generation of East Africans.

 

"Youth of Many Days": Authority, Health, and Economic Insecurity among Elder Musicians in Tanzania
Alex Perullo

In many popular conceptions of ageing in Africa, one is thought to attain more power, knowledge, and authority as one ages. This cultural belief, however, does not bear out in practice, particularly in urban areas where there is an increasing focus on possessiveness, self-responsibility, and youth-oriented cultural practices. In this article, I examine two issues that significantly impact the authority and status of elders in contemporary Tanzania: health and financial insecurity. In interviews and surveys with elder musicians in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, all of whom were considered to be highly regarded performers between 1951 and 1985, they mention a lack of financial security, problems with their physical health, and the loss of respect for their vision of popular music. Many lament the lack of access to adequate medical care, prescription drugs, and geriatric doctors who are knowledgeable about the types of illnesses that occur among the elderly. The lack of financial resources, such as pensions, further marginalize older adults who are often unable to attain basic necessities needed to live in an expensive and highly competitive East African city. While most elder musicians remain knowledge holders among other performers, inadequate healthcare and economic insecurity obstructs their ability to influence cultural, economic, and political processes in Tanzania.

 

"Naikumbuka Kesho": The Nostalgic Present in Tanzanian Verbal Arts
Aaron Rosenberg

There has been a resurgence in popularity of the phenomenon of zilipendwaor "golden oldies" in Tanzania as well as a recent interest in classic literary works of historical fiction. Some scholars have argued that these returns to the themes and creative expressions of yesteryear indicate a desire to glorify the past and invest it with a nostalgic presence. While this may be part of the reason behind these recent historicizing trends in Tanzanian verbal art, it is equally valid to point out and describe the complex of factors entering into such impulses aimed at recuperating, reinvigorating and reintegrating these discourses into contemporary social praxis. What can a comparative and contrastive analysis of works separated by time and genre tell us about the nature and value of such works in the construction of Tanzanian socio-cultural realities? In turn, what are the processes of debate and critique that are carried out through the creation and dissemination of such works?

 

Could Afrigo’s Semadongo be Uganda’s Zilizopendwa?
Damascus Kafumbe

The twentieth century saw a massive infiltration of new musical forms into Uganda. Mainly imported by foreign music professionals and Ugandan musicians who traveled abroad, these fresh styles inspired the musical innovations that gave birth to Afrigo Band (1975–), Uganda’s longest-surviving and most celebrated popular music group today. Although Afrigo’s beginning was lacking in necessities such as instruments, funds, publicity, and a fan base, the talents of the group’s founding members allowed them to forge a unique musical style that has made them the most distinguished popular music group ever in Uganda. The musicians’ experiences over the past thirty-eight years have allowed them to nuance their musical style, and subsequently find an appropriate name for it. This name is semadongo ("master of many big musics"), which has become the trademark of Afrigo’s music. Through examining semadongo’s origins and historical development, this article will argue that zilizopendwa music is not the only "classic" popular music of East Africa. There is also semadongo, which parallels zilizopendwa in the way it evokes the past. While the former is a style, the latter tends to be a set of songs. Afrigo’s continued faithfulness to the various dance music forms that inspired and shaped semadongo distinguishes the band from many Ugandan popular music groups and serves as the core of Afrigo’s popularity across different audiences.

Tourism and Imagining Musical Traditions on the East African Coast: Harmony and Disharmony
Ivan Vander biesen and Christiaan De Beukelaer

This article presents an analysis of the invention of tradition within musics created by and related to Swahili culture. We focus on the ways the local tourist industry deals with musical heritage. Through the analysis of history and praxis of the traditional music of Zanzibar, we will showcase how the musical heritage is dealt with in four cases: 1) the invented tradition of beni music, 2) the musical heritage of taarab (specifically the Music Culture Club of Zanzibar), and 3) the music of the Sidi Sufis, the recently re-invented traditional African-Indian mystic music of Gujarat. These traditions were embraced by the local population, yet all for different reasons. This, in contrast to 4), the heritage of Farrokh Bulsara, otherwise known as Freddie Mercury, a Zanzibar born Parsi from India, whose musical heritage is not embraced by the whole local community of Zanzibar and whose legacy recently caused a discussion between the locally-oriented tourist industry and the one oriented more towards the North Atlantic sphere. Our aim is not to merely illustrate the dialectics of tradition, but to link these very dialectics to the problematic position that the resulting cultural difference takes. How are these "traditions" framed? What role do they have? Whom are they enacted for? As such, this article is more than a mere illustration of invented traditions or imagined communities, as it provides compelling examples of the expediency of culture in the transnational cultural market, and the influence of the global demand for traditional experiences, without disregarding its boundedness to its places of origin.

 

 

RSS Feed