Tanzanian zilipendwa is a look-over-the-shoulder metagenre 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 it 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.
Nostalgia for zilipendwa is far from being a melancholic rumination over days long past; it 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.
This according to “‘Rhumba kiserebuka!’: Evoking embodied temporalities through Tanzanian zilipendwa” by Frank Gunderson (The world of music (new series) III/1  pp. 11–23; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2014-17463).
Above, Msondo Ngoma, a group discussed in the article; below, the U.S.-based zilipendwa artist Samba Mapangangala. (Don’t worry—the music and dancing start soon, and they’re worth the wait!)
BONUS: Schoolboys getting down to zilipendwa in the great outdoors.
Among the Gogo people of Tanzania music is an essential factor in societal cohesion, comprising the central link between earthly and spiritual life. Gogo music is concerned with ethics, not aesthetics, and it is governed by direct connections between performance circumstances and musical parameters.
For example, the polyphonic section linked to the performance of cipande functions as a way to relieve pain during ritual male circumcision. After the song has begun, the men surround the boy who is about to be circumcised and, on a signal, break into vocal polyphony as they project their voices toward him; the women continue to sing just outside the ritual circle. The information saturation generated by the dense polyphonic texture acts as a natural anesthetic, as the distracted boy is unable to process the aural complexity.
The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”.
In the popular genre taarab, mpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications—often competetive and antagonistic in nature—through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance. The phenomenon arose among women singers, most notably Siti binti Saad (above).
This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53). Below, Siti binti Saad’s Wewe paka (You are a cat, 1930) sends a message about unwanted sexual advances that would resonate with today’s #MeToo movement.
Rap songs from Tanzania’s urban youth are especially popular due to two factors: (1) unlike the majority of countries in Africa, Tanzania has a well-established national language, Swahili, which is spoken from one end of the country to the other, and has enabled the emergence of a well-subscribed sentiment of national belonging; and (2) as of 2013, 64% of Tanzania’s population was 25 years old or younger.
Like much youth music, a constant theme for Tanzanian rap is romance and relationships, but social and political critique has also proven emblematic of the genre. With penetrating lyrics, Swahili rappers target those who engage in predatory capitalism and political corruption—elites who hoard resources to accrue ever more wealth, spending it in an ever more conspicuous style, while the majority find their lives made ever more difficult.
This according to “Neosocialist moralities versus neoliberal religiousities: Constructing musical publics in 21st century Tanzania” by Kelly M. Askew, an essay included in Mambo moto moto: Music in Tanzania today (Berlin: VWB: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 2016, pp. 61–74).
Above and below, Soggy Doggy’s Nyerere uses clips of Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, who believed that socialism was the antidote to colonial-era capitalism.
Taarab’s performers and audiences consider the genre to be a link to Egypt as another powerful place of coastal imagination, but it demonstrably owes more to centuries of exchange across the Indian ocean.
Despite the political agendas that engulfed Zanzibar in the mid-20th century, Swahili musical and urban sensibilities prevailed, and taarab continues to flourish. However, the older style of song text, which thrived on social commentary and improvisation, gave way in the 1950s to songs about the human condition, particularly romantic love songs.
This according to “Between mainland and sea: The taarab music of Zanzibar” by Werner Graebner, an essay included in Island musics (Oxford: Berg, 2004).
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