Bongo Flava

Bongo flava is the nickname for Tanzanian hip hop music. The genre developed in the 1990s, mainly as a derivative of American hip hop, with additional influences from reggae, R&B, afrobeat, dancehall, and traditional Tanzanian styles such as taarab and dansi, a combination that forms a unique style of music. Lyrics are usually in Swahili or English. The name “bongo flava” is a corruption of “bongo flavour”, where “bongo” is the plural form of the Swahili word ubongo, meaning “brain”, and is a common nickname used to refer to Dar es Salaam, the city where the genre originated. In the bongo flava, the metaphor of “brains” may additionally refer to the cunning and street smarts of the mselah (see below). The term “bongo flava” was coined and first mentioned in 1996 by Radio One’s 99.6 FM (one of the first private radio stations in Tanzania) Radio Dj Mike Mhagama who was trying to differentiate between American R & B and hip hop music through his popular radio show known as ‘DJ Show’ with that of local youngsters music that didn’t have, at that time, an identity of its own. DJ Show was the first radio show that accepted young Tanzanian musicians influenced by American music to express themselves through singing and rapping. He said on air, “After listening to “R & B Flava” titled ‘No Diggity’ from the United States,here comes “Bongo Flava” from Unique Sisters, one of our own.” After he said that on the show, the term “Bongo Flava” stuck. The earliest and most reliable account of how “Bongo flava” found its way onto Tanzanian airways has Taji Luindi at the heart of the story. Taji Liundi also known as Master T, the original creator and producer of the Dj Show program had already started airing songs by fledgling local artistes since late 1994. Mike Mhagama later joined the popular program as an under-study to Master T. He went on to produce and present the show alone after Master T had left Radio One in 1996. “Bongo flava” existed well before the first audio or video recordings. The youth in Dar es salaam were rapping at beach concerts(organized by Joseph Kusaga who owned Mawingu Discothèque, later Mawingu Studios and now Clouds Media Group), local concert halls and taking part in the first official rap competition called Yo!Rap Bonanza series that were promoted by DJ Kim “And the Boyz” Magomelo. Some of the youth were organized with fancy names, some were solo or formed impromptu groups at the event to get a chance to grab the mic. An icon of the open performance artistes in the early 1990s was Adili or Nigga One. The first influential dub artiste of the genre was Saleh Jabir who rapped in Kiswahili over the instrumentals of Vanilla Ice’s, “Ice Ice Baby”, he was solely responsible for making Kiswahili a viable language to rap in. His version was so popular, it broke ranks by receiving mild airplay in the conservative National Radio Tanzania. The first official rap song to grace the Tanzanian airwaves. One of the earliest groups to actually record and deliver a CD to Radio One for airing was Mawingu band, an outfit that became hugely popular in early 1994. They recorded at Mawingu Studios. Its members were Othman Njaidi, Eliudi Pemba, Columba Mwingira, Sindila Assey, Angela, Robert Chuwa, Boniface Kilosa (a.k.a. Dj Boni Love) and later Pamela who sang the famous hook of their breakout first RnB/Rap single “Oya Msela”. The song was so popular and ahead of its time that the Msela label stuck. ‘Msela’ is the Swahili word for ‘ruffian’. Mawingu Band was arguably the pioneer of the RnB flavored type of Bongo flava. Dar Young Mob were the first real hip-hop stylized group to record with Mawingu Studios under budding producer Dj Boni Love. They were the first group to have their rap single aired on private radio in Tanzania.