Tanzania's Mzungu Kichaa taps into music's healing power

As he bellows out the words “set the night on fire…” at the end of his new song, there is no doubt that you'll want to hit the replay button. Tanzanian artist Mzungu Kichaa’s new song ‘Relax your Mind’ is a song that offers a solution to a mind trapped in the hustle and bustle of daily life, robbing people of one of life's simple joys: relaxation.

Mzungu Kichaa and some members of his band. Photo courtesy of Mzungu Kichaa
Mzungu Kichaa and some members of his band. Photo courtesy of Mzungu Kichaa

The name Mzungu Kichaa (which means ‘crazy white man’) has reverberated throughout the East Africa since his debut in 2009. The artist was born in Denmark but grew up in Tanzania, where his parents worked. After having lived in the UK and Denmark since 2000, he returned to Tanzania in 2009, shortly after releasing his debut album Tuko Pamoja while still in Denmark. The album received a lot of attention all around the world, particularly within the 'world music' community and the African diaspora. At the end of 2009 he formed his band, which features in his new single, ‘Relax your Mind’. Released on 8 February, the new track delivers a message that is positive and uplifting. 

The artist recently took some time to chat to Music In Africa about his work and his plans for the year.

Recalling the formation of his band and the early days of his professional career, Mzungu Kichaa explained: “When I formed the band in December 2009, we had already been booked to perform at Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar, the Rift Valley Festival and The Patricia Show in Kenya. When I put the band together, I started with the rhythm section, selecting a drummer and bass player that I felt had a good chemistry. I saw them at Busara in 2008 backing the Ethiopian singer Jonny Ragga and felt that they were really tight. We have been playing together ever since. We've done seven European tours and also performed extensively on the continent.”

Musical therapy

With his songs typically driven by the happenings of day-to-day life, Mzungu Kichaa says he is now focusing on using his music to share messages of optimism and to encourage young people around the world. "Musicians of the old generation were focused on socially conscious and political lyrics during difficult times of liberation and independence. These songs have always been a big inspiration to me, but things have changed a lot. The youth of today face a lot of different struggles that need to be addressed.

"I have used both ‘Twajiachia’ and ‘Relax Your Mind’ as a form of therapy to deal with this type of stress. My hope is that other people will be able to benefit from its healing properties too,” Mzungu Kichaa says of his music.

He also aims to be as authentic as possible when creating his music videos and to set himself apart from the other artists who are out to portray a 'bling' lifestyle in their music videos. “I am not a fan of flashy cars and women reduced to sexual objects, which is more and more the case in a lot of Tanzanian music videos,” he observes.

 

Even though Tanzania is not exactly a hotspot for reggae music, Mzungu Kichaa’s new single has an unmistakable reggae groove that would get almost anyone on their feet. Despite reports that indicate that the reggae scene in Tanzania is dismal, the artist feels that reggae in Tanzania is alive and kicking, although there are very few artists who have made it into the mainstream. While Dar es Salaam has since the early 1970s been a breeding ground for new African popular music styles, the country’s reggae scene lacks regular concerts and shows to introduce new music to fans. The cost of recording songs is also relatively high because unlike the Bongo Flava genre, reggae is usually recorded with a full band.

Despite the obstacles facing reggae in his country, Mzungu Kichaa is optimistic that reggae will grow in Tanzania. He sees the staging of events such as the first edition of Bongo Reggae Festival in 2015, which showcased some amazing talent from Tanzania alongside acts such as Keznamdi from Jamaica, as a step in the right direction.

To ensure that emerging talents have an avenue to showcase, Mzungu Kichaa organizes the monthly event The Beat, for which he invites artists from all genres to showcase their music.

Promotion

While his new single continues to attract various reactions from viewers on YouTube, the song has also got fans asking questions about how artists like Mzungu Kichaa promote their work. One fan commented that though the song is good, individuals who would like to hear it may not know about it due to low promotion. Appreciating this observation, Mzungu Kichaa notes that he promotes his music mainly on social media and uses his network to reach a new fan base. Occasionally he says he engages the services of marketers to promote his work.

In terms of getting his music played on radio, Mzungu Kichaa says he is not ready to compromise his morals by paying for his music to get airplay - something he says is a common trend in Tanzania. “Sometimes you will hear a poorly packaged song on radio and you will know that this has been heavily 'promoted'," he says. "The problem is that if this becomes the standard way of promoting your music, most music and musicians who don´t have the means to pay for airplay will suffer.”

Future plans

Looking beyond his latest release, Mzungu Kichaa says he is finishing off a new album and fans can expect him to release another new music video in the near future. He is also working on an unplugged album and a tour of schools in Denmark, where he will be helping to raise awareness of street children in Tanzania after being appointed an ambassador for the SOS Children’s Villages in Tanzania. The artist is excited about this and says he is looking forward to performing for a younger generation. He hopes that this new role will influence his song writing in the future.

Looking further ahead, he says he is committed to focussing on building his career in Africa over the next couple of years, rather than in Europe. “I feel that I have been using too many resources in the European market and believe that I need to start building right here on the continent. I'm hoping to visit a lot of new countries and to tour more within Africa".

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