Tanzanian band Jagwa Music to take mchiriku music to the USA

Tanzanian band Jagwa Music, who have long championed mchiriku music on the streets of Dar es Salaam, are set to tour the USA for the first time in September and October. 

Tanzanian band Jagwa Music are set to tour the USA. Photo by Werner Graebner / centerstageus.org
Tanzanian band Jagwa Music are set to tour the USA. Photo by Werner Graebner / centerstageus.org

The band will tour the US as part of the Center Stage cultural exchange programme, an ambitious project initiated by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Jagwa Music got its start in the early 1990s, when young Dar es Salaam musicians began realizing they could make small Casio keyboards roar. Like many mchiriku groups, Jagwa is a collective project. The band was originally founded in 1992. Except for the chief composer Abdallah Gora and the band's patron George Abdul Jolijo, all their current members joined the group within the past 10 to 12 years. Due to a busy live schedule that sees them performing regularly at family celebrations in Dar es Salaam and its surroundings, the group is currently comprised of around 15 to 20 musicians, who rotate so that only about 6 to 8 perform at any given occasasion. 

The band’s sound is a collision of traditional drums, makeshift percussion and small Casio keyboards dubbed kinanda (or 'musical boxes') that are wired through megaphones and powered by car batteries. Add raw swagger and topical lyrics delivered at breakneck speed and you have mchiriku. This driving energy has already taken the group to global events like WOMAD in Australia, Music Box in Lisbon, Portugal and the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia, among others.

 

The group will soon be touring the USA for the first time as part of the third season of the Center Stage programme, which will bring various artists from Algeria, Tanzania and Pakistan to tour the USA between July and November 2016. Confirmed dates for Jagwa's upcoming American tour include the following:

  • Wednesday 28 September: Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Washington DC 
  • Saturday 1 October: Moss Arts Center - Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Saturday 8 October: Joshua Tree Music Festival - Joshua Tree, California

Ahead of their tour, the band is set to stage a performance at Tanzania’s monthly Beat Festival on Friday 1 July at Paparazzi in Slipway, Dar es Salaam, where they will be joined by traditional gogo musician Peter Masima and host Mzungu Kichaa.  

Mchiriku, like other original street styles from around Africa, takes only limited cues from global pop or hip-hop, owing more to East African coastal traditions like Taarab, which bears the imprint of Arabic and chakacha dance music, using the traditional rhythms from the Zaramo, an ethnic group that has long lived in the Dar es Salaam region.

Although gaining international prominence, in the local Tanzanian media mchiriku music and Jagwa do not exist. According to Werner Graebner, a cultural anthropologist who has spent years writing about Dar es Salaam’s music scene and working with Jagwa Music, “Even with a history of 25 years and international acclaim for Jagwa, the style is still marginalized within Tanzania. Performed on the streets of Dar es Salaam in poorer suburbs like Tandale and Manzese, the style is currently banned by the authorities because of extra-musical reasons, with no media coverage to speak of, translating into a hard life for the musicians."

Despite the ban on mchiriku in the past, Jagwa Music’s popularity has been immense. In Dar es Salaam one can see quotes from their songs painted as slogans on the sides or backs of the local taxis (known as dala dala). The band has released more than a dozen cassettes. In Dar es Salaam they generally perform at street parties for local celebrations and are rarely hired by nightclub owners or festival promoters.

"They have many new songs dealing with the joys and oddities of life in Dar es Salaam,” adds Graebner about the band, stating that fans should expect a new album soon.  

For more information about Jagwa’s US tour visit the Center Stage website.

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