The Citizen (Tanzania), PROFILE : Finding a niche in traditional music

The Citizen (Tanzania), PROFILE : Finding a niche in traditional music

Nov 01, 2015

I attended Sauti Za Busara Festival in Zanzibar in February where I met Msafiri Zawose, a renown traditional Gogo musician.

It was his voice and the traditional Gogo music tune that drew me towards the Old Fort (Ngome Kongwe) where Zawose's Sauti Band was performing. I was amazed at how a young man like him would choose to do traditional music while everyone else was doing modern.

I had been watching performances by other artists but this one was quite unique. Traditional music is not common in major entertainment festivals.

The artiste who is a Gogo by tribe and who hails from Dodoma was on stage with his Sauti band. I believe it is the band's skills in playing the traditional instruments that attracted the crowd to watch the performances. The hall was fully packed.

Sharing his musical journey with Sound Living, Zawose says he chose traditional music to create an identity in order to differentiate himself from other musicians.

"My music career started when I was only 12 years old. I grew up in a family that involved itself in music. My father and other relatives were musicians and a day never passed without singing in our home," says Zawose.

When growing up therefore, music became part and parcel of Zawose's life. Whenever Zawose performed at music festivals, crowds of people, especially foreigners would gather in huge numbers to watch him. That time, he had not decided the type of music that he wanted to do. It is the large crowds that enjoyed his music that compelled him to choose traditional music as a career.

Zawose was only following in the foot-steps of his late father, Hukwe Zawose who died in 2003. His father used to do the same kind of music and was therefore very popular.

Zawose plays different instruments including balafon, (two-stringed violin), pentatonic thumb piano and traditional drums.

Despite coming from a family with a background of music, the young man says attending different classes at the Art Promoters Foundation in Bagamoyo is what completed his desire of becoming a musician. Training gave him more confidence to follow the music path. In 1998 he decided to do traditional music.

Creating an identity

Zawose was doing different types of traditional music just like most of the musicians in Bagamoyo where he lives did.

"In the same year after different performances in festivals and concerts, people from the media also started to book me for interviews. The whole of 1998 was a year of being recognised as an artiste and that is when I decided to stick to my music career," says Zawose.

Zawose thought it would be better to have his own identity and chose to do traditional Gogo music in 2004. This made him stand out from the crowd. He wanted to have an identity that would make him unique in the industry.

Zawose expanded his horizons by forming a six-people band in 2006. He wanted to compete not only at the local level but at the international level as well.

To compete with artists from the rest of the world, Zawose says Tanzanian musicians need to first shape their music. They need to give their music the Tanzanian origin. He said in West Africa, these are institutions working specifically towards giving their music the West African beat.

He says things are different here where many artistes compose songs that don't contain Tanzanian beats. He says the majority of the musicians are doing songs with an intention to just sell and therefore disregard the originality issue. In the process their songs end up lacking the Tanzanian beat.

He says the National Arts Council should work closely with the musicians to make sure they change the way they work.

Zawose and his Sauti Band have been selected to take part in a tour organised by the US-based Center Stage program, something Zawose views as a great honour. He says this is all a result of hard working.

According to Zawose, Center Stage program is a platform where cultural musicians connect with American communities through music performances. Through the programme, the musicians get an opportunity to tour the United States.

"I never thought I would one day be a part of this. I always wanted to be part of the programme and here I am finally. It is one of the programmes where the judges are very professional and are always looking for unique talents to be featured in the programme," says Zawose.

Zawose says being a part of the programme gives his band an opportunity to tour the United States of America between July and December 2016.

The programme will bring together five contemporary music and theatre ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania to tour the US.

Zawose says the tour will be very beneficial to the entire band as it will help them learn new things, get exposure, new experience as well as meet new people.