Kwayas, Kandas, Kiosks (Barz)
"They're Singing Jazz in the Church!"1
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Audio 1
Instrumental introduction
"Sodoma Gomora"A1
I jump off the Ubungo-Stesheni daladala (converted mini-van or bus) in downtown Dar Es Salaam and head down busy Maktaba Street toward the waterfront. It is an extremely hot day, and I stop to catch my breath and visit with a kiosk vendor at his prime spot in the shade of a palm tree. After exchanging greetings I ask him what his hottest selling kanda (audio cassette tape) is. He pulls out several Soukous All-Star dubs from Zaire followed by a copy of Pepe Kalle's '94 Kwasa-Kwasa hit ("Not as good as '93," according to this vendor). When he notices me searching the very bottom rows of his kiosk, he places in my hand a kanda of the Lutheran youth kwaya from Sumbawanga in western Tanzania. "New and safi [fresh]," he claims as he puts the kanda in his cassette player. The title track, "Sodom and Gomorrah," rings out with screaming electric guitars, a heavy back beat, and a Casio keyboard filling in rhythms and funky sound effects (Audio 1 and Audio 2).
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Audio 2
Opening chorus
"Sodoma Gomora"A2 
Sodoma Gomora waliangamia
(The people of) Sodom and Gomorrah perished.

Ni kutosikia kulisababisha
It is stubbornness that caused this.

Mungu katokea, kawateketeza.
God appeared and destroyed them. 

People gather around the kiosk, and the vendor turns up the volume. Encouraged by the interest of the crowd, the vendor arranges other kwaya tapes in front of the potential customers.

I continue down Maktaba Street, the new Sumbawanga kanda in my pocket, heading toward a rehearsal of Kwaya ya Upendo, and I begin to notice the quantity and variety of kwaya cassettes displayed in other street kiosks. I open my ears, shifting beyond the sounds of the urban activity, and I am surrounded by vendors selling bags, used clothing, newspapers, and candy-- many with portable stereos blasting kwaya music to their patrons. For the first time I consciously become aware that kwaya music is indeed a form of Tanzanian popular music. 


Tanzanian Kwaya Music is an emerging form of popular music in East Africa. While kwaya music has flourished in Tanzania since the initial "evangelical encounter" in the late nineteenth century by European missionaries, it has only recently responded to the growing nationalism of a developing country by contributing to the popular music market. Three interactive aspects demonstrate the new authority assumed by popular kwaya music:

  • Kwayas--the musics they sing
  • Kandas--the audio cassettes they record and produce
  • Kiosks--the outlet most often used for selling kandas. 
Kwaya is a social phenomenon that embraces much more than the musical sounds individual kwayas make. Kwayas are communities of people that regularly gather together to grow spiritually, mediate conflict, provide each other with emotional support, as well as to sing. As urbanization escalates in Tanzania, kwayas have developed into indemnity groups, and as such they act as a community resource for spiritual, financial, and medical needs. Today, urban kwayas facilitate the processes of grieving and mourning, participating in other life passages such as birth and marriage, as well as arranging and meeting spouses, all at one time the responsibility of the individual kabila (ethnic group). 

The newer urban kwayas, such as those in Dar Es Salaam, are in constant interaction with the social, economic, and political transformation typical of a developing country. As members of Tanzania's over one hundred and twenty makabila (ethnic groups) come together in the country's urban centers, new social identities are beginning to emerge, often adopting new popular musical badges. Many kwaya ya vijana in Dar Es Salaam now turn to music to aid in the processes of transition and adaptation to new urban environments and lifestyles, as Peter Manuel suggests: 

Popular Music, however much it may sound to the naive ear as a crude imitation of other forms, may serve as a metaphor for the creation of a distinctive world of common meanings and shared cultural ideologies on the part of the new urban classes. For the city dwellers of the developing world, neither traditional "folk" forms nor imported Western styles may fully express social identity. Rather, new musics are generated which syncretize and reinterpret old and new elements in a distinctive metaphorical expression (Manuel 1988:16-17, emphasis added).
In Dar Es Salaam many popular musics engage in a process of reinterpretation that yields innovative forms of contemporary musical and social expression. There are, for example, syncretic forms of Tanzanian popular music that belong to the dialogue of multiple cultures: dansi (dance music) draws heavily on Central African rhythms and style, Swahili Rap (Swah Rap) borrows from African-American culture, and Mchiriku re-invents an earlier East African form of social protest and consciousness raising, chakacha. In addition, kwayas are beginning to embrace change and innovation, and many now contribute to the growing popularization of Tanzanian musics. 

One of the most intriguing popular musics to emerge on the Dar scene has been the newer forms of nyimbo za kwaya (kwaya songs) produced by urban kwayas. Nyimbo are the musical expression of kwaya communities that meet up to five or six evenings every week in addition to a Sunday service. Vijana (youth) kwayas typically congregate most evenings of the week in local churches. However, kwayas do not always meet for the purposes of singing, as I suggested earlier. Many vijana kwayas, for example, engage in athletic games and sporting competitions, weekly bible study, and the preparations of dramas and poems for local and regional competitions. These kwayas are most often autonomous, self-governing groups affiliated with an individual Christian church. Issues of musical style and repertoire are usually decided by the kwayas themselves as a group; it is, therefore, not uncommon for one to select the kwaya one will sing with based on the particular repertoire of a given kwaya. 

Wherever there is a church in Dar Es Salaam--Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist, or Moravian--there will be more than one active kwaya community. For example, at Azania Front Lutheran Cathedral on the waterfront in downtown Dar Es Salaam, there are six kwayas that meet regularly: in addition to the Kwaya ya Upendo mentioned earlier, there is also Kwaya Kuu (the main congregational kwaya), Akina Mama (the women's kwaya), the Kwaya ya Vijana (the youth kwaya), the Fellowship Kwaya (a kwaya for the weekly fellowship group), and the Sunday School Kwaya made up of young children. Each kwaya participates in the everyday life of this particular Lutheran congregation, yet each adopts a distinct musical badge: there is no "Azania Front" kwaya style that dominates. Many different kwaya musical repertoires are practiced at Azania Front, including the newer, popular urban kwaya style. 

Throughout this section I use the term "jazz," which has a meaning specific to Tanzania. "Jazz" in a Tanzanian context refers to a specific, East African musical genre, a phenomenon Stephen Martin refers to as "urban jazz". 

Although the use of the term ["jazz"] conjures up images of Afro-American music . . . the term is also applied to manifestations of urban popular music in many parts of Africa. . . . [T]he term jazz is used by African musicians and listeners themselves. Its use may be attributable to the idea that many Tanzanians identify with certain aspects of Afro-American culture--Afro hairdos, clothing styles, music, and especially terms like soul, jazz, and right-on. In some sense, the term jazz symbolizes the development of a young, progressive, social elite (Martin 1980:2).
Martin rightly traces the roots of East African urban jazz to other, pre- existing musical forms in Dar Es Salaam, including "Christian church music" (1980:vi-vii). The "secular" and "sacred" are not as distinguishable in contemporary, popular kwaya forms. According to a survey of musical performance groups active in Tanzania in 1979, Roger Wallis and Krister Malm locate kwayas among the country's dominant musical ensembles, 
6,000 traditional music and dance groups (ngoma), 120 Swahili "jazz" bands, 60 tarab groups, 50 choirs, and 30 brass bands existed in 1979 (Wallis and Malm 1984:227, emphasis added). 
While I am curious about the method Wallis and Malm used to determine that there were only fifty kwayas performing in Tanzania at the time of their survey, their statistics do illustrate that even in the 1970s kwayas were active as a musical performance genre in Tanzania. In Dar Es Salaam alone, there must be close to several hundred regularly meeting and performing kwayas, by my estimation. 

Walking along the dirt roads and paths of the outlying areas of Dar Es Salaam in the early evening--Kijitonyama, Buguruni, Manzese, Msasani, or Kurasini--you will meet groups of wanakwaya (members of a kwaya) on their way to or returning home from an evening kwaya rehearsal. While the streets of Msasani are alive at night with the latest Soukous or Kwasa Kwasa hits from Zaire projected from the sound systems of the small outdoor social clubs, they now compete with the sounds of electric guitars, keyboards, high-tech drum machines of the neighborhood Lutheran Church, and the repetitive and motivational lyrics of nyimbo za kwaya. Lyrics are evangelical and electronically boosted to levels as if to draw people in, such as those of Dunia ni Utupu

Dunia ni utupu
The world is empty

Kuifuata sana wafukuza upepo
If you follow it steadily it is like chasing the wind

Nani awezaye kutujuza hakika?
Who can know us with certainty?

Lipi la dunia liletalo furaha?
What is this world that brings us happiness?

Hebu kumbuka Sulemani,
Just remember Solomon,

Nini alichokosa yeye?
What did he miss?

Mali alipewa kwa wingi,
He was blessed with abundant wealth,

Tena hekima za ajabu, kweli
With wonderful wisdom, it is true

Alizidishiwa ukuu, hakuhitaji chochote
He was given power; he never needed anything

Akajenga kwa uzuri, na hekalu la ibada
He built a beautiful temple of worship

Katika yote hakuona moja lenye kuleta tumaini
In each thing he did not see one thing that could not bring hope

Pasipo Bwana aliona (wazi) kila kitu ni ubatili
Without the Lord, he obviously saw that everything was nothing

Ulimwenguni ni mateso ole
The world is torture, woe

Nifanye nini, Ni mwone Mungu wa kweli ole
What can I do so that I can see the God of truth, woe

Ooo, dunia hii, tunakuja na kupita ole.
Oh, this world, we come and we pass, woe. 

"Dunia ni Utupu" ["The World is Empty"], lyrics and music composed by Gideon Mdegella, mwalimu [teacher] of Kwaya ya Upendo, Azania Front Lutheran Cathedral, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. 

The text of Gideon Mdegella's wimbo, sung by many kwayas in Dar Es Salaam, promises a new life after this world. It is a call for others to join in the search for "truth." There is a difference, however, between nyimbo za kwaya and other popular musical genres that goes deeper than text. The amplified voices from the church sing many nyimbo and mapambio (songs and choruses) based on indigenous "tribal" melodies, and the drum machines sometime mimic traditional ngoma (drum) patterns. The sounds of popular kwaya music in the streets of Dar Es Salaam neither disturb nor do they seem out of place to me or to other residents of the city. 

One Saturday afternoon I was invited to participate in an outdoor revival meeting hosted by the Kwaya ya Vijana [youth kwaya] at the Lutheran Church in Buguruni, a district outside the city center in Dar Es Salaam. I had conducted much field research with several of the Buguruni kwayas, and I was anxious to experience an evangelical revival with them. When I left the small mud and stick homes of the small Buguruni village and headed up the steep pathway to the Lutheran Church I could hear the sounds of guitars, keyboards, and a kwaya song blasting out from what I assumed to be extremely large outdoor speakers. I was surprised by the number of people accompanying me along the path; I seldom encountered more than a handful of people. Several younger children ran past me, shouting to their older friends and siblings to hurry. 

After greeting several of my primary field colleagues in the Buguruni kwayas I was told that many participants in the revival were not members of the Buguruni usharika [congregation]. The performance, however, gathered the larger Buguruni ushirika [community] into the sacred performing space of the Lutheran church compound. The popular music sung and played by the Kwaya was a direct call for people to gather, people of all religious orientations, Christian and non-Christian.

The music appealed to the senses of many, both the greater ushirika and the smaller usharika as the "Photographic Interlude" illustrates. I experienced many things at this Buguruni revival. Perhaps the most important was the ability of the popular nyimbo za kwaya to speak for and represent a particular Lutheran usharika to to its own congregation and to the greater community:

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Web page 27 K
Slide show, 580 K
Photographic Interlude 

One of the primary characteristics of any popular music is its dependence on mass media. Popular music is usually considered the music of the people, not of the elites, appealing to as wide a spectrum of people as possible. While Tanzanian kwaya music has never been stylistically distinct from Western elite musical genres, it has now entered a dialectical relationship that embraces both indigenous and non-indigenous musical traditions. Contemporary kwaya music recently added its voice to the chorus of Tanzanian popular music, drawing on the musical heritages of both Western/European and African styles. 

Many factors have contributed to the popularization of contemporary kwaya music: the increased recording and distribution of kwaya kandas, Radio Tanzania's frequent broadcasts of hour-long programs devoted exclusively to kwaya music, and the emergence of new, independent radio stations such as Radio Tumaini, an alternative religious broadcasting station that plays a variety of kwaya musics, however highlighting the newer, more popular kwaya style. Popular kwaya music is in many ways a reaction to the increasing urbanization and modernization of Tanzania, and is, as Peter Manuel suggests, a contemporary mode of cultural cohesion. Popular kwaya music allows a way for disparate peoples to come together as one people: 

Rapid urbanization often brings together members of distinct ethnic, racial, linguistic, and/or tribal origins. Such groups may find themselves interacting with and living alongside one another, and confronting shared socio-economic challenges. the traditional ethnic identities of formerly discrete groups may tend to weaken in cities. In most of urban Africa, ethnic identities remain strong . . . Popular music again plays an important role in mediating, forming, and expressing this reorientation of social identity (Manuel 1988:17).
Can a form of music emerging from a syncretic African religious tradition such as Tanzanian kwaya music ever be considered popular music? Perhaps, although the musics of African Christian churches are usually analyzed only in terms of their historical power, their active agency in the manipulation of and influence over other musical genres, and as a bothersome controlling force on other forms of popular music. African urban musics are often crudely divided with false boundaries both invented and enforced. Categories such as traditional, folk, elite, Western, and most important, popular, are not as tightly bounded in Tanzanian expressive culture as they are interactive. The expressive cultures of many African Christianities, for example, now straddle the boundaries between religious and popular. 

Contemporary kwayas openly confront the historically over-defined categories assigned to the various music they sing. Many Lutheran kwayas, for example, while not abandoning the German mission hymns they grew up with, now seek a new blend between indigenous Tanzanian musical traditions and the dominant Western hymnody that has been a part of the African Christian Church for over a century. As one friend told me, "our songs are German because the Germans were the ones who brought Christ to us" (1994, personal communication). Urban kwayas in particular have begun to add a further element--instruments and electricity--reflecting the increasing availability of foreign currency and also the freer, open market in Tanzania, a market in which electric guitars and keyboards are now more readily obtainable. The Tanzanian media's interest in African popular music--first with radio and now with music videos on television (as of 1994)--has exposed kwayas to varying choices in repertoire, giving them options for musical repertoires they did not always have. Many urban youths confront these multiple styles as oppositional. This opposition is typically seen in the difference between "music of notes" and the more indigenized mapambio and call-and-response choruses, as one leader of a kwaya ya vijana confided in me:


Isaac Kileo

You know, we [Tanzanians] differ in our interests. Early in the 1980s music of notes was still very much liked. When we were taught songs I liked them very much. In the 1990s I began to change and I was interested in mapambio, and in September of 1990 when I decided to give my life to the Lord I decided on the spot that mapambio would become my interest.
Interview with Nd. Isaac Kileo, kandakta, and Nd. Philemon Rupia, mwalimu, Kwaya ya Vijana, Msasani Lutheran Church, Dar Es Salaam, April 27, 1994, Interview in Kiswahili, English translation by author, emphasis added. 

"Music of notes" versus mapambio, categories of old versus new--Kileo refers to the dynamic tension that exists between the older musical styles still associated with missions and the newer styles of kwaya music that are successfully bringing Tanzanian youths into the churches regularly [footnote?].(?) Mapambio are one musical genre that successfully crosses over to a more popular mode of production. Mapambio are brief, repetitive inspirational songs often used during revivals, and most frequently sung by kwaya ya vijana or born-agains. They are improvisational and call-and-response in form, with one person usually leading and a chorus or congregation responding, similar to styles of Pentecostal "chorus" songs in the United States. The origin of many, though not all, mapambio is southern Africa and Europe, but most kwayas refer to them simply as African. Mapambio are an important part of the popular music effort of youth kwayas, often accompanied by electric guitars and keyboards along with expensive electric rhythm/drum machines. Three versions of the same pambio, "Grace Has Been Revealed to Us," illustrate the transition of a particular popular chorus from its roots in the colonial and missionary tradition to a contemporary, popular performance genre. Audio 3 is by a local Dar Es Salaam brass band, a remnant of the colonial and missionary era. Audio 4 and Audio 5 include the introduction and vocals of a crossover, popular version played by a revival kwaya group. Audio 6 is by Kwaya ya Upendo, a popular Dar Es Salaam kwaya led by Gideon Mdegella.

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Audio 3
"Neema Imefunuliwa" ["Grace Has Been Revealed to Us"]. Matarumbeta Temeke [The Trumpets of Temeke], cassette: Neema Imefunuliwa, volume two (Temeke is a district within Dar Es Salaam). Commercial recording. Cut lasts twenty two seconds.
Neema, neema, neema imefunuliwa.
Grace has been revealed to us.

Neema, neema, neema imefunuliwa.
Grace has been revealed to us. 

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Audio 4
Instrumental introduction to "Neema Imefunuliwa" ["Grace Has Been Revealed to Us"]. New Life Band, cassette: Africa. Commercial recording. Cut lasts fifteen seconds.
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Audio 5
Opening vocals to "Neema Imefunuliwa" ["Grace Has Been Revealed to Us"]. New Life Band, cassette: Africa. Commercial recording. Cut lasts fifteen seconds.
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Audio 6
"Neema Imefunuliwa" ["Grace Has Been Revealed to Us"]. Kwaya ya Upendo, cassette: 1992 Compilation Tape, Kwaya ya Upendo, Gideon Mdegella, mwalimu, Azania Front Lutheran Cathedral, Dar Es Salaam. Commercial recording. Cut lasts ten seconds.
Complete text for Kwaya ya Upendo's version of "Neema Imefuniliwa"

Neema, neema, neema imefunuliwa.
Grace has been revealed to us.

Neema kwetu Azania, neema imefunuliwa.
Grace has been revealed to us, Azania.

Leo twaikumbuka neema yake Mungu,
Today we remember the grace of God,

Alivyotuletea watumishi wake wenye moyo
Which He brought to us, His servants devoted

kulijenga kanisa hapa kwetu Azania Front.
To building His church here at Azania Front.

Tunashukuru neema hii yake Mungu kufunuliwa kwetu.
We thank the grace that God has revealed to us.

Walijitoa kweli kujenga nyumba hii.
People are devoted to building this house.

Kama Bwana mwenyewe alivyotuagiza,
As the Lord Himself commanded,

Alisema nendeni kwa mataifa yote hubirini Injili,
He said, go tell all nations preach the Gospel,

Tena mkabatize kwa jina la Mungu Baba na Mwana, na Roho.
And baptize in the name of God the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Neema kwetu Azania, neema imefunuliwa.
Grace has been revealed to us, Azania.

Neema, neema, neema imefunuliwa.
Grace has been revealed to us.

  The traditional boundaries that divide "popular" and "religious," are not always clear in contemporary urban Tanzanian music. Musicians often maneuver between the two at some point in their musical careers, often receiving initial instruction on instruments within a kwaya community before moving on to perform with dance bands. 

Philemon Rupia: There are quite a few who learn music in the church and then leave [to play in bands] . . . But if you look at the origins you can say that it is possible that jazz music started in the church . . . When guitars reached Africa they were in the churches where church members began to play. They were originally people from the churches. Later they were used by other people. 

Interview with Nd. Isaac Kileo, kandakta, and Nd. Philemon Rupia, mwalimu, Kwaya ya Vijana, Msasani Lutheran Church, Dar Es Salaam, April 27, 1994, Interview in Kiswahili, English translation by author, emphasis added. 

Actual musical sounds may confuse the issue about what is popular and what is religious. Yet, a clear distinction is made by most Tanzanians. The chief difference is the location of performance events; typically, religious kwaya communities perform or rehearse in a church while popular jazz dance bands perform in social clubs and halls. The division between secular and sacred performance space is understood. What is not so obvious is the distinction made when identifying and labeling musical sounds as popular. When a kwaya brings guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, and drum machines into the church, a transformation occurs. "They are singing jazz in the church," as one mwalimu of a kwaya told me with a disapproving tone in his voice.(2) The sounds once associated with secular space are brought into a seemingly strange environment and redefine sacred context.

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