What yardstick should we use to measure the success of art in the society? Do we consider an artiste to be a success if for instance they are great at home, but their music has never travelled beyond their borders?
How does regular airplay contribute towards the greatness of an artiste and their music? Is it a necessary evil if you will, that an artiste can only enter the hallowed grounds of greatness subject to the amount of airtime their music obtains?
These are some of the questions that have been on my mind as I watch the "apparent success that has been achieved by Bongo Flava, before musician Leo Mkanyia re-awakaned this topic with a post on social media network Facebook.
It is not easy to answer the questions without asking ourselves what exactly entails what we call Tanzanian music. We also need to do some time travel to the period pre and after independence some 50 years ago plus or take 10 years. Was that a time that some older folks think there was glory days for Tanzanian music? Was it Tanzanian or East African music for that matter? What makes music Tanzanian?
Is language a proper measure of what we can call Tanzanian music? If a song is done in traditional Makonde language or Kuria does it become Tanzanian music considering those language straddle the Mozambique and Kenyan borders, respectively?
Leo and his dad Mzee Mkanyia do a soothing rendition of Swahili blues and with a tinge of nostalgia of the 1970 and 80"s which according to him, must be preserved. Undestandably, Leo and his dad and their brand of music is not widely popularised in Tanzania even if it is extremely popular to the high and middle end venue where their band performs to high acclaim.
There are not many Tanzanians who can point out Leo Mkanyia in a crowd. Not so the Bongo Fleva artists. Yet again I ask, who between Bongo Flava artists and Leo Mkanyia is playing what out to be called Tanzanian music?
It is not a trick question for Ngoma Afrika Performing Arts company of Morogoro under the tutelage of the indefatigable Davie Kitururu does a plethora of uniquely Tanzanian music besides other renditions and are in the exact same dilemma.
There is little linkage between the music composed by Morogoro Jazz band in the 1980's , made into Long Play music by Chandarana Music Studio in Kericho in Kenya and aired on Radio Tanzania Dar es Salaam, Voice of Kenya and Radio Uganda back in those days and the music made today by the popular Bongo Fleva artistes.
I do not claim to have all the answers as to what is Tanzanian music and why it is not receiving the leverage it needs out there but certainly a quartet of them I can cite here, including lack of media exposure airplay.
It can be seen on how we dance ourselves lame about Simba and Yanga but continental titles still eludes us. We have all buried our heads in the sand in believing the hype that Bongo Flava rules the world.
It may rule our airwaves from Kigoma to Malagarasy, from Musoma to Kilwa Kivinje but try as we may, the old voices of Mbaraka Mwinshehe refuses to fade away into oblivion.
So, besides herd mentality, the collective us have decided to bury our heads and believe the hype thus suffocating all other brands of music that are uniquely Tanzanian sound.
In the same breadth the so-called creative awards i.e Kili Awards long fell to the hype and slant and denies widely played melodius singer and composer Christian Bella, ostensibly because he is from the DRC.
The spirits of our Kinyonga brothers George and Wilson Peter who made a name for themselves regionally while based in Kenya must turn in their graves when they imagine the injustice of it all.
Are we happy that a pout-pouri of dancebale beats clobbered from all over but using Swahili kills all other creative expressions in music claiming to rule the roost as Tanzanian sound? Are we suprised movie makers still look to a unique sound of Malaikaas soundtrack when doing movies and not the sounds of Gongoti or some other like that? Can we measure up to Manu Dibango? Not on this evidence.