- Production houses and the DJs such as Bony Love who pioneered this music and the Mawingu Studios have long been phased out with a string of studios cropping up as genre strides on.
Dar es Salaam. Bongo Flava is almost clocking 20 years since it first hit the air waves, and indeed, giant strides have been made to the extent of dominating airplay in regional radio stations.
Production houses and the DJs such as Bony Love who pioneered this music and the Mawingu Studios have long been phased out with a string of studios cropping up as genre strides on.
The years have seen Bongo Flava topple regional giants especially the Congolese rumba that used to be the staple in most night clubs locally and beyond.
The gains that the nascent genre has made are noticeable with artistes such as Diamond Platinumz, AliKiba, and Vanessa Mdee knocking on the doors of international domination.
The reasons why the early disciples struggled varied just as their critics but top on the list was that they were copying American Hip Hop and RnB at the expense of local flavor.
But that was soon to pass as the new generation performers started to tick the boxes and what was once considered as junk music gained airplay on mainstream media.
No wonder the MTV EMAs came to Tanzania for two years in a row in recognition of what these artistes have done in the promotion of Bongo Flava across the continent and elsewhere.
By some conservative estimates the industry is believed to employ over 50,000 people directly as artistes, producers, promoters and even video queens.
Though informal as it is, its contribution toward the economy has been enormous and it is likely to grow.
This success has not been without hitches as more challenges continue to rare ugly heads towards the industry and on top of the list is the continued use of Playback at live shows.
Last weekend at the Tigo Fiesta gig in Kahama and Musoma when the list of artistes was released they were categorized in playback, CD and Dj, then the live sections.
Tigo Fiesta is a gig that is supposed to celebrate the finest talent and the gains that Bongo Flava has made over the years, therefore, it was a surprise to see artistes who still insist on performing with CD playbacks.
The question that remains unanswered here is whether it is what the audience want or the dictates of the market place that forces artistes to continue using playback in the name of ‘live performance’
Live gigs are supposed to be an experience that an artiste seeks to give his audience, something that sticks into their memories.
Boni Love is a veteran DJ and producer who is credited with the early rise of Bongo Flava in the 1990s, he believes that despite the gains in the industry the playback is a major short coming.
He admits that there are situations that may not allow an artiste to perform with a band but there should be an improvisation to take care of such situations such as using recorded instrumentals.
“In my opinion the blame should go to those who manage artistes, they should make provisions for such occasions. During our early days we recorded two versions of every song which included the instrumental version with chorus,” Boni Love told The Beat.
Veteran musician John Kitime who is making an attempt to rekindle the golden era of music at Salendar Bridge Club this week says playback takes away magic of performance from the revellers and it to some it is just ok.
“As sad as it is some show promoters have in the past tried to normalise this pathetic situation yet in reality it is cheating as you don’t offer the audience a true picture of your ability,” says Kitime.
He adds: To the business people it is rather uneconomical to hire a band of 10 people and above yet you could still make do with just an individual with his CD and everything is just fine.
This, according, to him beats the issues of logistical complications that arise with hiring of a band which in most cases costs more.
The changing times and attitude of fans too especially the Millennials is to blame given the fact this is all they have known all their lives.
“The young consumers of this kind of performances have not known anything else and yet even when they cross over to the bands, there is even more chaos there,” he says.
He adds: With a string of producers who barely know how to play, the status quo is likely to continue
Speaking to the Beat Busara festival director Yusuf Mohamed in an earlier interview admitted that it is one of the saddest aspects in Tanzania’s music today.
“In the West, artistes who perform with CD backing tracks are rarely taken seriously,” he says.
He adds: At Sauti za Busara festival in Zanzibar we decided many years ago to ban playback, that is why we only showcasing musicians who play ‘100 per cent live’.
This was an expensive decision, of course, it means we have higher costs for travel, accommodation and performance fees but it’s a decision we have never regretted.
He believes it is a rewarding experience as artistes have to put in hours of rehearsals and discipline.
“Playing live brings spontaneity to the performance, it gives artistes more flexibility and the freedom to express themselves and communicate with audiences on different levels,” he says. Busara’s director says the only reason audiences keep coming back is because they know they’ll experience great music, with energy, friendliness, vibes and excitement.
“That is why many of the artistes after performing at the festival get invited to perform at other big events in Europe, Africa or the US,” he told the Beat then.
The only reason why people part with their hard earned cash is not to see an appearance on stage but a musical performance that involves all aspects. Unfortunately, most Tanzanian artistes today including the established ones prefer the easier way out!
This continued use of playback on many occasions has left the artistes exposed especially when performing songs that feature collaborations with artistes from other parts of the continent.