It was a quarter past midnight, a time normally blanketed by total silence, but it was not the case on one Wednesday in a street in Tandale kwa Tumbo.
Loud music coming from a PA system with a set of six loudspeakers erected in front of a house rocked the night. A group of about 30 women were busy dancing to the tunes, while hundreds of onlookers who had formed a big circle around them watched in awe.
At some point, the disk jockey (DJ) dropped a teaser from a popular cover artist Msaga Sumu that says, “Wazimu wangu ukinipanda na nguo nitavua” literally meaning “When madness gets into my head, I will strip naked,” and the crowd chanted in unison, “vua” meaning “go ahead and strip.”
The teaser, which was replayed four times, as intended prompted the women inside the circle (call it dancing floor for that matter) to undress. While some remained with their underwears, others stripped totally naked.
Welcome to Kigodoro, a popular Uswahilini dance.
The word Kigodoro means ‘little mattress’, which symbolically means that the dance goes on till dawn. Unlike in night clubs, this happens out in residential areas. The event organisers even secure permits from the local authorities.
Kigodoro or in plural vigodoro is very popular in Dar es Salaam. The Kigodoro in Tandale kwa Tumbo was taking place at a wedding ceremony. But vigodoro are not confined to weddings but are held also during birthday parties and any other kind of celebration.
The dance however, is very common only in some areas of the city famously known as Uswahilini. Places like Tandale, Buguruni, Ilala, Vingunguti, Mwananyamala and Magomeni to name but a few.
The residents of these neighbourhoods will tell you there is nothing new in vigodoro and that they are surprised that the events have earned notorious names and ongoing police crackdown.
“It is not a big deal here, as far as I can remember. I have seen women stripping in these events for more than a decade…since I was a boy. They are having a good time and so is the crowd,” said the DJ who prompted the women to go naked.
The term kigodoro evolved during the past seven years or so. Before that, the dance used to be referred to as rusha roho, a local term for modern taarab.
In the mid 90s, taarab, a music genre popular in the Swahili coast experienced a revolution, which brought drastic changes. For the first time, it became ‘taarab to dance to’ or modern taarab, diverging from the old touch which was basically, ‘sitting back and enjoying the music.’
The drastic changes were affectionately embraced by female fans, and by late 1990s thanks to wider availability of PA systems, these fans could now hire street DJs and dance in the open till dawn.
Modern taarab songs, unlike the old ones are explicit - sometimes even graphic - in sexual connotation.
At times fans completely change the theme to become graphic. Since it is music of the coast, where fishing is one of the core economic activities, lyrics about fishing can’t afford to be missed. The word fishing in Kiswahili can be translated as ‘kuvua,’ which could also mean, ‘taking off clothes’.
For instance in one bridge of the song the lyrics go like “Kama jarife lavua, nalivue tulione” meaning ‘if a jarife (a certain type of fishnet) can really fish, then let us see it do so.’ However, in the streets this is translated otherwise, as a challenge for one to take off their clothes.
“Nalivue tulione (strip so we can see)…yes, the meaning has been distorted but that is where it all begun to me,” says Pili (not her real name) who remembers watching older women stripping for the first time in early 2000s when she was 14.
But the nights of rusha roho were not the beginning of stripping but rather the culture of vigodoro. For when rusha roho was starting to rent the air, already there was what is popularly known in uswahilini as ‘beni bati’ or ‘tarumbeta’, a local brass band.
Usually played by a team of three to five, divided between trumpets and drums, the beni bati, unlike vigodoro is played during the day.
Back in the 1990s, beni bati was a never miss part of wedding ceremonies in Uswahilini, and at times stripping was also practiced.
It is still popular to date; sometimes Dar es Salaam residents can get a sneak peak of the beni bati in City roads. It is not unusual to see women in a moving bus dancing to beni bati tunes. They are most of the times usually moving from one point to another during the wedding process. They could be accompanying the groom to tie the knot or going back home from the ceremony.
The new addition to the list is baikoko, a traditional dance from Tanga. But the new version is notorious for among other things, the dancers strip naked.
Kigodoro gone viral
But why is the police and government up only now? The popular theory to express the delay is that vigodoro have gone viral.
When groups like kanga moko started to hit the airwaves, their videos and pictures started to trend online.
When people go crazy in kigodoro just like other big or weird activities, others are usually busy with their mobile phones recording the moments.
Thanks to social media platforms, from YouTube, Facebook to WhatsApp, today people share such stuff and the government gets alerted.
But it will be wrong to say that these things are widely acceptable and face no opposition from where they are practiced most.
Mariam Kondo, 80, from Magomeni says although every generation comes up with its innovations and inventions from time to time, there are always limitations.
“A wedding is a joyous thing and people do have fun in the name of it, but it is unacceptable to put-off your clothes and say you’re having fun, it is utter nonsense…I’m very firm with my family, they can have fun but they know the limits,” she says.
And on letting children attend such events, Mariam says; “that is a parenting issue. During our days one was not allowed to attend a marriage ceremony if not married. I know that can’t be accepted now but going with your children to such immoral events or allowing them to on their own is a disaster.”
So who are the strippers?
“They are shameless, senseless, and immoral. You can call me old-fashioned but they have no clue of what dignity stands for,” says Mariam.
For 28-year-old Pili who is a mother of two and who strips in vigodoro and baikoko dances, doing so is just okay and it’s just about having fun with one’s life.
“I am now used to what people say about me. I have been recorded a couple of times but I don’t care. I do it for fun, am not paid to do so though some people get paid. But I don’t refuse money if one decides to give me if they feel entertained by my moves,” Pili says.
While people believe that you can’t be sober and go naked in front of strangers, Pili says that is just a part of the story. “I have done it when sober, it’s just you and your conscious, some take alcohol first and when they are later told what they did, they make excuses that they were drunk…It is always easy to blame it on alcohol,” Pili says.
In June 2014 when police announced the first clampdown on ‘Panya road’ a gang that has been carrying out various criminal activities around the city, they mentioned vigodoro as one of panya road targets.
Kessy Mumba, a resident of Tabata Magengeni and his two friends in March last year were attacked by a gang of six when they were coming from a kigodoro dance.
“First we decided to confront them but we realised they were armed with pangas and iron bars…we sped away but two of us were unlucky, they caught us and took our mobile phones. They took away my Sh20,000 and my friend’s Sh35,000… they also beat my friend because he was stubborn, but he wasn’t that much hurt.”
Mugging is a common experience in vigodoro. The robbers most of the time, hide a few metres away setting their trap for those leaving the event. They attack them in a quiet area where victims cannot quickly call and receive help.
Khat is illegal in Tanzania but not when baikoko is playing. That is an impression one won’t be wrong to have it after attending a baikoko ceremony.
In the events as they say in their jargon ‘kusaga gomba’ chewing khat is usually done in the open.
Can these dances be stopped?
The Director of Culture Development in the ministry of information, youth, culture and sport, Prof Herman Mwansoko says the government through Baraza la Sanaa Tanzania (BASATA) has declared such dances as illegal and that practicing them is violating the law.
“This has become a serious danger to our culture as it threatens the original dances which are our identity. The new generation will be filled with what they see now and may not be aware that there has been a real Baikoko for instance,” he says.
He adds that as the ministry, they record the original versions of all the traditional dances and keep them in the archive for future generations. He however warns that whoever participates in such dances in public will be held accountable.
According to popular culture, expert and assistant lecturer at University of Dar es Salaam, Issa Athuman, says what is happening now is inevitable since the new generation is trying to forge its own identity out of the past experience and the country has been caught unawares.
“The next generation will probably do the twisting beyond what we see now, every generation has its demands and perception on how they view things,” he says.
Mr Athuman says while the country acted too little too late to combat the current situation, cultural experts and the government have to do research and get prepared for the next wave of changes.
“This will help to create guidelines, laws or polices that will handle the situation related to those changes. But without the guidelines, those people who practice such dances will always think they are doing the right thing.”