OPINION: Unsung hero of Tanzanian sounds

Tuesday November 6 2018

Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and

Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and communications consultant with Midas Touché East Africa 

I used to read John Kitime’s blog religiously – just like I read his column in The Citizen’s sister paper Mwananchi every other Saturday.

Thanks to the new legislation requiring blog owners to pay regulators the sum of Sh1 million yearly, Kitime’s blog is no longer active.

Kitime is a musician, guitarist and vocalist from Dar es Salaam, well known for playing the electric guitar as part of a duo group called ‘Wahenga’.

Admittedly, the Kitime blog never attracted heavy traffic. But – as lovers of the authentic Tanzanian and East African music – we would troop in our few numbers to assuage our thirst for knowledge on what was like boogieing in days long gone.

The suspension of Kitime’s blog may have gone unnoticed possibly because it was not political – and carried no nudes. Perhaps for those reasons, the big advertising kahunas (Hawaiian for bigwigs) never had reason to put adverts like Rudini Nyumbani Kumenoga there!

Last Thursday night, a 90-minute film Wahenga featuring Kitime was screened to a 50-or-so audience at Dar Arch near the BRT City Council stage in Dar es Salaam.

The movie – by Amir Shivji and Rebecca Correy – follows Kitime around as he seeks to create a band they named ‘Wahenga,’ and comprising (among others) Mbaraka Mwinshehe’s daughter on bass guitar.

A band that tried to recreate the authentic 1960s-90s music which is quickly fading from the scene due to many factors, including rapidly changing technologies.

The sad reality is that the music of yore is really the authentic sounds of Tanzania and East Africa. What is more: those were the days when being a musician meant one could play one musical instrument or other, as well as be an accomplished singer, composer, arranger or choreographer.

But things have changed drastically.

Kitime has walked from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to the Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, wearing out the soles of his shoes in the process as he seeks succour regarding his blog.

‘No can do’ has been the answer. He must pay government revenue to continue with his blog to disseminate news, opinions, images, etc, of matukio (events) to the general public – or sell gossip and porn to other netizens.

There has to be a tipping point at which even the most stringent of government revenue source regimen seriously takes the national interest into account. This is one of those cases where Kitime is doing a thankless job, helping the government to do its job of conserving authentic Tanzanian music.

In the film Wahenga, we are shown Kitime burying his father, Mzee Kitime Francis, who was himself an astute musician of his time. He did all these as the making of Wahenga continued over three years. No government funding or other support.

In fact, Kitime did spend time at the Central Police Station in Dar with his fellow musicians, accused of overstretching the time allowed to perform past 1am at the Selander Bar with Njenje, the band he currently performs with.

Besides his column in Mwananchi, Kitime also has a three-hour long weekly radio programme on eFM radio, has been performing as a musician with Kilimanjaro Njenje band for long.

The man has been trained on copyright laws, and is today an avid trainer on copyrights and intellectual property for artists, a task he performs with vim and verve.

Known as ‘Uncle Kitime’ – or simply as ‘JK’ – to his friends, Kitime is a true living legend that this nation should celebrate. He goes about his business of sourcing old music and stories without a fuss – and doing so at his own cost: a sacrifice that has seen him deny his own family so as to realise his dream.

His efforts together with the Tanzania Heritage Project in seeking to get the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) to digitise its millions of musical collections lying around and about in ruins have so far been in vain. TBC Managing Director Ayoub Ryoba and Minister Mwakyembe: are you aware of this?

Who, indeed, has bewitched us Tanzanians?