‘Uchawa’: How this chokehold is shaping Tanzania's music industry

Baba Levo (left) and Mwijaku

What you need to know:

  • Chawa have turned a seemingly trivial activity into a money spinning profession, influencing a generation that now views this form of expression as an appealing career path

In the ever-evolving cultural landscape of Tanzania, a new form of art dubbed ‘Uchawa’ has emerged, captivating the attention of many, especially the youth.

Uchawa involves individuals who ardently praise and discuss the lives of celebrities and leaders.

These devotees, often referred to as "Chawa," have turned this seemingly trivial activity into a money-spinning profession, influencing a generation that now views this form of expression as an appealing career path.

The term ‘Chawa’ first gained popularity through Mr Clayton Chipando aka Baba Levo, who embraced the title as a devoted fan of the renowned musician Diamond Platnumz.

Baba Levo’s unwavering admiration and continuous public praise for Diamond Platnumz earned him significant fame, marking him the pioneer of this type of art in the entertainment industry.

His bold declaration of lifelong commitment to promoting Diamond Platnumz set a precedent for others, transforming public adoration into a recognised and influential form of art.

Baba Levo explains: "In the beginning, people thought what I was doing was foolish. But as time went on and my idea gained popularity, they saw me getting deals from various companies. That’s when they started to understand the potential and impact of ‘Uchawa’."

Baba Levo continues: "Now, people especially youth are putting in a lot of effort to get into this lifestyle, thinking only about making money. When I started, my focus wasn’t just on that. I was dedicated to defending Diamond Platnumz because of how he was being targeted by fans of his rivals, Alikiba and Harmonize."

Though Baba Levo undoubtedly put ‘Uchawa’ on the map of the entertainment industry of Tanzania, Mr Burton Mwambe well known as Mwijaku, a prominent radio presenter at Clouds Media Group, became among the prominent figures to also practice ‘Uchawa’.

Mwijaku became well-known for his enthusiastic praise of musicians Harmonize and Alikiba, often contrasting their talents with those of Diamond Platnumz.

Mwijaku’s vocal support and ability for sparking public debates made him a key figure in the world of ‘Uchawa’, showcasing the art form’s potential to shape public opinion and entertainment narratives.

Mwijaku explains: "Some people insult us on social media but we know what we are doing; this is our style and that’s why it outshines all the old styles of promoting artistes especially musicians.”

He continues: “Baba Levo and I are best friends, which is why we have our joint name, Mwiba (Mwijaku and Baba Levo). Together, we are mixing up the Bongo Flava music scene, films, and politics in the country. We also motivate young people to work hard so they can achieve greater success in their lives."

"I earn money from this kind of art. Also, through Mwiba, we’ve managed to turn our passion into a profitable venture while inspiring the youth to strive for success," Mwijaku adds.

Another significant figure in this realm is Dotto Magari, a renowned used car dealer in Dar es Salaam.

Dotto’s entry into ‘Uchawa’ saw him gaining fame for his outspoken support of various artists, further cementing the legitimacy and appeal of this unique cultural phenomenon.

"It’s not a bad lifestyle when people fight for their bread, legally, by being creative. There is no big name in ‘Uchawa’ who has not had another job before starting ‘Uchawa’. This shows that we are real hustlers who turned something people never thought would pay off into something very profitable," Dotto Magari reveals.

“We promote a lot of artists who rise to fame and we now see the success in the entertainment sector and that’s what we want to see,” he says.

‘Chawa’ have found various ways to monetise their efforts, including social media endorsements, public appearances, and collaborations with the celebrities they admire.

Moreover, social media platforms have been instrumental in the rise of ‘Uchawa’.

With millions of Tanzanians active on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, X and YouTube, ‘Chawa’ individuals can reach vast audiences, amplifying their influence and enhancing their earning potential.

Endorsement deals and sponsorships are a testament to the significant economic impact ‘Uchawa’ has created.

Despite its popularity, ‘Uchawa’ has its critics. Some argue that the practice promotes a culture of flattery and undermines the value of genuine talent and hard work.

Critics contend that ‘Uchawa’ encourages young people to seek shortcuts to fame and success rather than developing their skills and pursuing traditional career paths.

Joachim Marunda a.k.a Master J, a former music producer, criticises ‘Uchawa’, stating: "Uchawa has brought about a culture of superficial admiration and blind loyalty, overshadowing genuine talent and hard work. It promotes a shortcut mentality among the youth, discouraging them from honing their skills and pursuing meaningful careers. It is a trend that prioritises hype over substance, ultimately devaluing the integrity of the entertainment industry."

Furthermore, ‘Uchawa’ often involves pitting one celebrity against another, fostering divisiveness and negative competition.

Public feuds and rivalries can arise from these comparisons, potentially harming the unity and cohesion within the entertainment industry and beyond.

“Instead of promoting unity and collaboration, it encourages artists and fans to engage in unnecessary rivalries and conflicts. This not only hampers artistic growth but also undermines the collective success of the industry as a whole," comments Omari Mwanga, famously known as Marioo, a bongo flava artiste.

However, as ‘Uchawa’ continues to gain traction, it is poised to become an integral part of Tanzania's cultural and artistic landscape.

The influence of ‘Chawa’ figures and their ability to shape public opinion and trends cannot be underestimated.

Their role in promoting artists, shaping entertainment narratives, and engaging with audiences will likely expand, further blurring the lines between traditional forms of art and new-age expressions.