Traditional Tanzanian music falls in popularity, but demands preservation

Muziki wa dansi music was inspired by Tanzanian national pride after its independence in the 1960s. Today, a heritage project is trying to archive the unique music for future generations.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Muziki wa dansi – a uniquely Swahili blend of jazz, rumba, and traditional music – was born in newly independent Tanzania in the 1960s, on a wave of national pride. For decades Tanzanians swayed to these beats, broadcast by the country’s only radio station.

“It was all about love, all about unity, all about coming together and building a new nation,” says Benson Rukantabula. “When you listen to the music now, you still have the same feeling.”

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But not many Tanzanians still do listen. In recent decades, muziki wa dansi has been replaced on the airwaves by Western Top 40 hits.

Now, around 250,000 hours of Tanzanian classics – along with tribal dances and historic speeches – are moldering in the archives of the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation, on reel-to-reel analog tapes slowly turning to dust. The Tanzania Heritage Project, which Mr. Rukantabula cofounded, is fighting to keep this music alive, raising money to digitize it and make it available to the public once again.

“Every minute that these tapes sit in the heat and humidity of Dar es Salaam, the quality is being reduced,” says Rebecca Corey, another of the project’s cofounders. “As the last of these musicians passes on,” she adds, “there will be no one to carry on these traditions if no one can hear the music.”

King Kiki, a Tanzanian musical legend, has been playing rumba for 50 years. “A few young people these days like my music, but not many,” he says. “With time, they will come to appreciate it.”

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