Traditional Music & Cultures of Tanzania

Some of the main ethnic groups of Tanzania are the Wangoni and Wahehe from the southern highlands, Wasukuma from southern Lake Victoria, Wanyamwezi from the western part of the country, Wamakonde from southern Tanzania, Wagogo from central Tanzania, Wasambaa from the north-eastern highlands and Wazanzibari from the islands of Zanzibar. Historically, the music of Tanzania has been used by more than 120 ethnic groups of Tanzania for specific functions, all aiming at expressing the various aspects of human life through the human voice and instruments.

Traditional music plays a similar role for most ethnic groups, for instance, work songs, hunting songs, lullabies, battle songs, religious music, and rituals such as baby naming, therapy, weddings, processions, funerals and marching ceremonies. Traditional African music has been used not for entertainment but for specific social functions. Songs are associated with life events such as births, mourning, games, prayers, work, wars and love.

There are few songs from the selected ethnic groups that use the relative meter/measure of simple duple meter comprising of two crotchet-beats in a bar and sometimes in common meter/time signature which is four crotchet-beats in a bar. But the Wamakonde ethnic group has an exception in meter used, which is simple duple meter having two crotchet-beats in a bar, and sometimes half common time meter which is made up of two minim-beats in a bar.

Modern genres influenced by traditional music

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Tanzania had its own distinct African rumba music style, termed muziki wa dasi, (dance music) made popular by famous bands such as Tabora Jazz, Western Jazz Band, Morogoro Jazz, Volcano Jazz, NUTA Jazz, JUWATA Jazz and DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra. Artists like Marijani Rajabu, Mbaraka Mwinshehe, King Enock, Muhidin Gulumo, Mzee Mabela and others are still famous in Tanzania.

In the late 1980s, Local music experienced a variety of changes, which were accepted by the people of Tanzania. For instance, musicians from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) came with new modes of composition, harmony, playing and dancing styles, rhythmic patterns and stage presentation, which nowadays are common and popular in muziki wa dansi. Audience enjoyed the new style. A few popular dance bands have maintained a distinctly Tanzanian rumba music style, some of these are NUTA/JUWATA jazz, currently known as Msondo Ngoma Music Band, and DDC Mlimani Park Orchestra.

Currently, some ethnic groups compose traditional melodies for worshiping in the church. For instance, Wagogo women have incorporated Muheme music and dance, traditionally used to celebrate girl’s initiation or transition into adulthood, into the church context, led by female drumming section and a male conductor (Mapana, 2007). Tanzania also has popular gospel music, which is more commercial. Musicians compose music for rejoicing and praising God by dancing and singing while accompanied by string instruments, drums and keyboards or organ. This music is known locally as mapambio, with a specific dance style called sebene.