When it comes to genres of music, we are spoilt for choice. There are so many styles of music with different dimensions in their sound, lyrics, and tunes.
Of all the numerous genres, we’ll be considering a distinct sound from the colourful region of East Africa called Bongo Flava. The Bongo Flava genre is one of the most popular sounds in the East African region and the artists there love it, but is it really worth the hype?
What is Bongo Flava?
Bongo Flava is the dominating music genre in Tanzania and other countries in East Africa. The genre has an interesting history and originated not too long ago in the 1990s. The word Bongo Flava itself has an interesting meaning. Bongo is derived from the word ‘Ubongo’ which is a Swahili word meaning ‘brains’. This is used to refer to the city of Dar Es Salaam (A major city in Tanzania) where it is said that you must have brains to be able to survive there. The second part of the word ‘Flava’ is an alteration of the word flavour.
Bongo Flava is a sound that explores the originality of Tanzanian Taraab music and fuses it with the American hip-hop sound. Think of it as a modern hip-hop sound seasoned with the cultural flavor of the East African people. The genre is not devoid of other external influences like Afrobeats and R&B.
Major players in the Bongo Flava field
The artists that primarily utilize the Bongo-Flava sound are usually East African Artists. One of the most popular of such artists is Naseeb Abdul Juma Isaack who you will easily recognize by his stage name Diamond Platnumz. He is easily one of the most outstanding music artists not just in Tanzania but also in the entire East African region. His reach has also extended to West Africa primarily through collaboration with West African artists as well as through shows and performances in the region.
Apart from the much celebrated Diamond Platnumz, other popular artists leading the way in the Bongo Flava genre are Nandy, Harmonize, Alikiba, Zuchu, and a host of other successful artists.
Is Bongo Flava a thriving music genre?
East African artists massively celebrate the Bongo Flava music genre and this is to be expected since it is the major style of music in the region. The question is are they merely exaggerating or is the sound genuinely worth the hype? To perfectly analyze this, we are going to consider a few relevant factors to help us arrive at a reasonable conclusion.
- Global reception:
With Tanzanian songs, the obstacle to widespread reach across the world is language. The majority of the songs are sung in Swahili (and sometimes English) and this can sometimes impede global reach. Interestingly enough, we have seen a rise in the fusion of Nigerian languages into Tanzanian songs, mostly due to the influence of Afrobeats in the region. Still, some Bongo Flava songs have gained momentum and warm reception in other countries outside the East African region. Some of these Tanzanian songs have managed to break through the borders of their country despite the obvious challenges.
Kioo By Anjella ft. Harmonize, Fire by Zuchu, Oka by Diamond Platinumz, and Naogopa by Harmonize and Marioo are just a few of the Bongo-Flava songs eating up the charts. These songs as well as others have been consistent chart toppers and have also been well received on East African radio airplay. Alikiba, Nandy, Marioo, and Rayvanny are other exceptional Bongo Flava artists whose hit songs have also been topping the charts. The presence of these songs on the charts goes to show that they have attained a reasonable amount of success in the industry.
On the issue of international collaborations, Bongo music artists have been outdoing themselves lately. For instance, Nandy, a celebrated Bongo Flava singer collaborated with Nigeria’s Joeboy on an epic single titled ‘Number One’. The blend of the Afrobeats element into Nandy’s magnetic lyrics served to create an international hit. Star boy Diamond Platnumz has also given us many international hits like ‘Marry You’ featuring Neyo, ‘Waka’ featuring the boss Rick Ross, and Wasted energy featuring the beautiful Alicia Keys. These international collaborations have helped to make the Bongo Flava genre thrive in the global market and gain acceptance from lovers of music all over the world.
Awards might not be the true justifier of success in the music industry, but it does show that one is doing something right. There are several internationally recognized awards in the world and the Bongo Flava music department has not been left out of them. East African artists like Diamond Platnumz and Harmonize have succeeded in snagging awards like the African Muzik Magazine Awards, African entertainment Awards (AEAUSA), and a host of others through their uniquely crafted Bongo Flava songs.
Sadly, some more highly coveted international awards like the Grammys and BET awards have been a bit out of reach. Even Diamond Platnumz once admitted that winning international awards is the key to opening up doors for more of the Tanzanian singers in the industry to be globally recognized. It is worthy of note that Bongo Flava songs win more local awards than international ones, but with the recent acceptance of the genre, it seems there is still hope.
Bongo Flava is more than just a merger of different kinds of genres. It is an unapologetic and authentic expression of the East African people. It is a truly unique sound that has evolved over the years into a genre that cannot quite be substituted with any other. It is safe to say that it has somewhat expanded in terms of global reach since its creation, because of this, it isn’t so surprising when we see East African artists hyping the sound. And now, as we observe an increase in the global acceptance of the unique sound, we know that even though there is still much ground to be covered in Bongo music, there is also so much to be celebrated about it.