|By Ogova Ondego
Published February 3, 2008
Saida Karoli has just reconfirmed her position as the undisputed queen of eastern Africa’s folk music with the launch of Nelly, her fifth album in a span of eight years since she stormed the music scene in September 2001. Rose Mhando, East Africa’s most popular Gospel artist and Tanzania Music Awards Best Female Gospel Musician 2005, too, has a new album on the market. OGOVA ONDEGO reports.
“This album was prepared in UK, South Africa and USA and mastered at our state-of-the art studio in Dar es Salaam,” Felician Muta, Karoli’s manager and producer says.
As the composing, recording, mastering and releasing of this album took almost two years, one hopes it will live up to the expectations of many discerning music lovers and fans of Karoli.
Composer, singer, dancer and drummer Karoli was born in Rwongwe village, Bukoba in 1976, from where Muta discovered, prepared and ushered her on the music stage in 2001.
Though she sings predominantly in her Kihaya with a few songs in Kiswahili and English, Karoli’s music has been accepted in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa and Kenya as she sings about familiar rural social values steeped in traditions and cultures that the largely Bantu-speaking people of the Great Lakes region identify with. This, coupled with her unique mellow voice, penetrating vocals, down-to-earth attitude and interpretation of traditional music have, till now, won her fans across age and economic divides in eastern Africa. It may also not be surprising about the wide fan base Karoli has bearing in mind that Kihaya, the language spoken on the western side of Lake Victoria in northern Tanzania where Karoli was born is very similar to the Bantu languages spoken in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, eastern Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya and, of course, Tanzania. Add Kiswahili to this and her fan base widens further.
This said, I think the best of Karoli’s music was that done in her first three albums as it appeared unadulterated unlike now when she is trying to fuse her music with modern genres like R n B and ragga as seen on her Mimi Nakupenda album. One may speculate if this is not being done from a marketing point of view so she may win over the younger hip hop-loving generation who usually throng live concerts. This could partly explain why she has redone Chambua kama karanga (the pupular song that put her on the pedestal in 2001 besides earning her the Best Song of the Year prize at the annual Tanzania Music Awards.
Karoli’s albums include Chambua kama Karanga (Maria Salome) 2001; Mapenzi kizunguzungu (2003), Harusi (2004), Mimi Nakupenda (2005) and Nelly (2008).
Rose Mhando (she renders her surname interchangeably as Mhando and Muhando), she of the Mteule uwe macho fame, too, has had a new album on the market for some time now.
Like Karoli, Mhando was born in 1976. But perhaps that is the only thing they have in common. Whereas the latter has seven years of formal education, the former dropped out of school in class five. Unlike Karoli who chose to do the traditional music of her people, Mhando opted for the sacred Christian music. Unlike Karoli, too, Mhando appears to have been self-made and this could explain why it took her 17 years to compose, record and release her debut album, Mteule uwe macho.
Kitimutimu na Rose Muhando, Mhando’s new album, is overtly evangelistic, calling on humanity to repent of their sins and turn to God. Like Mteule uwe macho that tackles contemporary issues like terrorism, suicide bombing, prostitution, internet pornography, same gender sexual relations, family life, commitment to God and relationships between husbands and wives, Kitimutimu na Rose Muhando appears to be solely made to urge humanity to turn to God’s will, only touching contemporary issues in passing.
Mhando, strictly speaking, remains true to her Christian calling on this album but, compared to Mteule uwe macho, the quality of Kitimutimu na Rose Muhando pales.
Having introduced her well packaged and well selling first album spectacularly, it is natural that her fans would have expected her to have gone a notch higher on the second recording. This appears not to have happened, if the title “Kitimutimu na Rose Muhando” alone is anything to go by. It not only lacks imagination and creativity but also appears quite colourless and one may wonder why a talented artist like Mhando would pick the first title that comes to mind and slap it on a recording that is expected to have a long shelf life-span like music.
With her enormous popularity and larger-than-life profile, one would have expected Mhando to have done better than she has on this 10-song recording. The choreography is drab and almost monotonous while costumes, props and locations have been kept to the bare minimum. Was this done to cut down on costs as usually happens in Narobi’s River Road studios where artists opt to record an entire album of about 12-16 songs in a session?
In an earlier interview with Mhando see http://artmatters.info/?articleid=218), she had lamented that unscrupulous people in Kenya and Uganda were selling her music illegally and that they had threatened her when she protested.
Lately, the argument that piracy can be reduced through identifying pirates and then offering them the opportunity to legally distribute one’s work is gaining ground. Also gaining currency is the argument that contracting out Kenyans or Ugandans to distribute ones works reduces piracy as locals fear pirating something that belongs to their compatriots. They fear to be caught and arraigned in court. Mhando appears to have bought herself into this line of reasoning.
Antony Murimi of the River Road-based Times Square Entertainment that produces music and comedies, for example, has recently ventured in the distribution of Tanzanian music on VCD. He currently handles the music of Ali Kiba and Profesa Jay as, he says, it sells better than Nollywood and Riverwood film VCDs.
Mhando also appears to have redone her Nipishe nipite song and called it Najitoa sasa on this recording. Why she has done this may only be known to her. To them that much has been given as Mhando has much will be required of.
Some of the songs that stand out on this recording include Moyo wangu, and Najitoa sasa. The former appears authentic with the performers dressed in ethnic attire which they mix with blankets and shorts and T-shirts for men and wrap-around black cloth for women. The setting is certainly rural with stick-clutching men in sandals and the women winnowing grain from chaff on trays to the backdrop of cattle and grain-harvested fields.