Jagwa Music got its start in the early 1990s, when young Dar es Salaam musicians began realizing they could make small Casio keyboards roar. Like many mchiriku groups, Jagwa is a collective project. The band was originally founded in 1992. Except for the chief composer Abdallah Gora and the band’s patron George Abdul Jolijo, all their current members joined the group within the past 10 to 12 years. Due to a busy live schedule that sees them performing regularly at family celebrations in Dar es Salaam and its surroundings, the group is currently comprised of around 15 to 20 musicians, who rotate so that only about 6 to 8 perform
at any given occasasion. The band’s sound is a collision of traditional drums, makeshift percussion and small Casio keyboards dubbed kinanda (or ‘musical boxes’) that are wired through megaphones and powered by car batteries. Add raw swagger and topical lyrics delivered at breakneck speed and you have mchiriku . This driving energy has already taken the group to global events like WOMAD in Australia, Music Box in Lisbon, Portugal and the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia, among others.
Imagine a crew of 8 youngsters playing nutty grooves at breakneck speed on traditional & makeshift percussion, a keyboard player going mad on a battered vintage Casio, and three relentless front persons: two breathtaking, spectacular dancers and a charismatic lead vocalist/MC, belting out songs about survival in the urban maze, unfaithful lovers and voodoo.
Shall we call this “Afro-punk” because of the DIY attitude and the creative use of noise and distortion? Or shall we refer to minimal or trance music? To the sexual energy of kuduro and mapouka? To the connection with any socially-conscious Western musical tradition (from rock to hip hop)? Or shall we simply welcome the advent of one of the most exciting bands around, and enjoy their exhilarating combination of pure energy, dazzling virtuosity and great showmanship?
Jagwa Music are the leading exponent of the Mchiriku style, which originated twenty years ago in the poor suburbs of Dar es Salaam, when cheap Casio keyboards became available, and drew the attention of bands who were playing Chakacha dance music. What happened next is reminiscent of other, by now familiar stories (like that of Konono No.1): Jagwa Music & their peers were immediately attracted by the Casio’s lo-fi sound, adopted it, hooked it to vintage amps and megaphones, and the resulting gritty, edgy, distortion-laden sound was rechristened Mchiriku. This new style has been thriving ever since in Tanzania, although it’s been deliberately ignored by the media, as it is associated with uhuni (thuggery) and the city’s low life.
Jagwa Music have a large following around Dar es Salaam: almost everybody knows their songs, which relate to everyday issues. Many of their lines have become proverbial, and you can see quotes from their songs painted as slogans to the sides or backs of the local dala dala bus taxis. The songs often contain advice on how to survive in the city, when you’re faced with unemployment, oppressive relatives, AIDS and unfaithful girlfriends or husbands, drugs and alcohol.