Life & History:
“It’s a bit intimidating, the first time you step on the quaint Zawose compound, nestled in the far corner of the coastal town of Bagamoyo on Tanzania’s picturesque shores. At first glance, it seems like any other African family with women doing laundry and the sweet smell of chai wafting from the outdoor kitchens. Neighbors and family come and go, greeting each other in Swahili or Gogo as they go about their day. There is one notable difference, however. And that is that everyone there, from the smallest child to the head of the clan, can sing, dance, and play traditional music with such elegance they seem to be born with it. A closer look shows children running around with flip-flops pretending to play the kayamba (traditional shakers), men pounding steel wires taken from old mattresses and car seats to make malimba (thumb piano) strings, and women lightly singing Gogo chants as they go about their day.
This was the life Msafiri Zawose was born into. There was little choice in the matter: he would be a musician. In the Zawose family, music is more than a way to make a living or even way of life. Music is the answer to everything.
Hukwe Zawose, Msafiri’s father, was discovered by Tanzania’s founding father, Julius Nyerere, on his visit to the interior post-independence as he was welcoming everyone into their newly formed nation of Tanganyika. From this point on, the name Zawose became synonymous with music and tradition in Tanzania. Hukwe served as a member of the cultural troupe that traveled performing traditional Tanzanian music, representing the Gogo tribe of the Dodoma region. His name grew after he became a founding member of the Chuo cha Sanaa (National College of Arts) and relocated his family to Bagamoyo. Hukwe’s untimely death in 2003 marked the end of a life and career dedicated to music, preserving tradition, and spreading the spirit of Africa around the world.
Msafiri’s task of following in the footsteps of this musical giant was not an easy one. Msafiri continues Hukwe’s enduring legacy through his passion for music and tradition that is quickly fading in Tanzania.
From a young age, Msafiri began learning music. Not just how to play it or how to make the instruments, but how to make music a part of himself – a part that can not be replaced. Surrounded by musicians and spending his days at the art college, Msafiri picked up the limba at a young age. His grandfather began teaching him to play the ndono on his front porch when he was only ten years old, the same year he began to make his own malimba. Entering his teenage years, Msafiri had already mastered all of the signature Gogo instruments. By his 13th birthday, he was already touring widely with his father’s group to festivals throughout Tanzania. His international debut was a three-month tour to Japan singing, dancing, and playing ndono, ngoma, and balafon with his father’s group Chibite.
After his father’s death in 2003, Msafiri took a break from the family to pursue his own career in music. His first single album, Dawale Chouya, was released in 2006, just before his first appearance at Sauti za Busara in 2007. Since then, Msafiri has been invited to participate in workshops and festivals across the globe from WOMAD in Abu Dhabi, to the Ethno program in Sweden, to the LEAF Festival in the USA. Most recently, Msafiri completed a three-month tour to the USA where he visited over 15 states. In January 2013, Msafiri spent five more weeks in America where he completed the recording of Mbotela, his first major release recorded with TMG Studios.
Beyond music performance, Msafiri is dedicated to preserving this style of music that is become less and less common to hear in Tanzania. He established Art Promoters Foundation Tanzania in 2009 to assist local children and artists in promoting their music, as well as teaching traditional music and dance to youth in the community. Currently, APF operates a recording studio, organizes music and cultural events in Tanzania, and holds weekly workshops and classes for children to learn Tanzanian dance and ngoma.
Msafiri has established himself within Tanzania as a positive musical force, preserving tradition, but with a modern twist. He has been able to maintain close ties to his roots and the traditional Gogo rhythms that give the music its unique sound, while creating an energy that is contagious to anyone who hears it. While artists in Tanzania are adopting international styles such as hip-hop, Bongo Flava and reggae, Msafiri has built a sound that no one has been able to mimic. Singing in both Swahili and his native Gogo language, the music is truly based in the environment and the people that shaped its authors, who hope to share their experiences with their fellow Tanzanians and the world. For those who can’t understand either language, the passion and energy are enough.”
Let the music speak for itself…
“Msafiri’s was one of the sweetest performances I’ve ever seen anywhere. Music and light just pour out of him as he plays! His exquisitely resonant malimba and zeze instruments take you out of this world. Don’t miss his performance!” – Laura C. (Washington, DC)
“I really do have a special thing for the music of the Zawoses, it’s hard to explain, it’s just captivating. There is just something truly magical about the Gogo traditional sound, the tone, the melody, the cyclical nature of it; maybe it has something specifically to do with the way Hukwe Zawose played it and passed it on… But for me having Msafiri there in our studio might be like someone else having Sean Lennon, if Sean Lennon’s music was as good as John Lennon’s that is!” – Rob Weisberg (WFMU New York, NY)
“This was the most brilliant, beautiful performance I have ever seen in my life. I’m not even exaggerating! Thank you. Your performance touched me deeply.” -Alyena (North Carolina, USA)
“As an American girl with little exposure to African music, Zawose has won me over as a true fan. After hearing his music and watching him play I searched for similar artists to build a collection, but couldn’t find anyone quite as good (except for his father). Zawose’s use of traditional Gogo instruments combined with modern rhythm and beats creates a sound that is uplifting, soulful and, in a way, spiritual. I recommend Zawose to anyone looking for a musical experience that is exotic and honest, fun and downright awesome.” -Amanda Raposo (United States)
“Msafiri Zawose’s music is a bridge to go to another level into the Afrikan struggle, it has possibility to transform and entertain alike. Msafiri’s music is very inspiring in a very interesting way, especially the fact that often times I don’t understand the Kigogo language, but intuitively I can relate to the message transmitted.” -Zavara Mponjika (Canada)
“Zawose’s music is keeping on from his roots, the legacy of his family, and in the footsteps of his father. His songs reflect real life situations and the society in which he lives.” -Ngajimah Hashim (Tanzania)
“I saw the Zawose family perform for the first time in January 2011 and it was such an incredible experience. The amount of talent, passion, culture and love for what they were doing was inspiring. Not only was the performance unforgettable but they welcomed my friends and I to join them in their celebration with open arms. Seeing the Zawose family perform was an unforgettable experience and I consider myself lucky to have come in contact with them.”- Lauren Rispoli (United States)