This master musician from Tanzania was a WOMAD favourite for many years, and not just because of his extraordinary voice, which had a five-octave range. Zawose was also a consummate musician and a charismatic performer and anyone who saw him leading workshops at festivals or in schools knows the rapport he could establish with audiences of all ages.
Zawose grew up on a farm in Doduma, teaching himself to sing and play the music of his people, the Wagogo, while he herded the family's cows. He gained such a reputation that Tanzania's first president Julius Nyrere invited him to come to Dar es Salaam, the country's capital. Zawose then toured abroad, appearing in this country in the mid-eighties with the Master Musicians of Tanzania. Ian Anderson, editor of Folk Roots, recalled: "He seems to have at least three voices from different parts of his throat, sliding from one to another with breathtaking ease." While in the UK, the Master Musicians recorded a number of studio sessions, released on Triple Earth as Tanzania Yetu (1985) and Mateso (1987).
Zawose returned from his tours and set up the Bagamoyo College of Arts on the shore of the Indian Ocean. Here, the music and dance of all 122 of Tanzania's ethnic groupings is not only kept alive but strengthened. Returning to the UK , he toured with his band Chibite and gave workshops organised by the WOMAD Foundation. He also recorded an album for Real World, WOMAD's sister label, at its idyllic studios in Box, Wiltshire. The album 'Chibite' featured Hukwe and his son Charles, another accomplished player of the ilimba (thumb piano). Hukwe also played violins and flute on the album. On stage, these magical, atmospheric songs were given fresh impetus by Zawose's imposing presence and brilliant feather headdresses.
Hukwe Zawose, who died in 2003, was a musician of great significance - both as a national treasure and a magical character of almost mythical proportions amongst his own people.