Remmy Ongala

Tanzania

Known as the "Doctor", Remmy originally came from Kindu in North Eastern Zaire. He has performed in bands since the age of sixteen, learning his craft from his father, who was a well-respected, traditional musician. In 1978 Remmy travelled to Dar es Salaam where he joined Orchestra Super Makassy and later formed his own band, Super Matimila, named after the local businessman who bought and owned their instruments.

His presence is almost majestic and his distinct voice, rich and soulful, soars above the lilting rhythms of the Super Matimila. The rolling melodic drive of Zairean soukous is undeniable, yet there is also the influence of traditional Tanzanian rhythms and hints of Latin and Soul.

In Tanzania, Remmy's popularity is unrivalled, his reputation precedes him even to the remotest parts of the bush. His audience see his lyrics as allegories, often attacking the country's ruling elite. He doesn't assume the mantle of spokesman for the masses but does both articulate the concerns of ordinary Tanzanians and initiate debate, with for example his song about AIDS. As he himself says, "I am successful in Tanzania because I write songs about serious topics ... my music is known as 'ubongo beat', because in Swahili 'ubongo' means brain and my music is heavy thinking music." It is also serious dancing music.