Mama Lea Mtoto: Chakacha, Me and Taarab

Enters a slightly older version of this writer to the scene, khanga (cloth wrapper) in hand to the dais, the stage is set and the crowd is restive. She must dance, the song set to the lively chakacha beat. Her words a rumor of the song playing on the electric keyboard, traditional drums(ngoma za kitamaduni) “Lete maji…twende” (Water please, lets go), she says, like the artist in the track. Three continents away from the genesis of this genre, off the coast of East Africa, her beat intact, step step step … watch it now!

Ukatoroka nenda zako…

Mama Lea Mtoto wako…

Siwezi bwana”

Every time I hear these songs, I am transported  to the Mombasa of my early teens or to the house kitchen a few weeks back with my buddy from the Coast!

“Leo  ni leo

Utauona mpambano kweli si urongo”

Sashay sashay, my mind’s eye sees me age five with my sash tied round  my little girl waist, just taking it one beat at a time. I struggle not to burst into hysterical  five year old girl  giggles. I want to master this dance, like I did the hoola hoop. I want this song to shine at the kindergarten end of year show.

:Shilingi yang’ara yauwa, shilingi yauwa

Life lessons in school etiquette and the value of the East African Shilling. Or was it still the Florin, or the ever present Kenya Pounds( At Ksh 20 per pound) which the mathematics texts were so in love with.

Ukitaka nyoa nywele aro aro

I am so feeling this one mix record with all these songs and it is great to see the beauty in the music of Taarab. For those who are fairly unfamiliar, the word taarab is of Arabic derivation and contains multi-layered meaning.

Gilbert Rouget in Music and Trance explains taarab comes from “the verb tariba which means “‘to be moved, agitated‘…also signifies ‘to excite, to want to move,’ and hence ‘to sing, to make music.” Often seen and heard at weddings in Zanzibar, which claims taarab as its national genre as well as many parts of the Swahili speaking world, the taarab artistes construct a rich thread of rhythms from all over the world to bring Swahili poetry, regional music, traditional music and instruments and modern day flair into the best of musical experiences in my view.

Taarab is Swahili wedding music, and the only time when I saw  people dancing to taarab would be when there  was a Coast Nite for Nairobians and the camera crews would capture the beautiful, carefully dressed ladies at a wedding party. Nowadays, even though there is YouToub, I find myself pandering for the days of one national broadcaster bringing the best artistes of the day to our screens. Alilili;lilililililili!, is my ululation of choice.

You should see me now, dance dance.

Have a leo-ni-leo day (Lyrics “Today is the day!”)

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3 thoughts on “Mama Lea Mtoto: Chakacha, Me and Taarab

  1. Ok..now I know we are age-mates..That music of yester years..not so old I must say.

    Dudes enjoyed that music but it really wasnt ours to dance to..but the ladies could really move to this…

    I always believe that there were hidden meanings in those songs that our limited Swahili could not fathom…

    ‘Kuna Mnazi mmoja wapnda watu watatu’…. surely that means more than just that…

    Great posts and driven me to nostalgia

    I truly agree, I suppose there was always the truth that our Bara Swahili is painfully inadequate to grasp the subtle and not-so-subtle meaning of the Swahili terms.

    I think that the best nostalgic moments are those where you are wholly transported, toe-tapping, two-stepping, whatever takes the fancy

    • 2008-2012 dating 5yrs back but still Chakacha ‘mchikicho’ one of the undying genres. “Leo ni leo, Sijauona pilipili na maua yake mchikicho”

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