Friday, April 29, 2011


Already in 1983 Jah Kimbute started up the band Roots & Culture and two years later they were registred with the National Arts Council. This was a must in those days to be able to get governmental support, to tour etc. In 1985 they went to Zimbabwe as part of a cultural exchange program. On their return to Dar they managed to get a sponsor in Njumba wa Sanaa, a big handicraft shop in Dar which at that time had money from development aid agencies such as SIDA in Sweden. Nyumba wa Sanaa provided the band with rehearsal facilities. At this time the band was playing on instruments owned by Tanzania Film Company.

In 1986 Roots & Culture went on a tour to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. The played three months in the club Blue Note in Gabarone. They played "roots music", not pure reggae but based in reggae. With the money they earned they could gradually buy their own instruments. They knew that owning your own instruments was the key to independence:

To be employed or work for a club owner in Tanzania for a composer or one who wants to make his own music is a problem because the owner of the tools will want you to play a certain type of music. He won't give you a chance to do research or just find youself. He wants you to play what is on the market. That what is happening with a lot of bands here. The musicians just become like..., they have to wait what is happening in DRC and becomes popular in Tanzania and then they have to play that.

The owners just want to make money. They are not interested in the music. Most of man is just destroyed by this type of operations. Some people start very vigilant. They have their own sound. But when the sponsor goes in now, he determines the terms. He wants that musician from somewhere to come and join the group. People become copycats to survive.

But of course independence also means you have to organize a lot yourself. That's not always easy:
We are making our own music. We are using our own tools. We are trying to organize our own concerts. If we don't organize our own concerts in town, nobody puts concerts.
Dar es Salaam is not a very good spot for reggae music. But I appreciate that when we organize concerts like in the drive in cinema, it's a lot of youths coming and they really cheer to my music and to the music in general. The musical movement here is a bit fucked up because there is no promotion company, there is no distribution company. There is nothing cultural more than the Indian dubbing your cassette and selling it. That's it.

So when you organize concerts in the drive in you fix up with companies to help supporting cooking, the arena, advertisment and so forth. Then we put together some equipment so that we can get a big sound system and play outside. Normally we try to charge very cheap like a thousand shillings per head so that a lot of people can come in.

So it's promotion for all the bands. Plus the crashers who jump over the wall and make the night become more interesting. (Kimbute laughs.) But otherwise there is nothing really good going on because the music organization or whatever they are not doing a commendable job. They are still into the old style.

You know in Tanzania music was just taken as propaganda, political. I wasn't for the benefit of the artist. Music was just to help the politicians before they held their speeches when they do their campains. So music was just for rule. The ruling party could bring up a truck and say "Your band must play a certain place tomorrow". They give you transport to go. But coming back you have to take care of yourself, you know. And it's like an order.

That is finished right now. Now we're coming to a bit of commersialization. But the commercialization system here is not a system. You have just to stop it. No sales of music. And implement slowly, start afresh.

What is killing things here is lack of copyright. If you don't have a link to any small company in Europe you can just die poor. You can never get your music outside the border, which is very bad. I don't know. It's hard to understand the policy of this country. No one is interested in investing in putting a good studio and having a company because there is no copyright law. And no one really cares much for Tanzanian musicians, because if you don't have a basic right from your own country it's really hard.

When asked when he first heard reggae Jah Kimbute answers:
The first time was in the seventies. I used to love reggae music and soul music. My father used to buy a lot of records, because they used to go out of Tanzania sometimes. We had many records with James Brown, John McRay, Jimmy Cliff. The first reggae I heard was Jimmy Cliff's music, then Johnny Nash. I loved Jimmy Cliff's music. "You can get it if you really want" was a kind of inspiration to me. I started to love Jimmy long time.

Then the time came when I was big enough I went to Europe, to Holland. The reggae scene was big in 1975. Bob Marley and the Wailers they promoted their LP Babylon by bus, I was in Holland at that time. I saw Black Uhuru first time in Germany. They were not big. We went to see them just lika any reggae band. Dread locks and so. But I just loved Michael Rose. Then I come to check Bob and that was another level. The I played music too in a band in Holland in the weekends. We started a group with some guys from Surinam, Trinidad and Jamaica. This was in 1979.

Jah Kimbute says this about his music today:
My music is black music. It has an influence of all black sounds....There is a line of jazz in my music to put more flesh on the music. You can get the soul feeling in my music. There is a traditional touch in my music. I just try to blend. I find it hard to come out with just something like... This is Tanzania and it should be like any popular style. Whatever tropical touch I put in the music that identifies with me. I'm not playing anything from outer space. There is inspiration from what I've been hearing. If I write a song I automatically have the bass line in my head.

We said it is something basically African to start the construction of music from the lower notes.
Yes, that's how I make my music. Then my song should fit on that bass line. It's the bass line and then some drumming. What come next is just some other instruments or some other type of music into my music. Bass, drums and percussion, if they are tight, that's basically what is music to me. Guitars, horns and keyboard is just some flesh. The bones of the music is bass and percussion.

Roots & Culture is primarily a live band and has just done a few recordings. Still they don't perform more than about 25 times in a year.

But Jah Kimbute is convinced that he's doing thte right thing:
Reggae music is future music. You can listen today, tomorrow the next day without getting tired. I respect my music and I'm not even interested to make a kabinda nkoy hit . I'll rather play something that is international like reggae with a bit of Tanzanian touch.

Booking: Roots and Culture Band

Contact: telephone +255(0)752240938

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