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Jun – Aug 2020

Msafiri Zawose

Msafiri Zawose – play music, don't play people…

He has been involved in music from a very young age and by the time he was twelve he had gained sufficient proficiency to tour with his father, the legendary Hukwe Zawose.

Singer and multi instrumentalist, Msafiri Zawose has never harbored a desire to do anything else to earn a living.  Right from childhood he knew music was the one.

Born and raised in Tanzania, he grew up in his home town, Bagamoyo.  He describes it as a coastal town blessed with nice fish, fruits and lovely people.  The town has long been an established centre for culture and music.  In fact his father taught traditional music and instrument making in the local art college there when Msafiri was younger.

It is understandable that his father had a great impact on him, given his stature as one of the county’s musical greats.

His grandfather, Ubi Zawose is another person that was pivotal to Msafiri’s development.  Ubi was a multi instrumentalist in his own right. Msaafiri reveals Ubi was his room-mate.  Many a time he would return to find his grandfather singing, playing and recounting stories about his life through music.  One of the messages his grandfather imparted is something that Msafiri continues to live by as well as imparting it to others “play music, don’t play people – sharing is caring. 

It wouldn’t be complete to highlight those who shaped who he has become without mentioning his mother, Erika Kalima Zawose.  A hardworking farmer, she enjoined him to keep striving and applying himself.  Never take anything for granted and never rest on your laurels.

Musically Msafiri is renowned for Gogo music, a style of music that originates from his ethnic group the Gogo or Wagogo in full.  However, while Gogo music is central to him as an artist he actually plays around 20 different styles of music from Tanzania.

Considering he is a singer and multi instrument counting instruments such as the Zeze, Ilimba and Ngoma among those he has mastered, his skill-set is rather extraodinary.

Reflecting on the wide range of instruments he plays I ask if he has a favorite. It turns out it is the one he found hardest to learn, the Zeze.  He says there are no markings for tuning or the fingers and the playing area is quite small.  It’s not one that appears to be a buskers friend.

A refrain that is not unusual to hear from practitioners of traditional African music is that of the struggle to keep the traditions going in the midst of musical styles that are, or are heavily influenced by forms from the West.

Msafiri too laments that there is not as much appreciation in Africa as there is elsewhere for our traditional music.  While playing in Africa will always hold a special place, outside of the continent Japan is the country that has captivated him most to perform in. 

We move on to collaborations which is something he has enjoyed doing.  He reveals that someone who he hasn’t yet collaborated with but would like to is the Canadian musician Michael Brook.  When pressed as to why that is he says Micheal has solid experience of working with many African musicians and he feels he is respectful of the sounds, styles and traditions of the musicians he has collaborated with.

For lovers of good music this is one to watch out for.

In response to my question about what the future holds, he surprises by revealing he wants to educate people about valuing themselves, living holistically and the richness of African art and culture.

This leaves me thinking; lessons in life intertwined with great music. It really doesn’t get much better than that!

Previous interviews are avaialbe here; archive

© 2020 All rights reserved – Ri Iyovwaye on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) – June 2020