My Blog List

Monday, December 13, 2010


One of Tanzania’s most colourful musicians, “Dr” Remmy Ongala, has left a legacy that will probably never be matched.

Ongala, who, in his very characteristic style, gave himself the nickname “Sura Mbaya” (the ugly one) in his heyday, was a burly guitarist, composer and singer — a man who struggled against many odds to make a name in Tanzania and beyond.

Ongala, in his 60s, succumbed to a long bout of diabetes and kidney failure on Sunday night, but will remain the “champion of the poor”, inspired by the songs he composed.

At the time of his death, though, he had switched to gospel music and occasionally preached in Dar es Salaam.

Jean Bosco Mwenda

When the music studios in this part of Africa excelled in nurturing talent, we had Kenyans, Ugandans, Zambians and some Congolese playing and recording music together and influencing Congolese music. Names that readily come to mind include Nashil Pichen, Jean Bosco Mwenda (from Katanga), Daudi Kabaka, George Ramogi, Charles Sonko (from Uganda).

But Ongala was among the musicians from Eastern Congo, who journeyed east in search of greener pastures from the early 1970s. He was in the league that made up the famous Orchestra Makassy, a band that shook Dar es Salaam in the 1970s into the 1980s.

The group was led by Mzee Makassy who brought Ongala to Dar es Salaam.

Speaking to the Nation yesterday, veteran musician Tshimanga Assosa said Ongala was in the forefront of guitar work and vocals in the band.

“He was very inspiring to all of us who had the chance to interact with him,” he said.

Similarly Orchestra Marquis members, including their leader King Kiki, who is still active in Dar es Salaam, leading is own group, La Capitale, Wazee Sugu, were adept at composing and singing in Kiswahili.

But Ongala excelled in Kiswahili lyrics, penning the hit song, ‘Kifo’ (Death), which announced his entry in music in this region. His other popular songs include ‘Mnyonge Hana Haki’ and ‘Marram’.

Among the Congolese musicians in Tanzania, it was Ongala’s Orchestra Super Matimila that incorporated Tanzanians and composed mainly in Kiswahili.

Ongala’s lowest moment in his career was when he had to fight hard to remain in Tanzania after he was declared a foreigner. He fought hard to get an official reprieve, and after the bid to deport him was reversed, Ongala continued to record music.

Most Tanzanian radio stations yesterday morning paid tribute to him with one inevitably started with the presenter playing ‘Kifo’.

Ongala may be finally dead, but the Sura Mbaya will live on for ages in the minds of many people in East and Central Africa, including his original homeland, DRC

No comments: