From the streets of Dar Es Salaam to your eardrums, Jagwa Music brings the funk
Name: Jagwa Music
Where he’s from: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Genre: Lo-fi party jams known as mchiriku
When he started: 1992
Sounds like: Cheap Casio keyboards played through distorted loudspeakers
The concept sounds like it could be next-level hipster experimentalism: a band that makes music exclusively on percussion and miniature vintage Casio keyboards wired through megaphones. But those are the exact ingredient of mchiriku, a kind of party-music heard throughout the rougher parts of Bongo, as the gritty East African city of Dar es Salaam is affectionately nicknamed by locals.
By day, the members of Jagwa Music hustle to survive with small-time oddjobs like filling in as taxi-bus drivers. But by night, they are stars of the city, playing a frenetic style of dance music and singing lyrics about the pressures and pleasures of urban life. The band has two musicians on little Casios, known locally as the kinanda or “little musical box,” who rip hypnotic, repeating riffs on overblown organ patches. Behind them, four percussionists pound out crazy polyrhythms on various drums, some of which are made out of PVC pipes. One guy plays a wooden stool beaten with sticks.
Foreign fans of Jagwa Music have referred to the band as “lo-fi” or “afro-punk,” in reference to group’s warts-and-all sound and the DIY nature of their set-up. But really it’s just a case of musicians making do with what they have. In the process, the band just happens to be re-purposing old technology to make fresh musical textures.
Although their members are fairly young, Jagwa Music has actually been around for a while, first forming in 1994 and naming themselves after the Jaguar line of French fighter planes. With international audiences already primed for distorted African street music by the Congotronics project and Kinshasa band Konono #1, it’s no surprise that Jagwa eventually would get a European release. Their disc, Bongo Hotheads, is being released by Crammed Discs, Belgium-based purveyors of global sounds.