Jay Mitta’s Tatizo Peza

To me, punk is about being an individual and going against the grain and standing up and saying ‘This is who I am’ — Joey Ramone

My first ever gig was Stiff Little Fingers at the SFX in Dublin, I think the year was 1990, if it was, I was thirteen. From the opening chords of Alternative Ulster, I was hooked, punk was my thing, there’s a lot of water under the bridge since then, but punk remains my thing. More as a way of life, a creed, than a genre of music. I like the way Mick Jones put it –

“I came into the punk scene because punk stayed with you, it has taught you something. A lot of the other music of the time left you as it found you.” —

Later in the dark, jungle rooms of Grooverider, Bukem, Nightmares on Wax and Fabio, for me, punk carried on. Man, going down underground steps or disappearing into warehouses and getting lost in syncopated rhythms, rearranged funk breaks and booming bass lines, what bliss it was that time to be alive, to be young was very heaven.

Oh, to be young again and living in Dar Es Salaam, rather than ogling BBC 4 documentaries on Friday nights, or devouring 40 year anniversary punk documentaries on BBC Radio 6. Singeli is punk. Pronounced SIN-JO-LEE. It is Raw. Real. Rebellious. Fearless. Frenetic. Singeli is the sound of the East African underground or as Araon Coultate put it in his excellent article on Singeli — The Future Sound of Dar Es Salaam. Dig Araon’s description of Singeli artist, Duke’s gig at a roadside bar near the airport in Dar Es Salaam — you walk through a bar dotted with a few heads slurping Kilimanjaro beer, hearing the feint Boom, Boom, Boom; swing open the metal door and the party is in full swing, Araon tells it —

“Duke, slim and baby-faced, pulled his laptop out of his backpack and perched it in the DJ booth while the sound guy fiddled with MCZO’s microphone. The first hit of Singeli coursed through the crowd like a shot of adrenaline. Singeli is a bracing listen to the uninitiated — it’s fast, anywhere between 180 and 300 BPM, placing it well ahead of drum & bass and even some gabber, with MCs rapping over relentless electronic rhythms. It’s rowdy and uniquely Tanzanian, informed by decades of the country’s electronic and folk music. The dance floor went into overdrive. A couple of people sprayed beer on each other. One man triumphantly lifted up a bar stool over his head and ran around. A woman started doing a Chura dance — a kind of Tanzanian twerk. It was a scene of pure joy, a glimpse into the power of a genre born in the neighborhoods of Dar Es Salaam that has grown to dominate Tanzanian dance floors, airwaves, block parties and festival stages, emerging as the soundtrack to the country’s youth.”

Yikes! That sounds boss.

Singeli was born in Dar Es Salaam. Bubbling for years in the sprawling, neighborhoods of Tandale and Manzese. That underground peeped overground with the excellent compilation Sounds of Sisso, released on Nyege Nyege Tapes in June, 2017. Nyege Nyege describe that record and Singeli as s sound that,

“consists of fast paced frantic loops interlocking with each other, with influences from Zanzibar’s tarab music all the way to South African afro-house coupled with mc’s who often spit satirical lyrics about the challenges facing Tanzania’s youth, from police corruption to the complications of dating girls when you are broke.”

The genesis of what became known as Singeli began at legendary Kigodoro parties, where people danced for hours and hours, before collapsing on foam mattresses, exhausted. But Araon states that the genre’s true birthplace is at SISSO RECORDS in Dar Es Salaam’s Mburahati neighborhood, set up by producer Sisso in 2013. It is the alpha studio among hundreds and the stable of legendary Singeli producers such as, Bwax, Sisso, Bampa Pana and MC’s Dogo Niga and Makavelli — pioneers of the Singeli sound.

Aaron memorably evokes it –

“ Step inside its steel door and a list of studio rules are written in Swahili on the inner wall: ‘Don’t eat inside,’ ‘If someone is recording, don’t knock on the door’ and, ‘If you want to record music, you have to pay for it.’ I visited Sisso’s studio on a muggy afternoon last November. We sat in near-darkness for a couple of minutes, before four neon bulbs switched on above Jay’s head. A fan turned, a computer purred to life. Sisso, who had been outside turning on the studio’s electricity, walked in wearing tight denim jeans, a Nyege Nyege t-shirt and a yellow Sponge-Bob Square-Pants cap. He sat down on a stool at his computer and started dragging files around. Using Virtual DJ, Sisso took a taarab song and pitched it way up past 180 BPM. He threw in some instrumental loops — first some bass hits, then some snares, and began adding and subtracting elements on the fly. A sound emerged that was unmistakably Singeli.

When it comes to Singeli, I love Jay Mitta’s Tatizo Pesa, blasting off as it does with 2015, raw but with a glean, it is catchy, setting up the wickedly good title track, on which MC Dogo Mjanja effortlessly scats along with the addictive synth riff and magnetic drum rhythm. Man, to dance to that track live in a club in Dar Es Salaam must be delirious. Don Bet’sgonna take you back to dance floor’s of time’s past, then into the Delorean as Jay Mitta makes it Singeli, the boy knows the canon, this is no fluke, all hands in the air for the yelling vocal. Mchuma Bet is orchestral maneuvers in the dark, dense, jungle; the xylophonic spree drags you in, clashing with ominous synths, it’s quite the cocktail. The sister tunes Sio Star and Mkwakidimba deliciously keep the party humming, before Sapienz whistles in a whiff of traditional local folk. House bounce Masera is wild with cat samples. The record swaggers on with the quickstep duo Dura and Mpya Singeri.

Tatizo Pesa squeezes in the chemistry, conditions, environment and everything of Singeli in an astonishing forty minutes of Jay Mitta excellence.