The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on April 20, 2024. Register Here

Close this search box.

Reflecting on the Lyrical Activism of Wagosi Wa Kaya

In the early 2000s, the duet epitomised socially conscious music through their radical criticism of the government.

subscribe to our newsletter!

Bongo Flava music, Tanzania’s brand of hip-hop, has undergone significant transformation. In its inception during the 1990s, the genre was characterised by wordplay, clever and sometimes provocative racy lyrics, and intricate lyrical rhyming. 

Early pioneers such as Professor Jay, Solo Thang, Afande Sele, Ferouz, and Sugu, among others, composed a blend of socially conscious tracks and party anthems, which ultimately became the marker of contemporary Tanzanian music.

Bongo Flava music, performed in Kiswahili, amplified the significance of language as a means of identity and cultural representation. The genre delved into contemporary societal issues, including love, corruption, governance, urban living, gender violence, HIV/AIDS, and more.

My first contact with Bongo Flava was when my dad bought a cassette tape of Professor Jay’s Machozi, Jasho na Damu album. My dad loved music. He also had numerous cassette tapes of Dolly Parton, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Abba and many other Western and African music. 

He loved romantic music. Whenever he travelled to the city, he always brought different cassette tapes, which he played on his National Panasonic Stereo player. He imbued me with a love for music at a very early age.

READ MORE: Tanzania Should Leverage Its Soft Power to Improve International Standing

The album by Professor Jay was profound. His lyrical style in that album revolutionised music in Tanzania. With songs like Ndio Mzee, Jina Langu, Bongo Dar es Salaam, Yataka Moyo, Niamini, and Tathmini, to name just a few, Professor Jay, who is now recuperating after a long bout of illness, shaped modern-day Tanzania rap and Hip-hop.

Wagosi wa Kaya

Other than Professor Jay, I was fascinated by the music style of the Tanga-based duet of Dr. John and Mkoloni of Wagosi wa Kaya. In the early 2000s, they epitomised socially conscious music through their radical criticism of the government. 

In 2002, they released the album Ukweli Mtupu, which had hit songs that touched on the various societal ills in Tanzania. Tanga Kunani, or What’s up Tanga, was their poster song, highlighting the plight of their hometown, Tanga, in a typical Kisambaa accent. They recall with nostalgia the good old days of the once thriving old port city. 

They narrate how the town has lost its glory despite once being a thriving industrial and agricultural town. The song also highlights various societal plights of living in Tanga. One thing that comes out very clearly in the song is the tension among the natives (Waswahili) and the settlers (the Arabs and Indians) who are business owners in Tanga.

The Wagosi wa Kaya duet also composed the hit track Trafiki, which narrates the day-to-day traffic issues on Tanzanian roads using Swahili allegory, parables and proverbs. Using a unique staccato music style, they highlight the everyday nuisance of the traffic police. 

READ MORE: What Explains Tanzanians’ Obsession With Superstition in Football?

When the song was released in the early 2000s, it sparked interest and debate at a time when traffic officers were harassing motorists. Astonishingly, the traffic police menace continues to date. 

In yet another protest song, the duet sang the hit Wauguzi, or Nurses, in which they chided the healthcare system in Tanzania. This track narrates the plight of the sick and pregnant women through a rhythmic composition. 

For example, in one verse, the artists narrate how a pregnant woman suffers at the hands of a carefree nurse and an incompetent doctor. In this track, a message was being sent to the government of the day to look into the healthcare issues in the country’s hospitals and medical facilities. Again, little has changed since then.

The group, which has since stopped singing, released another thought-provoking song in 2015 titled Gahawa, or Arabic coffee. In this song, they employ a conversational style as they debate the current issues affecting the country, ranging from development to politics and corruption, among other social problems. 

The set of the music video is in a typical Swahili meeting point, better known in Kiswahili as kijiweni or a base. The duet is joined by colleagues in an evening coffee –gahawa– with Swahili confectionary kashata as they discuss the day’s politics in Tanzania. 

READ MORE: Remmy Ongala: The Life, Death And Legacy of Legendary Musician

Typically, in these street barazas, members of the kijiwe meet to play local games such as dama, or draughts, dhumna, or dominos, bao and karata, or cards. In the song, they show concern about the stalled constitutional reform process at the time, the rise in living standards and the suppression of rights in Tanzania. 

In the music video, the artists are seen holding and possibly reading and debating Nyerere’s Ujamaa book in light of contemporary challenges. What is worth noting in this song is the sophistication in the use of language and imagery to pass a revolutionary message—a running theme in all their songs.

Wagosi wa Kaya will be remembered for their socially conscious contribution to the music industry in Tanzania.

Nicodemus Minde holds a PhD in International Relations from the United States International University- Africa,  Nairobi. He can be reached on X at @decolanga. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at

Digital Freedom and Innovation Day
The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on Saturday April 20, 2024 at Makumbusho ya Taifa.

Register to secure your spot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *