Hukwe Zawose

Star of world music
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hukwe Zawose, singer and musician: born Doduma, Tanzania 1938; four times married (15 children); died Bagamoyo, Tanzania 30 December 2003.

The Tanzanian vocalist Hukwe Zawose was his country's finest musical ambassador. Best known in Britain for the collaborations with Peter Gabriel that saw him become a mainstay of the popular Womad festivals, he was a striking performer, known for his traditional costumes with their tremulous head-dresses, bead jewellery and the nguga, or ankle bells, that created a percussive effect as he danced.

A master of the giant thumb piano, the ilimba, Zawose also played the violin-like izezs and the traditional flute his people called a filimbi. It was, however, his magnificent voice, with its five-octave range, that made him a star of world music. Of his own talent, he said, "When I was a young man my voice was so sweet that people would often cry when I sang."

Born, a member of the Wagogo people, in the rural Doduma region of Tanzania, Zawose had only a rudimentary education and spent his early life herding his father's cattle. He sang whilst working in the fields and developed a reputation in the area as a master of its traditional music. He also began to write songs of his own, many of them political.

In time he was invited to give a number of performances in Dar-es-Salaam for the "Father" of the Tanzanian nation, Julius Nyerere. These confirmed his status as a musician and throughout the 1970s and 1980s he undertook a series of government-sponsored tours. In 1985 he made his first appearance at Womad in the UK. In time, too, he was able to found a College of Performing Arts in his hometown of Bagamoyo.

The release of the album Chibite on Gabriel's Real World label in 1996 brought Zawose to international attention. In combining traditional material such as "Chilumi" with more overtly political songs such as "Sisitizo La Amani Duniani" with its references to the bombing of Hiroshima, the album reflected the full range of his repertoire.

It was followed by another Real World disc, Mkuki Wa Rocho (A Spear to the Soul) (2001) on which he was joined by his nephew Charles Zawose. Peter Gabriel later explained the album's enigmatic title:

Hukwe loves to say how the power of music can be like a pain to the heart . . . a beautiful pain, something so intense it is like a spear to the soul. And some of his lyrics cover this pain and the beauty of life.

That same year also saw the release of Assembly, a successful fusion of African and Western sounds featuring the Canadian musician and producer Michael Brook. In 2002 Zawose entered the studio for the final time, collaborating with Peter Gabriel on the number "Animal Nation", which appears in the film The Wild Thornberrys Movie.

Paul Wadey

Comments