- Published on Sunday, 20 May 2012 01:43
- Written by MBONEKO MUNYAGA
AFTER more than five years’ absence from the Bongo Flava music scene, one of the genre’s all time maestros, Nice Lucas Mkenda a.k.a “Mr Nice” has reemerged with a powerful album entitled “Tabia Gani?,” Kiswahili for “What Kind of Manners?,” which includes a translation of the lyrics of El Rey, “The King,” a famous Mexican traditional song by legendary composer, José Alfredo Jiménez.
Introducing the song at the Mexican Consulate in Dar es Salaam earlier this week, Mr Nice said the album will whet the thirst of his legion of fans who had missed his action all this long. Since the song appeared in the early 1950s, El Rey has inspired many other artistic works including the Disneyland “El Rey, The Lion” series and a 2004 film by Colombian film director, Antonio Dorado.
The Mexican lyrics were translated into Kiswahili by Dr Jose Arturo Saavedra Casco, a lecturer and researcher in African History and Kiswahili Language and Culture at the Centre for Asian and African studies, El Colegio de Mexico. Dr Casco is also a regular resident researcher at the University of Dar es Salaam’s (UDSM) Kiswahili Institute.
In the song, Dr Casco, who is also a musician, introduces the first stanza in Spanish before Mr Nice sings the words in Kiswahili in accompanying “ranchera” style, hard to believe that the song was recorded in Dar es Salaam or rather that Mr Nice, who is now 34 years old, had also morphed into a Cha-cha-cha and Samba musician of a generation before he was born.
The first stanza translates as: I know for sure I have left But when I die, You shall cry, and cry, and cry!!! You will say you don’t love me But you will suffer Forever and ever!!! Chorus With or without money, I do what I like And my word is law I have neither a throne nor Queen Nobody understands me But I’m still The King. What prophetic words for a 1952 song as Jiminez died in 1973 when he was only 47 years old and, he is indeed still the King of ranchera!
As for Mr Nice he is indeed still King of Bongo Flava despite his rather long absence from the music scene during which time some people said his days were over. His re-emergence with a Spanish classic certainly is something that sets him apart.
The album has been launched with two events, which could not be said to be earthshaking but there are big plans to splash it into the market. He is being supported for that project by the Mexican Consulate, Epiq Nation and S tudio Lamar Productions, who records his songs. Mr Nice called on the government to help all artistes more. He said music was a big industry that could be a big contributor to GDP but was like an orphaned child at the moment.
The government, he said, offers musicians mere lip service but nothing really tangible. “The government should come with concrete measures to help musicians and not just to use them when they are needed and then leave them to fend for themselves,” he said. Kenyan and Ugandan musicians, he said, basically learnt what they are doing from Tanzanian musicians but you cannot compare them with their Tanzanian counterparts.
“It is normal for Kenyan and Ugandan musicians to drive expensive cars because they are assisted a lot by their governments,” he said. The ministry responsible for promoting music should always ask itself hard questions when a popular musician drops from the top charts rather than for all to appear like enjoying the downfall of the musician, he said, apparently referring to his experience when many people said Mr Nice was “finished.”
He agreed that education was rather a big problem with Tanzanian musicians but said artistes all over the world were assisted by their managers, which was not the case in the country. The government, he said, was instrumental in ensuring that musicians were not exploited by selfish people, as it has already happened in some cases.
The Mexican Honorary Consul in Tanzania, Mr Mohamed R. Saboor, said Mexico supports artistic work and said they would work closely with Mr Nice in promoting his new album. Mexico and Tanzania, he said, had a lot in common and much more to learn from each other as traditional Mexican music had a lot of African rhythms.
Indeed, the Le Rey song ends in sultry calypso instrumentals, a genre of Afro- Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago after the arrival of enslaved Africans, who turned to music for emotional outpouring as they were not allowed to talk to each other. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere also once said he did not quite like traditional dances but credited them with the
preservation of the African race when more powerful adversaries invaded the continent.
“It would be a very base person indeed, who would shoot another human being who greeted him with dancing,” Mwalimu said. Bongo Flava was once considered as music of hooligans but it has since graduated to claim its rightful position in the annals of Tanzania’s cultural revolution. Similarly, Bongo flava musicians are no longer viewed as hooligans but celebrities.
Some have become politicians and for one of the pioneers in particular, Joseph Mbilinyi “Mr II Proud,” the MP for Mbeya Urban (Chadema), it could be rightly said that it was Bongo Flava that propelled him to the august House. By singing a Jiminez classic, Mr Nice too is likely to soar higher and higher. Jiminez was a contemporary of Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, and Javier Solís, who were called “Los Tres Gallos Mexicanos” or the “Three Mexican Roosters.” It remains for him to also prove that he is indeed a cock of Bongo Flava.