Remmy Ongala

Remmy Ongala

Ramadhani “Remmy” Mtoro Ongala (1947 – 13 December 2010) was a Tanzanian guitarist and singer. Ongala was born in Kindu near the Tanzanian border, in what was the Belgian Congo at the time, and now is the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[1]

A rising musician since the 1980s, Remmy Ongala was part of the soukous scene (also known as “Congolese rumba”). In 1978 he travelled to Dar es Salaam where he joined Orchestra Makassy. Later with his own band, Orchestre Super Matimila (named after the businessman who owned the band’s instruments),[2] he helped to transmit the soukous style to the Tanzanian musical subculture often called Ubongo, the Swahili word for brain. This in turn contributed to the development of Tanzanian hip-hop, particularly in the city of Dar es Salaam during the 1990s.

The use of his music as a social instrument led him to address concerns in his hometown that entailed social issues including poverty, AIDS/HIV, urbanization and family life. Known as the Sauti ya Mnyonge (voice of the poor man), his fight was strong.[3]

Ubongo is usually perceived by artists and listeners alike as “conscious” music, a style that actively contributes socio-political commentary to the Tanzanian soundscape. Believing in the abolition of racism and social injustice, Ongala infused his lyrics with these messages.[4] His inspiring and sometimes didactic message led him to be nicknamed “Dr Remmy”.