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Monday, December 13, 2010

DR. REMMY ONGALA PASSES ON


Veteran musician Ramadhan Mtoro Ongara better known as Dr. Remmy Ongala has passed on. The singer well known for his hit single ‘Kifo’ died on Monday morning at Muhimbili hospital. According to reports Remmy Ongala died as his family rushed him to hospital.   Ongala's music is meant to be appreciated on a physical and mental level. As he looked around his homeland of the Congo, he noticed much poverty and social inequality. Outraged by the despicable way the poor are treated, he used song as a way of fighting back, and after long days of tedious and physically strenuous labor, Ongala would perform his music with ad hoc bands in nightclubs and hotels in the Congo, (then Zaire), and later, Uganda. Songs like "Ndumila Kuwili" ("Don't Speak with Two Mouths") and "Mnyonge Hana Haki" ("The Poor Have No Rights") reflected his working-class outlook. Despite a flourishing Congolese music scene, Remmy was unable to strike a universal chord with listeners across Africa, as his idols Franco and Joseph Kabasele had done so effortlessly.
It wasn't until he ventured to Tanzania at the age of thirty-one that Ongala began to get a musical career on track. An uncle living in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salaam invited Ongala to come play music with him in the band Orchestra Makassy. When Makassy went to Kenya, Ongala stayed behind and joined Orchestre Matimila, which he later renamed Super Matimila. Ongala's group gets big band textures from the horn section and from elaborate arrangements for three guitars. The sound swept the local Tanzanian music scene, which, because of the closing of the border in 1977, had become isolated and quite unlike anything else in Africa. By 1981, Ongala and Orchestra Super Matimila, and were playing up to five nights a week in various nightclubs in Dar-es-Salaam.
Because of the dearth of quality recording studios in the financially-strapped nation, most bands would simply record and release their live performances, and Orchestra Super Matimila was no exception. Soon, their songs were being played on Radio Tanzania and various Kenyan radio stations, and they helped to develop quite a following for the band.
His inspiring message led him to be nicknamed "Dr Remmy". Following the end of British colonial rule in 1961, Julius Nyerere introduced the value of Ujamaa, or family hood, which emphasized equality and justice. Such became a recurring theme in many Tanzanian artists' music, including Remmy Ongala.
Dr. Remmy will be remembered for publicly urging people to use condoms. Although he faced opposition, he went ahead and recorded a song ‘Mambo kwa soksi’.  Ongala continued to record and perform in Tanzania--despite his international fame--and his songs are still as concerned with social injustice as ever. One song, urging men to use condoms--"Mambo Kwa Socks/Things with Socks"--appeared on the acclaimed AIDS awareness compilation Spirit of Africa, in 2001. When this song was first released, it proved too much for Radio Tanzania, which refused to play it. But live shows and black market tapes ensured that few urban Tanzanians missed the message. In a musical career approaching two decades, Remmy Ongala and Orchestra Super Matimila still made social issues sound funky.
In 1989 he released his first studio album titled ‘Songs for the poor man’ which had songs like ‘Sauti Ya Mnyonge, Kifo  ,Usingizi ,Muziki Asili Yake Wapi ,Pamella ,Dole  
 Mariam Wangu, Nasikitika ,Karola and ‘Kipenda Roho’. Four year later he released his second one dubbed ‘Mambo’ while his third album was released in 2000. The album was titled ‘Sema’.
After years of singing and entertaining, Remmy Ongala finally saw the light in 2007 and ditched World music for gospel. His last album is a gospel one titled ‘ Kwa Yesu kuna furaha’.
There are speculations that before Remmy were delivered, his mother had miscarried twice. And therefore when she was carrying Remmy in her womb, she sought the help of a traditional doctor so that she could deliver safely.  And the traditional doc advised her not to deliver in the hospital but in the bush and after delivery she shouldn’t shave the baby. Remmy’s mother honored and that is the reason the singer remained dread locked until he saw the light that is when he shaved. Remy is believed to have been born with two of his teeth ready grown.
His father was the one that began to teach him music at an early age. But his father later passed on when he was six years of age and already in school. But due to poverty he dropped out of school.
In 1964, his mother also passed on leaving him to take care of his younger siblings. Without any skill on him, he decided to do music. With his band called Bantu Success, Remmy together with his band mates did shows in different hotels in Democratic republic of Congo. For several years Remmy Ongala performed around in different cities in DRC with different Congolese bands among the Success Muachana and Grand Mickey of Uganda.
In 1978 Remmy moved to Dar-es-salaam after his uncle called him to join the then popular band Orchestra Makassy which was under his uncle Makassy.  While still with Orchestra Makassy band, he wrote his first single “Siku ya Kufa”, a song he wrote to remember his friend who had died. It is this song made his popular.
He served at Ochestra Makassy band as a vocalist cum guitarist for three years before moving to another band. This was after his uncle Makassy moved his band to Kenya in 1981. Remmy Ongala moved to Orchestra Super Matimila band which was coming up and molded it to another big band. Orchestra Super Matimila band had eighteen members and Remmy Ongala rose to be the band leader. One year later he changed the name to Super Matimila. Because of his unrivalled poetic prowess in his songs that spoke heavily about social injustices and real life issues, his fame grew steadily across the region and in the continent.
His first international breakthrough came through when he gave out unidentified white his cassette. Little did he know that it would land him a deal with the prestigious World of Music, Arts and Dance organization who invited him for the European festivals in 1988.  It’s while there that he got the rare opportunity to record at Real World studios in the UK which is owned by popular singer Peter Gabriel. He recorded three of his albums; songs for the poor man, Sema and Mambo.
In the previous years, the veteran Congolese singer quit secular music claiming it was full of evil. He later saw the light and was baptized and shaved his dreadlocks. Before his death, Remmy was in the last steps to completing his fifth album which is gospel titled ‘ Bado Naishi Sinza’. Burial will be at his home in Sinza kwa Remmy in Dar es salaam, Tanzania on a date to be set by his family. He’s survived by three children.
Remmy a guitarist and singer, is a well-known musician on the Tanzanian landscape, but was born in 1947 in Kivu, D .R. C. A rising musician since the late 1980s, Remmy Ongala was part of the Soukous sense (a Congolese kind of rumba which in conjunction with his Orchestra Super Matimila he helped to transmute to the Tanzanian music often called Ubungo, the Swahili word for brain, in TZ, which in turn led to Tanzanian hip-hop particularly in the city of  during the 1990s. Believing in the abolishment of racism and social injustice, Ongala infuses his lyrics with these messages. His inspiring message led him to be nicknamed "Dr Remmy". Following the end of British colonial rule in 1961, Julius Nyerere introduced the value of ujamaa, or family hood, which emphasized equality and justice. Such became a recurring theme in many Tanzanian artists' music, including Remmy Ongala.

2 comments:

George said...

He was such an inspirational to most people, fighting injustice through music. He will truly be missed. Growing up in Musoma, Mara in the 80’s, I can remember Remmy’s music being played almost every neighbor’s house. I came to know Ongala more when I lived in Sinza. I myself, plays his songs especially (KIFO) all of the times when I think about the ones I have lost. It is sad for Tanzania and East Africans countries to loose such a legend but, as we all know, we all must return to the dust hence we came from. May the Good Lord rest Remmy in a good place. My prayer goes out to him and all he have touched. GEORGE, USA.

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let his work liv in us