Consisting of nine artists, Jagwa Music are the leading exponents of the Mchiriku style, which originated 20 years ago in the poor suburbs of Dar es Salaam; when cheap Casio keyboards first became available.
Jagwa Music and their peers were immediately attracted by the Casio’s lo-fi sound, adopted one, hooked it to vintage amps and megaphones, and the resulting gritty, edgy, distortion-laden sound was christened Mchiriku.
This style has been thriving ever since in Tanzania, although it’s been deliberately ignored by the media, as it is associated with 'uhuni' (thuggery) and the city’s low life.
Jagwa Music have a large following around Dar es Salaam; almost everybody knows their songs, which relate to everyday issues. Many of their lines have become proverbial, and you can see quotes from their songs painted as slogans on 'dala dalas' (local minibus taxis).
The songs often contain advice on how to survive in the city when you’re faced with unemployment, oppressive relatives, unfaithful girlfriends or husbands, AIDS, drugs and alcohol.
Jagwa’s members are all living the street life themselves, mostly working in Dar es Salaam’s cut-throat private bus-taxi business as 'dei-waka' (unlicensed drivers who jump in when another driver is caught by police, or does not make it to work). Others are 'manamba', who hustle customers into the buses for a few shillings in return.
By midday they will have made enough money to keep them going until the next morning, paying for food and some other enjoyments. In the afternoon they all meet at their 'maskani' (hangout) under a tree in Mwananyamala close to Jolijo’s, their patron’s little house and restaurant.
When they need to rehearse new songs, they convene in Jolijo’s backyard to get it all down. Their performing weekend usually starts on Friday when they suspend the week’s hustle, relax during the daytime, and then play all night Mchiriku gigs at family celebrations such as weddings around Dar’s suburbs or smaller towns in the vicinity.
Internationally, Jagwa has performed at WOMEX, WOMAD, Roskilde Festival and more recently across the USA in a tour produced by Center Stage.