Remmy Ongala 1947-2010

Remmy Ongala passed away at his home in Dar es Salaam on Monday 13th December 2010.

“Working with Remmy was one of the real pleasures. There was a delightful, effortless musicality about everything he did, and once he and his band were fired up, they could take you away into their own unique, mesmerising world.
I loved his voice, and I loved the man. We shall miss him.”
(Peter Gabriel)

“Everyone at WOMAD and Real World were deeply saddened to hear of the death of one of Tanzania’s, indeed Africa’s, most inspirational musicians Remmy Ongala. Remmy performed with WOMAD many times and was a hugely popular and influential artist. His distinctive style of Ubongo music was loved by audiences throughout the world and he will be remembered for his outspoken Swahili lyrics which championed the urban poor. He and his band Super Matimila will continue to touch people through the recordings he made, both with Real World and WOMAD Select. Our thoughts are with his wife and family during this sad time.”
(WOMAD & Real World)

Known as the “Doctor”, Remmy originally came from Kindu in North Eastern Zaire. He performed in bands from the age of sixteen, learning his craft from his father, who was a well-respected, traditional musician. In 1978 Remmy travelled to Dar es Salaam where he joined Orchestra Super Makassy and later formed his own band, Super Matimila, named after the local businessman who bought and owned their instruments.

His presence was almost majestic and his distinct voice, rich and soulful, soared above the lilting rhythms of the Super Matimila. The rolling melodic drive of Zairean soukous is undeniable, yet there is also the influence of traditional Tanzanian rhythms and hints of Latin and Soul.

In Tanzania, Remmy’s popularity was unrivalled; his reputation preceded him even to the remotest parts of the bush. His audience saw his lyrics as allegories, often attacking the country’s ruling elite. He never assumed the mantle of spokesman for the masses but did both articulate the concerns of ordinary Tanzanians and initiate debate, with, for example, his song about AIDS, ‘Mambo Kwa Soksi’. As he himself previously said, “I am successful in Tanzania because I write songs about serious topics … my music is known as ‘ubongo beat’, because in Swahili ‘ubongo’ means brain and my music is heavy thinking music.”