One of Tanzania’s most popular musicians, Remmy Ongala, has died at his home in Dar es Salaam.
Born in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in 1947, he was known as “the Doctor” because he was seen as a defender of the people.
His songs often criticised Tanzania’s elite and at the height of his popularity the government tried to expel him on immigration grounds.
But as his international fame grew, he was granted Tanzanian nationality.
His mix of Congolese “soukous” music and Swahili rhythms made him popular across East Africa.
He was also a regular performer at the Womad music festival in the UK until he fell ill 10 years ago and was paralysed.
Presidential fanDespite his ill-health he had toured in Tanzania until recently, mainly performing gospel music.
The BBC’s Hassan Mhelela in Dar es Salaam says all radio stations in the country are playing his music and fans are phoning in with tributes.
By the time of his death, even President Jakaya Kikwete was a fan, recently visiting him in hospital.
Ongala often wrote about death – one of his most well-known tracks is Kifo, about the mercilessness of death, saying no matter how rich a person, bribery cannot postpone it.
The singer and guitarist moved to Tanzania in 1977 and joined the Orchestra Super Makassy, until he formed his own group Super Matimila.
He said his music was intended not only to make people dance but also to think.
“I am successful in Tanzania because I write songs about serious topics,” his music label, Real World Records, quoted him as saying.
In 1990, he faced opposition to his song Mambo Kwa Socks (Things With Socks) – a reference to condoms – in which he made a plea to young men to practise safe sex.
Radio Tanzania has refused to play it, but live shows and black market tapes have ensured that his message has spread.
Our reporter says there is even a suburb of Dar es Salaam called Sinza Kwa Remmy, named after the musician when he moved to the area in the 1980s.
Do you remember Remmy Ongala? Did you ever meet him? Thanks for sending us your memories. You can read a selection below:
Tanzania has lost one of the most outspoken musicians, he had no fear. He could criticise the government as he wished. Huge loss.
Kindole Sagamiko, Iringa
Remmy was a real great musician and I saw him on the stage. He sang songs that touched everyone, from poor people to rich people.
Kev, Arusha, Tanzania
Long live Remmy Ongala. I grew up listening to his music when I was young and will never forget him. We have lost a legend today and is a sad day for Tanzanian music industry. Rest in Peace Dr Remmy.
I remember Remmy Ongala, it was yesterday that i got his Kifo song on my facebook due to memories of that song being blasted on radio waves of Dar es Salaam. Only to find out in hours my cousin sending me a txt message that Remmy is no longer with us…. When the Kifo song came out i remember it was a song of lamentation just as a reminder of life. Death has no mercy, a song that personifies Death so well versed. RIP Remmy.
Dr, we will miss you Mzee and may your soul rest in peace. Mambo Galla we love you. You may have gone but your voice will live forever.
Raphael Chikukwa, Monaco
I commiserate with Tanzania and Africa for this loss. Indeed, Remmy’s music got one… even one in Tanzania for reasons of South African exile… thinking about a lot of things broader than the freedom struggle that had got one to the literal city of Dar es-Salaam in the dying days of the last millenium. Mungu amweke mema peponi!
Manyanya Phiri, Pretoria, South Africa
I am just a 17 year old girl but I remember listening to “Kifo, kifo, kifo kinatia huruma”. I just got the news right now and I feel so bad. I did not get the chance to meet him, he was one of the most famous people in Tanzania, East and Central Africa. You are a legend Dr. Remmy, you showed real music. May his soul rest in Peace. Amen.
Sharifa, California, USA
We shall miss him, “Doctor”, his wisdom and ever living messages packed in his songs. As a radio presenter, i salute him and long live his music!
Mrinzi Nyundo Mrinzi, Kwale, Kenya
Remmy was my father and I am very touched and moved by peoples comments. We have lost our father, and my mother has lost her partner and husband. We have not had time to proccess the loss of our father we have to mourn him first, but i thought it was important to say was that we have not just lost a father, husband, son and brother but tanzania has lost remmy ongala. Please dont forget him we can all go to him for advice through his music he was an inspirational man. I will always remember you dad xxx
Aziza Ongala, London
It’s real very sad for us who grew up alongside their kind of music. Remember when we lost Mubarak Mwishehe-Mwaruka to be comforted by Remmy Ongalla-Mutoro who kind of carried on the legacy!! “Doctor” rest in eternal peace.
James Spire-Ssepuya Jr, Kampala, Uganda
Remmy had a unique way to explain life mysteries.
Brezhnev Otieno, Homabay, Kenya
I remember growing up in 80′s Tanzania dancing to Remmy music. Those were some of my happiest moments in my life…
Rahel Mwitula Williams, Chicago, USA
This guy is a legend. Kipendacho roho. Mama nina lia are some of the tunes I listened to in the 80s and 90s. Mama used to tune up the radio and we had to dance to the tunes or sir Remmy. To date his songs still make me think. In one he sings of a rich brother who “forgets his brothers”. I try not to. Fare thee well Ongala.
Edwin Onyango, Nairobi
I first met Remmy in 1989 at his home in Sinza when I was interviewing him about his songs for my MA thesis on music with a social justice message when I was at Kenyatta University. I had always hoped to publish the thesis as a book as it was recommended by my external reviewer E. Kezilahabi but never got aroudnd it. What a loss to East Africa and world! Remmy had a great personality and was a talented musician interested in the welfare of others. Has left a great music legacy for us.
Mwenda Ntarangwi, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Growing up listening to Ongala, you could not help but appreciate talent and wit sugar coated with pulsating rhythm. His songs are timeless and so will he be.. RIP.
Marvin Ochieng, Nairobi, Kenya
I remember seeing him in late 80s. The band was cooking up a storm on one track. After 7-8 minutes Remmy called out ‘stop, stop’ and the song ground to a halt. He said if he’d been in Africa they would be settling in now to play the grove for 45 mins or more, but he’d been told that UK audiences couldn’t cope with more than a few minutes of each, so he was moving on to the next song. Great man. Great music.
Eric Booth, Bristol, UK
In one of his songs, ‘mama nalia’, Ongala laments on the sad fact that he has no father, mother, or even siblings. But through his music i believe he has created a loyal fun base that will remember him forever. After all he has avoided the worst death; being forgotten.
Patrick Odera, Nairobi
A very sad moment in Tanzanian music history. The first music i got introduced to when I moved to Tanzania as a young teenager. I knew the family well and went in the same school and the same year as his son, Kali Ongala. I later ended up receiving lessons from his lead guitarist who had relocated to London, Kawele Mutimwana and eventually joined his band, backing the likes of Koffi Olomide and Kanda Bongo Man. Thank you Remmy for your courage and your great music. We will miss you!
Mzungu Kichaa, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
All of us from Sinza are in mourning. We’ll always remember “one world” – Remmy Tunakushukura. RIP.
Caritas, Sinza, Tanzania
It is sad to even thnk about it coz tears keep brimming into my eyes. His songs made u think twice in whatever you were doing. “doctor we shall miss everything about you” may God give us strengh at this time as we mourn him. Amen.
David Arunga, Nairobi, Kenya
It’s to sad to lose all our african legends, may your soul rests in peace, your body has gone but your voice still sounding in our memories, I will never fogert you remmy, I am wetting my face with my tears to show you how deep I like you…
Owen Nkuta, DRC