Francis Mwakitime has been a source of inspiration and pleasure for several generations of African music lovers, starting with the Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation in the late 1950s, through John Storm Roberts in the 1960s and John Low in the 1970s to RetroTan, cassette only release in 1995, attracting some of the keenest musical ears on the continent.

Born in the Iringa District of colonial central Tanganyika, Francis started his musical life in the school brass band before, literally, taking things into his own hands and, in time, mastering the guitar, mandolin and ukulele. He sings of WaHehe traditions and past glories, occasionally supported by his wife Christina. RetroTan is now, finally, delighted to offer this remarkably gifted musician to a wider audience, including 4 bonus tracks from the Original Music recordings of 1960.

frances raphael mwakitime: back pages

Francis MwaKitime was born in Tosamaganga, in the Iringa District of colonial Tanganyika in the 1920s. As a ‘source’ musician he sustained a remarkable career for over 6 decades in and around his home in Iringa. He attended the local Catholic primary school where, under the tutelage of Father Musso, he started playing in the primary school brass band, a common enough introduction to western music in colonial East Africa. Starting on trumpet and accordion, he quickly moved on to a variety of stringed instruments including the guitar, mandolin and ukelele.

By the 1940s, with the spread of wind-up gramophones and the start of radio broadcasting, and influenced by a sparkling generation of Central African itinerant troubadors, Francis started to put his new musical skills to work. Early musical influences included country and western musicians such as Gene Autry and Jimmy Rodgers as well as the post-war generation of African stars such as Fundi Konde, Losta Abelo, Edward Nondo and, later, Isaya Mwinamo.

In 1954 Francis married Christina Ananias Kaberege, a young woman from a nearby village who not only shared his burgeoning musical interests but who also, as a composer and singer, accompanied and inspired Francis throughout their long and happy marriage. Two of Christine’s compositions can be heard on this collection, harmonising with her husband on several other tracks.

Francis Raphael MwaKitime has been a source of inspiration and pleasure for several generations of African music lovers. He started with the Tanganyika Broadcasting Corporation in the late 1950s, was recorded by John Storm Roberts and John Low in the 1970s and finally RetroTan, with a cassette only release in Tanzania in 1995, along the way, attracting some of the keenest musical ears on the continent.

The marriage was blessed with six children, one of whom, John, went on to become rhythm guitarist with the legendary Vijana Jazz and later chairman of the Tanzania Musician’s Union. In his capacity as a partner in RetroTan, John made these recordings on a portable Sony DAT, in Iringa in 1995.


The Hehe (Swahili collective: Wahehe) are a Bantu ethnic and linguistic group based in the Iringa Region in south-central Tanzania. The use of Wahehe as the group’s designator can be traced to their war cry. The people who were eventually to be called Hehe by Europeans lived in isolation in the highlands of southwestern Tan-zania and had few ancestors who had been in Uhehe for more than four generations. The Wahehe were primarily an agricultural people and seemed to have lived in rela-tive peace, although chiefs did quarrel with one another, raided each other for cattle and broke alliances.

The population was probably small, with no single chiefdom over 5,000 people. Even today, while one of the largest ethnic groups in Tanzania, their numbers will not ex-ceed one million. Each chiefdom had its own system of courts and law enforcement. Punishment remained fairly simple with penalties of varied types, such as fines or penance, the death sentence, beatings, and the seldom used expulsion from the chiefdom. The village headman was authorized for lighter cases, such as theft or other crimes against property, adultery, personal injury, etc., with the more difficult cases being sent further up the line in the direction of the ‘sultan’. If a divorce took place, the husband was entitled to take all weaned children away from their mother and the mother’s family was expected to return the bride-wealth. In spite of this, wives frequently obtained divorces, usually after they had already made arrange-ments with another man.

Sweeping political and administrative changes were instituted after independence in Tanzania in 1961. Chieftaincy was abolished and ethnic affiliation lost the key role it had played in the administrative system of British colonial rule. But these affiliations have not been forgotten and the Hehe language has not been abandoned, although Swahili is now the language of the schools. On the other hand, the initiation of young men, many marriage forms and a host of customs have been abandoned or are considered old-fashioned or rural by many people. All these rituals have declined with the rise of schools, the end of the Hehe monarchy and the influence of Christianity. Music is a major form of expression. Singing, drumming, and the playing of stringed instruments, both plucked and bowed, are widely practiced.

Several of the songs in this collection must be considered central to Hehe folk history, then as now, essentially oral. Francis’s father would most certainly have been alive during the last years of the 19th century when famine and disease arrived at much the same time as a particularly brutal, even by European standards, German colonial conquest. In the first battle with the Germans in 1891, the Hehe inflicted a heavy defeat on the German army, supported as usual by their African mercenaries, only to be defeated in the return fixture in 1894 when their capital at Kalenga was seized, opening the way for further penetration by German farmers and missionaries. By way of interest, the Maji Maj Rebellion, ten years later in 1905 included several battles in the Iringa Region as part of the most widespread resistance to colonial rule in eastern and central Africa.

Other songs in this collection remain firmly rooted in Hehe folk history and customs, including several lullabies with one, ‘Lung’ulye’ being a traditional song arranged by Francis. ‘Musukawuye’ on the other hand is a virtual compendium of Hehe folk sayings and warnings. Other songs are concerned with change in Africa in the mid-20th century as the old ways of doing things are swept away, leaving many people anxious about the future and the uncertainties of modern life. One way of dealing with this is to sing about it and share customs which have stood the test of time.

It is not often that we are afforded such a unique insight into changing Africa from the perspective of someone who was born in the colonial period but with such vivid family memories of the pre-colonial period. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this collection is the fact that they have been handed down to a subsequent generation to preserve, re-interpret and popularise. I was privileged to meet Francis Mwakitime on several occasions and fondly recollect warm welcomes and cosy evenings at home listening to him and Christina play many of the songs in this collection. Happy times indeed

the songs

Track 1: Ifijiji fya Kukaye

During the mid to late 19th century the Hehe were ruled by Chief Mkwawa. famous for having won his first encounter with the German colonial army. The song first provides a list of villages that were part of Mkwawa’s kingdom including ‘Ifijiji fya Kukaye’ the village where Francis came from. The latter part of the song provides the lineage of the Mkwawa family, starting from his great grandfather back in the 18th century up to Chief Adam, who became the Speaker of Parliament during the Nyerere era

Track 2: Ilipuli Kukalenga

Ilipuli Kukalenga can be translated as ‘The Fort at Kalenga’. Chief Mkwawa built a fort around his palace because he knew the second encounter with the Germans would not be an easy one. It includes an account of the two days when the battle actually took place and how Mkwawa lost the fight

Track 3: Kulava Kwicha

Literally, ‘when dawn comes’ is a song about the plans a man makes. He plans to go to the farm, he plans to go drinking with his friends, he plans to attend a wedding, he

plans to repair his huts, but when dawn arrives, he is dead. In other words, if you want to do something, do it now. The chance may not come again. A gentle reminder of human frailty and the dangers of procrastination.

Track 4: Lung’ulye

‘Things Are Up To My Neck’. In this traditional tune, arranged by Francis, he describes the common condition of feeling overwhelmed by things. It was later borrowed by his son in 1990 for a music competition in Dar – the song won !

Track 5: Mleke Mbembe

‘Let Me Cry’ is a parent’s lament for a child who died in the forest.

Track 6: Musukawuye

A virtual compendium of Hehe folk sayings and warnings. For example, it talks about a fellow who had to pay a heavy fine because his cloths fell off in front of his in-laws and about a child who has left home forever

Track 7: Nditigila Cherioh

On this track, Francis is singing with his wife Christina. ‘I Am Saying Goodbye’ is a kihehe song with a single English word. They are saying cherioh, let’s hope we meet again next year. Let’s pray hard so we may meet again.

Track 8: Pala Vayawe Palikiki?

What is going on there? A simple song asking what is going on and mentioning his ancestors.

Track 9: Sambulihate

This song is in Kibena language, Christina’s dialect. All the other songs are in Kihehe, the topic is on the sombre side, lamenting the death of entire family in mysterious circumstance rhetorically asking what killed my friends?. She even asks why does it always rain in the neighbouring villages while her village is dry.

Track 10: Semdeya

Semdeya has no children and is crying, saying those with children are enjoying themselves while she is lonely.

Track 11: Teti Mwana Teti

This is a song about opportunities and how they come around but not all opportunities should be seized. A village man and his wife go to town and are surprised to see the variety of things for sale. He tells his wife to pick up the child and they should go back to the village. It’s time to go home.

Track 12: Umwanivemba

In this song Francis is joined by his eldest son John. ‘Umwanivemba’ literally means ‘the child is crying’ and the singer is asking why. Where is his mother ? He then tells the child not to cry. When the mother returns we will ask her where she has been. A tongue-in-cheek lullaby where the babysitter soothes the child saying that the mother is drinking in the next village.

Track 13: Yakupelyu Mugoda

‘If Someone Gives You Medicine’ thank him. If someone gives you poison, fight back.

bonus tracks

These 4 tracks first appeared on ‘African Acoustic: Guitar Songs from Tanzania, Zambia and Zaire, (OMCD 0230) Recorded by the indefatigable John Low, author of the legendary ’Shaba Diaries’, recounting his research into the original Katangan guitar styles of the 1950s. In Tanzania, he visited and recorded Francis Mwakitime observing that while the guitar itself was a new instrument the break with the past was not always as radical as it might seem. Traditional lyrics could be set to new music, just as new lyrics could be built onto traditional melodies.

14. Umwna Ivemba

‘The Child is Crying’. Reworked in the 1996 recording.

15. Sisambuwa Mbwili

To the sound of glass breaking and other background domestic percussion.

16. Mwalala.

A traditional story.

17. Sikepa Inngwa Mukaye.

Here, the singer warns against drunkenness leading to domestic strife.