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Remmy Ongala and his Super Matimila Orchestra are without doubt Tanzania’s most well known band, and have performed many times in Europe and the USA. Remmy Ongala is originally from Zaire/Congo. He lost his mother when he was nine years old and had to take on the responsibility of raising his siblings. As a 17-year-old he was in a youth band, Bantu Success, as a singer and drummer. This was not popular with his family, so Remmy had to leave the band. Two years later he was again involved with music when as a guitarist he joined a few groups, among them Mickey Jazz in Zaire and Grand Mika Jazz in Uganda. In 1978 he moved to Tanzania and joined his uncle’s band, Orchestre Makassy in Dar es Salaam.
In 1981 he joined forces with Matimila, an 18-member band owned by a local businessman. Later on he formed Super Matimila and developed a style based on three guitars, bass and drum, plus saxophone. Remmy Ongala based his music on Soukous, that he proffers in a more raw version than usual, rooted as it is in local Tanzanian traditions.
He sets great store by Swahili lyrics that often have political stings against the wielders of power of all description, but he also shows a loyal defence of the common man’s condition. Because of the lyrics’ so-called healing properties he is called “The Doctor” and is an enormously popular man in the Sinza neighbourhood, on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, where he lives with his English wife, five children and a parrot.
The last few years he has not been able to perform as often as before, due to his suffering from diabetes.