Performing Religion considers issues related to Tanzanian
kwayas [KiSwahili, “choirs”], musical communities most often affiliated with Christian churches, and the music they make, known as
nyimbo za kwaya [choir songs] or
muziki wa kwaya [choir music]. The analytical approach adopted in this text focusing on the communities of
kwaya is one frequently used in the fields of ethnomusicology, religious studies, culture studies, and philosophy for understanding diversified social processes-consciousness. By invoking consciousness an attempt is made to represent the ways seemingly disparate traditions coexist, thrive, and continue within contemporary
An East African
kwaya is a community that gathers several times each week to define its spirituality musically. Members of
kwayas come together to sing, to pray, to support individual members in times of need, and to both learn and pass along new and inherited faith traditions.
Kwayas negotiate between multiple musical traditions or just as often they reject an inherited musical system while others may continue to engage musical repertoires from both Europe and Africa. Contemporary
kwayas comfortably coexist in the urban musical soundscape of coastal Dar es Salaam along with jazz dance bands,
taarab ensembles, ngoma performance groups, Hindi film music, rap, reggae, and the constant influx of recorded American and European popular musics.
This ethnography calls into question terms frequently used to draw tight boundaries around the study of the arts in African expressive religious cultures. Such divisions of the arts present well-defended boundaries and borders that are not sufficient for understanding the change, adaptation, preservation, and integration that occur within a Tanzanian
kwaya. Boundaries break down within the everyday performance of East African
kwayas, such as
Kwaya ya Upendo [“The Love Choir”] in Dar es Salaam, as repertoires, traditions, histories, and cultures interact within a performance of social identity.
Gregory Barz is an Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at the Blair School of Music, in the Department of Anthropology, and in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee (U.S.A.). At Vanderbilt he teaches courses on African Music, World Music, Music and Religion, Afropop, Blues, and Jazz. He is a former member of
Kwaya ya Upendo in Dar es Salaam and a former faculty member at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He has engaged field research in the East African countries of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, and his current research focuses on the use of music, dance, and drama as medical intervention among women’s village groups in rural Uganda to promote, communicate, and support HIV / AIDS awareness.
Table of contents
Note on Language-Kiswahili Orthography
Photographs and Figures
Theories, Frames, Methods, and Lenses: An Ethnographic Approach to the Study of Tanzanian
Kwaya Music and the Colonial and Missionary Encounter
Conflicting, Complementary, and Divergent Aesthetics of
“We Are From Different Tribes, But We Live Here As One Family”: The Musical Performance of Community in an East African
Kwaya Chapter Five
Kwaya Music and the Performance of Spirituality and Disaffection: Music and Worship in a Tanzanian
Kwayas. Kandas. Kiosks: Tanzanian Popular
Social Organization and the Creation of Sacred Space within
Kwaya ya Upendo Chapter Eight
“I Am Able To See Very Far But I Am Unable To Reach There”: Ndugu Gideon Mdegella's
Nyimbo za Kwaya Chapter Nine Conclusion