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Death finally beckons 'Kifo' star Ongala

By | December 14th 2010 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300


Rhumba sensation Remmy Ongala, whose haunting Kifo smash-hit defined the late 1980s, took the final bow on Sunday after suffering kidney failure.

Ongala, or Sura Mbaya (Ugly Face) as he was known, had suffered ill health in the last five years, eclipsing his earlier days when he toured and performed extensively, widening his fan-base that placed him in East Africa’s, and indeed the continent’s pedestal.

Remmy Ongala, also known as ‘Sura Mbaya.’ His last years had been plagued by illness, to which he finally succumbed in the early hours of Monday morning in Dar es Salaam, plunging Tanzania into mourning. [PHOTOS: COURTESY]

Right from the start, he appeared destined for the musical stage, the inherited trade from his father, an accomplished singer, dancer and instrumentalist.

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But some believed, as one traditional healer inaccurately predicted, Ongala would ultimately end up as a traditional healer, allegedly because he had been born bearing two teeth and a shock of full dark hair.

The myth earned Ongala the nickname, Daktari (Doctor) that stuck through his life, just as his alter ego Sura Mbaya.

Born Ramadhani Mtoro Ongala in 1947 in Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, the singer was domiciled in Tanzania, which became his adopted country.

He was orphaned at 17, forcing him out of school and commencing a rough existence selling confectionaries and fruits by the roadside.

He soon joined Bantu Success Youth Band as a drummer and singer, leaving in 1966.

Inspired by the late Franco Luambo Luanzo Makiadi and his TPOK Jazz Band, Ongala played with several groups including Success Mwachame, Mickey Jazz, and Uganda’s Grand Mika Jazz.


He then moved to Kenya and joined Orchestra Makassy, which also featured ex-TPOK Jazz guitarist Fan Fan.

Ongala formed the first version of Matimila Band in 1980 and by 1984 the band had assumed its current alignment of three guitarists, saxophone, trumpet, bass and drums. In 1987 Orchestra Super Matamila comprised 18 musicians.

In 1988, the band toured Europe and North America, releasing their first international album for World of Music and Dance (WOMAD) festival. He also recorded Mambo album in 1992.

The musician, who was highly critical of other African musicians, whom he claimed compromised African music by imitating Western genres remained a towering symbol of authentic African artforms.

His death at Dar es Salaam’s Regency Hospital, Dar es Salaam will be a big blow to Tanzania and the region where Ongala had found an attentive audience.

According to his long time friend, singer Kelly Kanku, formerly of Vundumuna Band in Tanzania, Ongala also suffered from diabetes and had a stroke that saw him in and out of hospital for years.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

Rhumba Remmy Ongala Democratic Republic of Congo
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