Taking inspiration from the Persian belly dance, the Coastal Swahili community created the sensual chakacha music sub-genre.
It is unique African folk music of the bass guitar, drums and percussions; well blended with poetic sensual vocals in a live act. Some of the percussive instruments incorporated in chakacha include the chapuo, the msondo drums, the marimba as well as wind ones like the siwa trumpet.
Mainly performed by women during cultural and social ceremonies such as weddings, the chakacha performance is usually accompanied by rhythmic group dance – where participants sometimes respond to the singer’s cues.
The women wear light and transparent costumes with a belt around the waist and usually gyrate their hips during the adults-only shows where men are expected to be ‘naughty’ observers.
At least, that is how it started. Men now dance to it. It is closely linked to taarab, Congolese soukous, and belly dances from the Middle East.
With popular music names such as Princess Farida making chakacha popular in dance competitions and other entertainment events beyond the Coast, leading bands started to modify the chakacha beat.
Coastal-based bands such as Them Mushrooms and Safari Sound popularised the sound, with single performers such as Mwanaisha Abdallah alias Nyota Ndogo fusing it with the pop beat in the 2000s to give it a youthful appeal.
With Them Mushrooms fusing the saxophone and other modern instruments into chakacha, this form of music became accepted internationally as an authentic African sound. Songs like Them Mushrooms’ Jambo Bwana have become international anthems and cues for tourism safari promotions.
And now, the new crop of artistes is taking the chakacha beat further with among others Sauti Sol incorporating it in their hit songs like Sura Yako.