Mzungu Kichaa: Danish with love for African music

When 26-year-old Danish artiste Espen Sorensen aka Mzungu Kichaa was about to leave Denmark for an East African Tour, he received wide criticism from his countrymen for doing music ‘for the diaspora’, but it only fuelled his passion. He talked to MATILDA NZIOKIPulse: First and foremost why that name?

Mzungu Kichaa: Although I am originally from Denmark, I am one of the pioneers of Bongo Flava in Tanzania. I got that name from Bongo Records. In fact, Juma Nature and Solo Thang gave it to me due to my fluent Swahili rhyme spitting prowess. P: What did you think of it?

MK: At first I did not exactly understand why; wajua kichaa sio sifa, but I later on saw their point, and retained my stage name to date.P: Tell me about your association with Bongo Flava and Bongo artistes.

MK: My parents who were working with the International Development moved to Tanzania when I was six, so I grew up there, and in late 1990s, developed an interest in music. I was among the first artistes at Bongo Records, and I have recorded with Juma Nature, TID, Mangwair, Ferooz, Professor Jay, Jaymoe among many more.P: How was it working at Bongo Records?

MK: The production house was the in thing then, it’s a pity it isn’t as strong anymore. We used to lift each other, by sitting and discussing each other’s music. What disappointed me is lack of acknowledgement for your work; for instance, Solo Thang and P Funk did a remix of my song Mambo ya Pwani, and never mentioned me anywhere. P Funk also told me of a my song whose lyrics TID stole.P: Which famous songs can you claim as your works?

MK: I have featured in Mangwair’s hit She Got a Gwan. I have also done choruses on Juma Nature’s Nini Chanzo among others. You may also remember a jingle I did for Channel 5 when in its first years which went like; Usinione tajiri kwasababu ya ngozi, sijawahi kupata flu napata kikohozi, sijahwahi kucry nalia tu machozi…P: What about your own music?

MK: Unfortunately, I had to go slow on music at Bongo Records to go and pursue my BA Degree in Music and Social Anthropology in the UK. I am, however, glad that after completing my Masters (MA in African Studies) I have finally been able to deliver an album to my fans. It’s been long coming, as this album first got lost, then my hard disk crashed. It was also hard to promote it and distribute it while I was in the UK.P: Tell me about your current plans.

MK: After my university education, I moved back to Denmark, and I am currently in East Africa for three weeks to promote my album, and network. I will also be doing live shows, especially in Arusha and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.P: You mean you will be doing music for East Africa, even when you are in Denmark?

MK: Even though I am European, I am very involved in African music. I don’t care much about the European market. Here, I know people will understand me, but as for Europe goes, they will only understand me when East Africa tells them that I am good. In Denmark, people want to be Dane, but I see myself as an African in many ways, although my bloodline is also a mixture of English and Polish. I am a proud spokesperson of multiculturalism.P: Locally, artistes try to get recognised abroad, isn’t ironic for you to be pursuing the reverse?

MK: In the long run, I will make my music available in Europe, but I will not push it so much. But that is after I have opened the European people to East African music. Big music promoters like BBC only focus on West Africa, but there is hope for East African music abroad. Look at Nakaaya, who has now been signed to Sony in Denmark. P: What’s your style?

MK: I would call it contemporary, I am conscious of what people like in East Africa. I have nice Congolese guitar-style on Bongo Flava and hip-hop. For instance, my song Mambo Ya Pwani has a Chakacha rhythm, but is produced in Bongo Flava style. I am part of the youth in East Africa, who do not shun creativity; vijana wa bongo ni wajanja, like my song Wajanja says. P: What do you know about music in Kenya?

MK: Oh, that is what I am mainly here to find out. A musician in Holland named Viqi who is Kenyan recommended me to R Kay, I have also met Budda Blaze of WAPI and I am also in contact with producer Wawesh, as well as networking in I am seeking to expand my fan base in East Africa. I have met Wendy Kimani, and should be working with her soon as well as producing for her. She is a good singer.P: Why should I buy your album?

MK: Because all the songs in my album contain a deep message, apart from Wajanja, which is kind of for fun. I also consider good production, as I am a producer myself. I have also incorporated a lot of instruments that I play, the guitar, violin, marimba and Zeze (fiddle).P: Where do you draw your inspiration?

MK: From people’s reaction when I am performing live, just like it is for a DJ. Also, I have been a musician for so long, the things I collect along the way subconsciously serve as an inspiration. P: Music is the only thing you are currently concentrating on. Tell me of your highest and lowest points.

MK: Apart from topping the charts for long with my 2001 release Mambo Ya Pwani, this East African tour might be my highest point so far. Things are coming on well and I believe I will go further than this. I have several concerts lined up in Tanzania, before going back to Denmark later this month. Lowest is sometimes when Wasela (street people) don’t understand that a white person is representing them. I have the title track Tuko Pamoja that tries to articulate that we need to get together across age, wealth and race.P: Compare the music done here to the one back in Denmark?

MK: In Denmark, musicians are highly trained, but you can never get training on how to have soul in your music, like is the case in East Africa. You can even tell by looking at the effort musicians here put in. Personally I have a degree in music, but I play music by the ear. I, however, do music and I call it ethnomusicology. It is an in depth research in music which is ethnic and cultural.