Meet Tanzania’s newest pop hero Harmonize: “I’m excited to win my Grammy!”

The East African star is looking to bring his country's signature sound, bongo flava, to the rest of the world. "I want to be a big man in music,” he says

Tanzanian juggernaut Harmonize is gearing up for global domination. Having rubbed shoulders with huge West African stars such as Nigeria’s Burna Boy (a former NME cover star) and Mr Eazi, the 27-year-old is the best afro-pop stars around. His most recent release, ‘Falling For U’, with Mr Eazi, is a great example of what Harmonize doing what he does best: gliding over the bouncy percussion sounds of bongo flava (more of which later). Having dominated the Tanzanian music scene with his 2019 debut EP ‘Afro Bongo’, he’s finally started to branch out, launching his own record label, Konde Music Worldwide, and putting the world onto the hidden talents of his home.

Helping introduce the rest of the world to the infectious high-tempo genre of his home country, Harmonize talks to NME about his start, what bongo flava is and how Arabic and Indian music are huge influences on his sound.

When did you know you wanted to be a big pop star?

“I grew up in a village called Mtwara, and my daddy and my mum were Muslim. I didn’t even know I could be a singer. My dream was to become a footballer because I knew a few people in my family who played football. So I thought one day I could be a professional footballer. After primary and secondary school, I came to Dar Es Salaam [the former capital of Tanzania] for the first time. I could sing a little bit but I wasn’t taking it that seriously. Then I started to love music and wanted to do music. I found a way to start recording and it all started from there.”

Who are some of your inspirations?

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“One of my first inspirations to do music was a guy called Remmy Ongala – a legend in the Tanzanian music scene. Then I love Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. I’m a huge fan of Chris Brown. He’s like a big inspiration to me. I got the moves like Chris Brown – yes, I can really dance.”

How do you describe bongo flava?

“Bongo flava is typical Tanzanian music. This is our sound. It’s kind of like Arabic music or Indian music because a bunch of us singers used to go to madrasa. Madrasa is Arabic school and we go there and get those Arabic or Indian melodies from how you speak the language. Then the native music is Taarab music, which is kind of Arabic too. Bongo flava and my music is just the original Tanzanian sound.”

Have you been excited to seen that African music has truly gone global in recent years?

“I’m proud of African music, but I believe it was all a matter of time. Before no one was giving attention to afrobeats music and right now, my record [the club track ‘All Night’ featuring singer Anjella] is playing everywhere. It’s a blessing and I’m proud of it. I want to say thank you to all the people who have really been championing African music; the presenters, DJs playing African music in the club everywhere. This is our culture. It’s our break.”

Can you do for East Africa what the likes of Burna Boy have done for West Africa?

“Our music is special. All African music is, but afrobeats is something bigger than just where it is. If you put chicken in a burger, it’s a chicken burger. If you put beef in a burger, it’s a beef burger. All music from Africa is afrobeats. It just depends what country or area you’re focusing on. I think bongo flava is afrobeats, but the hardest thing for people to accept is the way we’re singing in our language, which is Swahili. I believe that might make it a bit harder to connect to the music because of it. But that’s going to change because we have a nice sound and nice melodies. There’s a message in it. I actually want to start using more music so the world can understand and fall in love with bongo flava.”

‘Kainama’, the song that you bongo flava artist Diamond Platinumz’s song released with Burna Boy, was a big hit in 2019. What it’s like working with globally successful stars?

“I get that they’re big on their side and that’s amazing, but I’m big on my side too! It’s a good combination and connection, taking our African music to another level. We’re doing it together. I’ve been working with so many different people from Yoruba Nigeria, South Africa, Jamaica… Yeah! Let’s do this!’

Burna Boy won his second Grammy this year [for his album ‘Twice As Tall’]…

“I’m so proud [of him] and I’m excited to win my Grammy too! Everything is possible, it’s just a matter of time. I called him and told him ‘Congratulations’. We’ve got more music together on the way.”

Will the Tanzanian scene explode soon?

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“For sure, for sure – I believe that! We’re getting new inspirations and sounds and we’re pushing that out. We get inspired by our brothers like Burna Boy, who are doing big things so we can push forward and do big things ourselves. So I believe we’ll blow.”

What’s your message to the world?

“I came from the ghetto and I can’t change that, so I make most of my songs inspirational. I want to make music everyone can listen to and get inspired. If you’re not inspired by my words, then you’re inspired by the sounds and melodies. I want to play my part in the game by giving people hope.”

What’s your ultimate goals?

“I want to be a businessman. That’s why I’ve already started to invest and help others in achieving their own dreams. I want to be rich from the music [laughs] but I also want to leave a legacy. I’m not done at all. I’m ready to work hard to win Grammys and do big shows outside of Tanzania and Africa. I want to go to America and sell out big arenas. I want to be a big man in music.”

– Blaq Jerzee, Mr Eazi and Harmonize’s ‘Falling For U’ is out now

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