What do you call a white man who wants to be every inch an African? And it is not just about being African but wanting to be black. More often it’s Africans trying to be white. They are either bleaching or forcing accents. But Danish singer Espen Sorensen has grown up hating the whole idea of being white.
It started when his parents moved to Africa. As a little kid, he behaved like an African - drawing his own pictures as black. He has lived with the Maasai, learnt their language and took part in Maasai culture. At one time, he preferred to dress like the Maasai, which earned him the name Mzungu Kichaa (Crazy White Man).
He speaks fluent Swahili and composes his music in Swahili. I met Kichaa at the Sauti Za Busara Music Festival in Zanzibar.
“I started living a normal African life in Zambia. There were no modern facilities to keep me European. The second day I went to a primary school there, I decided to take off my shoes and go bare foot like other kids. I left my little baby school bag at home. I wanted to be like other African kids,” he recounts.
“I drew a picture of me as a black kid and I told my mum ‘this is me, I am a black kid.’ She was very upset but I had chosen to be African.
Even as an adult when I came to Tanzania, it was easy to be accepted because I was accepted as a kid. That is the big reason why I have been speaking Swahili and interested myself in culture,” he adds.
He was christened Mzungu Kichaa in his early days in Tanzania because of his Swahili speaking prowess.
“I got the name from Juma Nature one of the biggest artistes in TZ who was working at Bongo Records...maybe because I sang songs like oYa oYa, running around in Maasai land and doing crazy stuff like walking around in Bongo for five years because my friends were there. I went to a boarding school in Kilimanjaro but I spent a lot of time wearing Maasai clothes... So, the guy thought I was crazy when I came to Dar-es-salaam (Bongo Records).”
Today, Kichaa is widely recognized as one of the pioneers of Tanzania’s bongo flava, a genre that has localized hip hop and taken it to another level.
When we talk of bongo flava, it is usually names like Professor Jay, Ambwene Allen Yessah a.k.a. AY, Juma Nature, T.I.D that come to mind. But Kichaa was apparently more instrumental.
“I was at Bongo Records when the term came up. I was doing records,” Kichaa recalls.
“My role was to try to make it African. The first bongo flava song in 2001 was Mambo Ya Pwani. It was the first kind of song to take African beats and make them hip hop and contemporary within the [style of] youth at that time. And that was the birth of Bongo flava,” he adds.
Mambo Ya Pwani paraded Swahili rap on the Congolese guitar with Chakacha rhythm – dominating charts in Tanzania. As a result, Kichaa went ahead to record with other Tanzanian artistes like Juma Nature, TID, Mangwair, Ferooz, Professor Jay and Jaymoe.
Kichaa took time off music to concentrate on studies. He pursued a BA in Music and Social Anthropology in the UK and later a Master’s in African Studies. After his education, Kichaa stepped back into music in 2006 by founding a group called Effigong. Last year he released his first album, Tuko Pamoja with Caravan Records.
The album featuring Professor Jay is set to revolutionize bongo flava.
“Bongo flava had a lot of strong positive messages. Today, a lot of Bongo flavour is becoming simplified and people produce it too fast.”