Destinations Eastern Africa

Why Tanzania is Called Bongo and Its Hidden Meaning

Tanzanian people
Written by Abraham Odhiambo

Tanzania is an East African country that offers amazing wildlife encounters, unforgettable cultural experiences, beautiful landscapes and stunning beaches. This beautiful destination is sometimes referred to as Bongo by locals and people from other countries. However, many people do not know why Tanzania is called Bongo?

This affectionate nickname stands as a testament to Tanzania’s unique identity and it is not just an ordinary name to Tanzanians. In fact, using the term as a tourist may get you kudos from the locals. In this exploration, we are going to find out why Tanzania is called Bongo as we unravel how the nickname came to be.

Why Is Tanzania Called Bongo?


Tanzania is a beautiful country in East Africa. Photo/ AZ Animals.

To start with, the word “Bongo” is believed to have originated from the Swahili phrase “mji wa kibongo”. This phrase translates to “Bongo city” or “City of Bongo”. Bongo was initially used to describe Dar es Salaam, which is Tanzania’s largest city.

As time went by, Tanzanians loved the nickname and began referring to the whole country as Bongo, not just Dar es Salaam. Today, Bongo has become a well-known nickname for Tanzania both locally and across East Africa and is often used in informal contexts. To the locals, it is more than just a nickname as it summarizes their country, which is worth visiting all year round.

We cannot identify who actually started the nickname Bongo because such slang terms develop organically and may not have a specific history. They gain popularity over the years, thanks to cultural influences, daily conversations and media.

Tanzanian people

A tourist with Tanzanian people. Photo/ The “GT” Travel Blog.

What Is Bongo Flava a Nickname For in Tanzania?

Bongo Flava is the nickname for Tanzanian music. Bongo Flava is a corrupted form of “Bongo and Flavour”, wherein Bongo is a Swahili word which translates to brain.

Bongo Flava developed in the 1990s mainly as a derivative of American hip hop and local styles such as dansi and taarab. The unique style of music also had influences from afrobeats, R&B and reggae. In recent years, we have seen an increased yet limited presence of expressions from Nigerian languages.

Who Started Bongo?

Today, Bongo Flava is the most popular style of music amongst the youth in Tanzania. It has also gained popularity in the rest of East African countries such as Kenya, where Bongo artists are loved by so many people. This popularity can be seen in the huge number of radio and television programmes dedicated to the music style.

Mawingu Band will go down in history as the pioneer of bongo music. This group was among the first to record and produce a CD for broadcasting. They did their recordings at Mawingu Studios and had gained a lot of popularity by 1994. Members of the group include Othman Njaidi, Columba Mwingira, Boniface Kilosa (also known as Dj Boni Love), Sindila Assey, Robert Chuwa, Eliudi Pemba and Angela Pamela.

The group had their breakthrough when they released the song ‘Oya Msela’, which was well-liked by many people in Tanzania. This was the period when Tanzanians began falling in love with Bongo Flava.

In the 2000s, the likes of T.I.D, Lady Jay Dee, Matonya, Mr. Blue, Dully Sykes, AY, Ray C and a young Ali Kiba began revolutionizing Bongo music with hit after hit. Since then artists like Diamond Platnumz, Vanessa Mdee and Ali Kiba have taken Bongo music across the border and beyond Africa.

Who Is The Best Bongo Musician in Tanzania?

Today, Bongo is a thriving music industry with a huge fan base in Africa. From the radio and television to minibuses and places of entertainment, you can’t escape this music. This era of Bongo music is blessed with some talented musicians who are enjoyed by millions of listeners from all parts of the world.

Some of the best Bongo musicians include Diamond Platnumz, Ali Kiba, Rayvanny, Harmonize, Mbosso, Marioo, Lava Lava, Aslay, Jux and Ommy Dimpoz. Most people consider Diamond Platnumz as the best Tanzanian musician. The 33-year-old, who started his career in the late 2000s, is in fact the most decorated music artist in East and Central Africa.

Diamond Platnumz

Diamond Platnumz is the best Bongo musician. Photo/ Biggest Kaka.

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About the author

Abraham Odhiambo

Abraham Odhiambo is a writer with interests in nature, travel, African safari and sports. I'm pursuing a bachelor's degree in Media and Communication at Egerton University.

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