Something About Juma Bhalo

Professor  Juma Bhalo is one of the greatest kings of Taarab music in Africa and has won the hearts of fans all over the world due to  his great talent.

He is, indeed, a professor of Taarab. Juma Bhalo, a traditional musician of the 60s,70s, 80s 90s, and now the new millennium has been able to maintain this position as the King Of Taarab owing to his poetic Swahili songs.

They are food for thought as they touch on people's lifestyle, love and misfortune. His art has been influential to many up-and-coming groups in Kenya and Tanzania, countries which are home to a large number of Taarab enthusiasts.

What makes Bhalo's songs unique is his golden voice and  the manner in which he crafts the lyrics. They are poetic and a mishmash of languages spoken in East Africa. He has a gift of coming up with “on the spot” lyrics while performing live on weddings.

A good example of this talent was caught live in one of his performance while singing in a weding in Mombasa  in his album called “Live in Majengo”. The song title was “Nisalimia Mpenzi Kisha baada ya salamu mwambie walaumiwa.” It happened that,  on that night there was a drunkard wedding crasher at the occasion who had lost his sense of being and was acting boyishly around the ever elegant ever modest Swahili ladies (Bhalo’s biggest fan). As the ladies were being entertained, Professor JB spoted the drunkard . Seeing the nuisance taking place, JB immediately in the middle of the song came up with some bombastic lyrics pertained to this man. The song made the whole crowd jeer with laughter at the expense of the nuisance maker. Realising that Bhalo was not going to let him ruin the occasion the drunkard immediately made a runner fearing of more embarrassment. Below is how the actual song goes.......... as he does............

This is the normal part of the song as he normally sings....................

“Nisalimia Mpenzi Kisha baada ya salamu mwambie walaumiwa.”

Kwani sio kiungwana Nyonda alonitendea
Japo hapa sitonena Yote yatamueleya
Kama hanitaki Tena Usawa ni kunambiya

“Nisalimia Mpenzi Kisha baada ya salamu mwambie walaumiwa.”

At this point JB had had enough of the guy’s nuisance so he immediately made up “on the spot” lyrics.

Nakupa iliyo wazi Wala sifanye ghadhabu
Kama tembo huliwezi Litakutia aibu
Safari ya Potirizi Twaiona ikaribu

“Nisalimia Mpenzi Kisha baada ya salamu mwambie walaumiwa.”

Nakupa ilo hakika Upesi fanya shauri
Wenzio twasikitika Kwa tembo kukuaziri
Wewe wafanya dhihaka Kumbe wazimu tayari

At the end of the song the guy was nowhere to be seen. Tembo lilimruka alijitafute asijipate kwa kutekwa na wanawake akajikata mkuku akapotea.

As you can see these are proper mashairi that Bhalo can tunga on the spot.

That night at Majengo the wedding was a hit. You just have to listen to Live Majengo to know what am talking about. All the songs are Bhalo’s classics. The next song after that incident was PETE. An incredible song about a lost ring. If I was to start talking about this song now I will not finish this article in time so I will leave it for next time. (Insha’Allah)

In some songs, Juma Bhalo uses English mixed with poetic Kiswahili. In others, he uses Arabic mixed with Kiswahili. It is this kind of mastery that enables him to reach a wide group of music lovers. His Somali song is mysterious. My favourite example of this kind of talented lyrcs is the “Sitara Tambe Kwa Lopo.” This song’s lyrics has words from 15 different languages all joined up to make one meaningful song.
Below is a flavour of the lyrics

If you want Ujinaga Acha nahi ungataka
Mautu mazo malenga And Orator hushika
Mbona wewe wabanaga Esh fii lilozuka

Wawerani nena kweli Nikupe sowere nalo
Nahuyo aso akili watarafai busolo
Entum taamali Njeuzi sambe javelo

You have to listen to this song to understand the talent of this man.

However, things have not been the same. Emergence of modern Taarab has slowly overshadowed traditional Taarab. The new music is a modification of the old in which modern instruments are used.
But this has not influenced Bhalo, who still has a bias for the old. He says he is not alone as Taarab oldies have deep roots in East Africa.
"Taarab has changed tremendously in the past decade. As opposed to the old style which was slower and rather sleepy, the tempo has gradually been increased to more danceable tunes," he says.
"But this will not sway me and my group from the old approach," he says. “Let me tell you one story” he said jokingly. “An old friend of mine approached me one day and said. Mr Bhalo can I tell you one thing, In the old days my wife used to attend weddings in which you performed live, on her return home that evening she will come home happy and her heart full of love for me compliments to your beautiful songs. Her body will still be full of the smell of uddi, asmini na viluwa just as she did when she was preparing herself for the wedding. She will be so lively and happy and as a result we will have a good night together. But nowadays, when she goes harusini the songs they play there through a DJ are all crazy. She dances around a group of 50 other women all going round and round in circle as if they are reciting uradi ya mazimwi, wajiirusharusha mikono na kusutana kuoneshana vishindo huku viijasho vyawakatika. When she gets back home harufu ya uddi yote impotea imbaki anuka kijasho utafkiri atoka teza football. Isitoshe she is so tired due to the dancing hiyo pamba roho that all she can do then is to go straight to sleep. Mambo yameharibika siku hizi bwana Bhalo” he said

Modern Taarab is an artistic revolution brought about by bands such as East African Melody, Tanzania One Theatre (ToT) and Babloom. But Bhalo says the changing trends do not worry him as he has a loyal following mashabbik all over the word. Bhalo led “Bhalo and Party”, which he formed in 1966. The band has produced 51 cassettes, each one having 10 songs. Some of the popular songs are:
Harufu ya Nuni, Howa Howa,
Nimechoka Kusubiri, Maradhi Yote Uguwa,
Wema Ndio Ulionitongea, Jare, Manuree, Guniya, Uko Wapi Nyonda Wangu, Kifo ni Ndia ya Haki. Etc

Many people, however, know very little about this traditional Taarab guru. So here is a litle biography:

Bhalo was born in 1942 at Shela in Malindi district. Malindi town was then undeveloped. In 1954, he joined Sir Ali bin Salim Primary School but his family made sure that he attended a Madrassa (Muslim school). Bhalo says that the urge to sing began in the Madrassa. He got his voice from the art of reciting poems in the Quran (Tajwid).

"I liked reciting poems in the Holy Quran. This built my music career inwardly and shaped my talent as a Taarab musician at an early stage," he says.
At the age of nine years, Bhalo used to play a gramophone and this took a substantial amount of his time after classes.

However, he did not complete his primary education owing to his family's inability to pay fees.
Hence he moved to Mombasa in 1957 where the Kenya Customs employed him. The job was not interesting to him and, time and again, he found time to mix with local Taarab musicians.
Things were not going the way he wanted, so in 1959 he decamped to Tanga, where his uncle was staying. Here he joined a Taarab group, Young Novelty, which exposed him to big-time Taarab music.
After six years, he returned to Malindi where he stayed for a while before returning to Tanga in 1962. He joined the Young Stars.

In 1966 he returned to Mombasa where he formed Bhalo and Party. Bhalo says the man to thank for his poetic lyrics is his elder brother, Ahmed Nasir Juma Bhalo.

Juma Bhalo says many traditional Taarab musicians are poor as their talents are exploited by producers who rake in millions but pay them peanuts. "I have decided to produce my own work. Producers have always exploited Taarab musicians, claiming that their work does not generate enough money," he says.

Traditional Taarab will always have a place in the hearts of music lovers because of its rich messages, Bhalo says.

On the summer of 2007 after more than 5 decades of reigning as the King of Taarab, professor decided it was time to hang the gloves of the talent that was bestowed upon him while still the champ in the ring.

It was on the wedding of one of his own son in which he was performing live that he formely announced to his fans that after that night he is resigning as a professional singer.

This is what he said. “ Waswahili wasema kiwate kitu kabla hakijakuata. Kwa hivyo kama mulivyo nishuhudiya usiku huu nlivyowatumbuiza ambavyo ni kama kawaida yangu basi leo hii usiku huu kabla hawajaja watu wakasema ahhhhh Bhalo ashazeeka hawezi tena kuimba kwa hivyo najiuzulu ningali bado niko fiti. Kwa hivyo siimbi tena hadharani kikazi. Nawashkuru kwa ushabik wenu na musijali Mungu akiniwezesha Kasseti mpya ntawatoleya.

Since then Bhalo has not sang again on stage. Although he has as promised gone and re-mastered some of his old classics in which the instruments were played by Indian players “The Bollywood style.” This classics will soon be available in CD format (whatch this space) The cassetted of this album can be obtained from Bhalo Songs Shop at Biashara street Mombasa.

These songs include:


For thos who want to have a flavour of these songs you just have to send me your request and tune in to Juma Bhalo Radio online which is broadcasted in Shoutcast and Radiopirates websites.

God bless our professor Juma Bhalo

Illahi umpe nae umri mrefu na swiha ya afya njema na furaha ulimwenguni na kesho akhera................Amin....

Anwar Bhalo. (if only I could sing half as good as my dad).........Bahati zina mafungu kila mja ana lake.