There is a song that I remember hearing on several occasions shorty after we arrived in Tanzania in 2010. I saw a music video for it on a TV at a restaurant and heard it playing on buses and on radios in town. It’s a Bongo Flava song, a style that’s unique to Tanzania, but influenced by American hip hop.

It took me a while to figure out what the song is called and who sings it. When I would hear the song in town I would listen closely, trying to hear a few words that I could search for online, but the lyrics are delivered so quickly and I didn’t realize that a keyword in the chorus is a proper noun, not a typical Swahili word.

Finally I discovered that the song is Mbagala by Diamond (Mbagala is the name of an impoverished neighborhood in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania). Next, I wanted to learn the words to the song. Searching online, I was unable to find any reasonably accurate transcription of the lyrics. The lyrics I did find were full of major errors and missing large sections (which explains why I had so much trouble identifying the song in the first place).

I spent hours transcribing the lyrics myself using a program called gAssistant to slow down and loop each line, trying to identify each word. At the same time, I worked to translate the lyrics into English.

With the lyrics transcribed, I was finally able to learn to sing the song. The chords are simple (the whole song is C Am F G).

Here is a video of me singing the song and below are my transcribed lyrics and English translation. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure there are errors in the lyrics and the translation. Some of the lines in the original are just too fast for me to discern properly. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Mbagala

Verse 1

Busara na upole
(Wisdom and gentleness)
Na hekima niliyorithi kutoka kwa mama yangu, mama
(And prudence which I inherited from my mother)
Vyote hukuvijali, ukaona silingani kabisa kuwa na wewe
(You didn’t care about any of it, you saw that I’m too different to have you)
Kwa kuti na mkole, ukakata kabisa na shina la penzi langu na
(For the palm frond and tree, you completely cut the stem of my love)
Eti kisa mali, ukaona bora uniache mimi na uolewe
(Oh, because of money, you thought it good to leave me and get married)
Ile siku shehe namuona anachoma ubani
(That day I see the sheikh burning incense)
Unavishwa pete unakuwa mke wa fulani
(You are wearing a ring and are becoming someone’s wife)
Niliumia sana, sana
(I was hurt badly)
Ile siku shehe namuona anachoma ubani
(That day I see the sheikh burning incense)
Unavishwa pete unakuwa mke wa fulani
(You are wearing a ring and are becoming someone’s wife)
Niliumia sana, niliumia sana, sana
(I was hurt badly, I was hurt so badly)

Chorus

Tatizo kwetu Mbagala, hapa nyumba mbele jalala
(The trouble in Mbagala, at the house here in front of the dump)
Tatizo kwetu Mbagala, ukaona mapenzi siwezi
(The trouble in Mbagala, you saw I cannot love)

Verse 2

Ungejua jinsi gani
(If you knew how…)
Machozi lolia kwa uchungu wa penzi langu na
(The tears which were cried for the pain of my love)
Mwenzio jinsi gani, vile nimeumia moyoni
(Your friend how, the way my heart aches)
Hata kupendwa sitamani
(I don’t even want to be loved)
Utamu wa mapenzi mwenzako umekula kwangu ma
(The sweetness of love, your friend, you have consumed mine)
Mwenzio sitamani, hata raha tena mi sioni
(Your friend, I don’t desire it, I can’t even feel comfort again)
Nasikia hivi sasa una mtoto anaitwa Mamu
(I hear that now you have a child named Mamu)
Vile akinuna mpaka tabasamu
(The way she frowns or smiles)
Mmefanana sana, sana
(You both look so similar)
Mi mwenzako tena mapenzi mi sina hamu
(Me, your friend, I have no hunger for love again)
Tena na mpango wa kuhama Dar Es Salaam
(And I plan to leave Dar Es Salaam)
Nataka niende mbali, niepuke vita na walimwengu
(I need to get far away, to escape the war and the people of this world)
Mi mwenzenu siwezi
(Me, your friend, I cannot)