Remmy Ongala at WOMAD in 1989 (photo Ton Verhees)

Remmy Ongala, fondly known as “Dr Remmy” died in December at the age of 63. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr Remmy moved to Tanzania in 1977 and joined the Orchestra Super Makassy, until leaving to form his own group Super Matimila. At the height of his popularity in the 1990’s, Dr Remmy was a regular performer at the Womad music festival in the UK.

Dr Remmy’s songs were always thoughtful and often controversial, dealing with subjects such as poverty and Aids. His song Mambo Kwa Socks, a plea for safe sex and for young men to use condoms, was banned by Radio Tanzania, but he continued to perform it at concerts. Kifo deals with the mercilessness of death, saying no matter how rich a person, bribery cannot postpone it.

In 2001, and after suffering a stroke, Dr Remmy became a born-again Christian and stopped performing his dance music, although he did recently make some appearances as a gospel artist. He is survived by his English wife Toni and four children, with whom he lived in a modest bungalow in an area of Dar-es-Salaam named in his honour “Sinza kwa Remmy.”

Abou Ally Semhando “Baba Diana” (50) also died in the same week following a motorcycle accident. Abou Ally was drummer with Dr Remmy’s band Super Matimila, and at the time of his death was manager of the popular band African Stars-Twanga Pepeta.

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