By the time Zairean guitarist Hembi Flory Kongo had formed the band in Dar Es Salaam in 1970 playing “copyright” cover versions, soul and funk had long influenced young musicians in Dar and ‘boogies’, weekly soul events, were commonplace at the city’s clubs. Despite the Tanzanian government short-lived ban on soul (both music and dancing) inspired by their Ujamaa policy in 1969, Sunburst grew as a band and developed their own musical direction which they later called Kitoto Sound, reflecting the diverse backgrounds of the band members. Lyrical themes included black pride and colonial oppression – the band even played a gig for visiting civil rights heroine Angela Davis.
After June 1973, Sunburst gained a national audience through a live session for the state-owned Radio Tanzania, a crucial means for domestic bands to air their work. A month later, they won a band competition in Dar Es Salaam and their popularity in Tanzania grew further. They began recording singles in Kenya, standing apart from the predominantly rumba, jazz or taarab styles sung in local languages at the time. Sunburst were not the only local band to draw on soul and jazz but most others did not release their music commercially.
In 1974, Sunburst met Zambian musician Rikki Ililonga from Zamrock group Musi-O-Tunya and he invited them to Zambia. Meeting their later manager, car company employee Peter Bagshawe, they embarked on an ill-fated tour with Kenyan funk band Matata before working on a first full album in 1976 in Lusaka with new band members. The LP came out at the height of the Zamrock scene led by bands like Witch and Ngozi Family but Sunburst offered a more intricate sound as musicians born in six different countries tapped into a multitude of styles, languages and stories. “Our songs support freedom struggles and encourage peasants and workers to work harder,” singer James Mpungo recounted. “Our songs also criticize our people for allowing themselves to be too westernized.” After a handful of further singles for Tanzanian state label TFC, including the popular ‘Banchikicha’, the band split, frustrated by living on “bare minimum earnings” from their music.
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