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The Zawose Queens : Maisha Review

The Zawose Queens : Maisha Review

by Steven Miller

The music of The Zawose Queens reverberates with spirit and fire, drawing from ancestral vibrations through traditional instruments like the chizeze fiddle, illimba thumb piano, and ngoma drums. Voices soar and intertwine, evoking a deep connection to nature, ceremony, and ritual. Their debut album, Maisha, captures this blend of organic and electronic elements, presenting an album rich in the Gogo people’s musical tradition from central Tanzania’s Dodoma region.

Pendo and Leah Zawose’s debut marks a significant milestone as they become the first women in their famed musical family to lead an album. The Zawose legacy is deeply rooted in the music of the Wagogo people, with the late Dr. Hukwe Zawose, a prominent figure, renowned for his remarkable five-octave vocal range and his contributions to Tanzanian music. This album, released by Real World Records, represents not just a continuation but an evolution of this tradition, infused with modern influences without losing its essence.

Maisha, produced by UK-based producers Oli Barton-Wood and Tom Excell, was recorded in diverse settings — from makeshift studios and beaches in Tanzania to rooftops in Zanzibar and studios in London. This cross-cultural production process allowed Leah and Pendo to blend traditional sounds with subtle electronic elements, creating a unique soundscape.

“Kuseka” opens the album with fluid polyrhythms and vibrant vocals, setting the stage for the musical journey ahead. “Maisha,” the title track encapsulates the daily struggles and triumphs, with a powerful blend of traditional instruments and modern beats. “Dunia Hii” is a contemplative piece that explores the wonders of life and the interconnectedness of humanity.

“Lulelule” provides a new experience as it was recorded live on a beach; this track highlights the organic and spontaneous nature of the album. “Fahari Yetu” sounds like the celebration of tradition and pride, featuring snippets of real life woven into the music, including laughter and ululations. “Mapendo” plays with the infusing of Afrobeat and dub elements, showcasing the versatility of the Queens’ musical influences.

“Sauti Ya Mama” is a heartfelt tribute to motherhood, resonating with warmth and depth. “Muheme” exemplifies the delicate balance between performance and production, highlighting the musical skills of the Queens. “Chidodo” features contributions from the Wamwiduka Band, adding layers of vocals and instrumentation, enhancing the album’s collaborative spirit.

The musicianship on Maisha is of the highest order. The chizeze fiddle, illimba thumb piano, and ngoma drums create a rhythmic foundation that is both intricate and immersive. The polyphonic singing is astonishing, with Pendo and Leah’s voices intertwining in a harmonious dance, delivering melodies with ease and precision. The production, overseen by Barton-Wood and Excell, is often superb, allowing the natural essence of the music to shine through while subtly enhancing it with electronic elements.

Maisha is a cultural statement and a beacon of empowerment for East African women in music. The Zawose Queens’ debut serves as a love letter to their heritage and an encouragement to other Tanzanian and East African women artists. The album’s thematic focus on tradition, pride, motherhood, and spirituality is conveyed authentically and passionately, making it a record of weighty significance.

Listening to Maisha is like being invited to a family celebration, where every melody and rhythm is infused with life and joy. The Zawose Queens have created an album that bridges the traditional and the modern, presenting their heritage to the world with pride and innovation.

Maisha is accomplished, beautiful, and brimming with hope and strength. It is time very well spent for anyone seeking to experience the vibrant and dynamic sounds of the Gogo people and the pioneering spirit of The Zawose Queens.


The Zawose Queens: Website

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The Zawose Queens

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Release Date

June 7, 2024


Real World Records

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Steven Miller
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