Interview

Turunesh Wants to Push East African Women's Freedom of Expression

The Tanzanian singer is releasing taarab and unyago-inspired music that challenges traditional narratives.

There's a delicateness to Turunesh's music that is only comparable to the whispered intimacy of a prayer — although the 24-year-old Tanzanian singer would prefer to describe herself as a "Swahili sex symbol." Take her latest single "Cigarette," for example. In it, Turunesh's voice floats above intricate guitar riffs to communicate the urgency and ease of a passionate embrace. The sinfully-sweet anthem is an ode to Black girls who "want to keep the freaky shit private" but be loud about their sexuality.

Turunesh is empowered. As a leading voice within East Africa's alternative music scene, she's courageously forging a clear-cut path of taarab and unyago-inspired music to challenge traditional narratives of "African music." Dubbed the "conjurer of worlds," her music harkens back to taarab's coastal roots, with Bi Kidude being one of her biggest musical influences. "I can only dream of emulating her essence. I call upon her spirit in hopes of writing sex-positive music." She may not be a traditional taarab singer but to the curious ear, her heroines anoint her voice through inflections and melodic choice, even when she's singing in English.

"I consider myself a vessel for music," Turunesh shares. For her, Singing was not a product of happenstance, or a force of habit spurned into luck, it was a call to action. "I make music for people to heal and to discover the truest version of themselves. It's my duty to make these songs and put them out into the world."

Our conversation with Turunesh reveals the importance of celebrating and demystifying East African women's freedom of expression.

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