There are a stack of different types of music that Tanzanians sing in church. As well as pambios, more traditional denominations use the Tenzi za Rohoni, which are mainly English hymns translated into Swahili. One hymn that everyone seems to know is ‘How Great Thou Art’.
Different types of music elicit different responses. If a song has a lot of words or many verses, that isn’t necessarily unattractive, as long as it’s set to local tune rather than an English tune.
There’s breadth among pambios as well. Some are very upbeat, accompanied by clapping, dancing and ululating. They feel like a celebration! Others are more subdued. People stand still or kneel, with their eyes closed and their hands raised.
This second style is what in Australia you might call ‘worship’, but unlike in Australia, our love for God is not the focus. There may be a little bit about God’s love for us, but it’s the uniqueness of God that seem to be the focus, in both styles. Most songs that we sing are some variation on ‘There is no God like you’.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.