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Kenya, Pop, Swahili (KiSwahili)

“Jambo, Bwana” (Them Mushrooms)

“Jambo, Bwana” Recording on YouTube

“Jambo, Bwana”
Them Mushrooms

Jambo, bwana
Habari gani?
Nzuri sana

Wageni, wakaribishwa
Kenya yetu hakuna matata

Kenya nchi nzuri, hakuna matata
Nchi ya maajabu, hakuna matata
Nchi yenye amani, hakuna matata

Watu wote, hakuna matata
Wakaribishwa, hakuna matata
Hakuna matata, hakuna matata

“Greetings, Sir” (Translation by ORS, 2010)

Greetings, Sir
How are you?
Very good

Foreigners, they are made welcome
Our Kenya has no problems

Kenya, good country, there are no problems
Country of wonder, there are no problems
Country with peace, there are no problems

All people, there are no problems
are made welcome, there are no problems
There are no problems, there are no problems

Vocabulary and Etymology

1.  Jambo – (noun, 5/6) matter, affair, thiing, business
2.  Bwana – (noun, 5/6) mister, sir, man, waiter
3.  Habari –  (noun, 9/10) news, information; from Arabic خبر (“habar, khabar”) meaning “news, information”, as in  مرحبا  (“marhaba”, or “welcome”), which is related to greetings in Kiswahili “Habari gani” (“what kind of news?”) and Bahasa Melayu “Apa Khabar” (“what news?”)
4.  Matata – (plural noun, 6) problems; from verb tata, “to tangle”
5.  Geni – (adjective) strange, unusual, foreign; noun forms (1/2) are singular mgeni, plural wageni
6.  Karibu – (phrase)  “welcome”, “come in”, like いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase) in Japanese; also related to the adverb for “nearby” or “soon”
7.  Nchi – (noun, 9/10) country, land
8.  Maajabu – (plural noun, 5/6) wonders
9.  Amani – (noun, 9) peace, safety
10.  Mtu – (noun, 1/2) person, someone; plural form is watu “people, population” 

Grammar and Related Topics

1.  Greetings

This song contains in the chorus a very simple, common exchange in Swahili, with the very rough equivalents in English and their literal translations:

A.  Jambo.      (“Hello”; literally “Matter”.)
B.  Habari gani?   (“How are you?”; literally “What kind of news?”)
A.  Nzuri sana.    (“Very good”)

There are other forms of the “Jambo” greeting.  For example:

A.  Hujambo?   (“What’s up?”; literally, “(you have) no matters?”)
B.  Sijambo.  (“Not much.”; literally, “(I have) no matters.”)

The “Habari” greeting, “Habari gani?”  (“What kind of news?” or more typically “How are things?”) is usually answered with “Nzuri” (“good”) or “Nzuri sana” (“Very good”).  However there are daily greetings which also used “Habari”:

Habari za asubuhi.  “Good morning” (Literally, “news of the morning”)
Habari za mchana.  “Good afternoon” (“News of the afternoon)

2.  Nouns – Singular/Plural

Swahili has a rather complex system of Noun Classes.  There are 13 so-called Nominal classes, and 3 Locative classes, each usually given a number from 1 to 16 for organization purposes.  Depending on the Class (which is based traditionally on Semantics or meaning), a noun and its adjectives will take a certain prefix which identifiies the class and whether it is singular or plural.

Here is short simplifcation of the first 10 classes, which are the most logical and regular to begin with:

Class                       Semantic                 Example
M/WA (1/2)         Humans                    mtu/watu (“person/people”)
M/MI (3/4)          Nature,activity      mti/miti (“tree/trees”)
JI/MA (5/6)        Fruits, objects        tunda*/matunda (“fruit/fruits”)
KI/VI (7/8)         Animals, objects    kiti/viti (“chair/chairs”)
N (9/10)                Abstract, conc.     nguo/nguo (“cloth”)

*as you can see with “tunda” (singular “fruit”), there are exceptions in the

In the Vocabulary and Etymology section, I have listed the main nouns in this song, along with their appropriate noun class.  Essentially the noun classes function to create Harmony and Sense in the language, as the class of the noun determines prefixing for the noun and its adjectives and other qualifiers. 

Here are examples of Nouns with Adjectives in this song:

“Kenya yetu”   :  “Our Kenya”   (yetu means “our”, but is the form of the word “-etu” specifically for Noun classes 4, 6, 9)

“Watu wote”   :   “All people”   (wote means “all, every”, but is the form of the word “-ote” specifically for Noun classes 2 and 11; in this case, the Noun watu means “people” and belongs to class 2)

“Nchi nzuri”   :   “Good country”    (nzuri means “good, beautiful” and is the form of the adjective root –zuri specifically for Noun classes 9 and 10;  Because the singular nchi “country” is of Noun Class 9, it takes the nzuri form of –zuri)

“Nchi ya maajabu”   :   “Country of wonders”    (ya means “of”;  it is a possessive concord, also called associate marker, and the form of the root -a specifically for noun classes 4, 6, and 9.  In this case, nchi “country” is a Class 9 Noun, so it takes the ya form of –a.)

“Nchi yenye amani”   :  “Country with peace”   (Similar to ya, yenye is a possessive pronoun meaning “with” and is the form of the root -enye specifically for noun classes 4, 6, and 9)

3.  Verbs

Verbs in Swahili are complex constructions of prefixes, infixes, and suffixes (collectively called “affixes”) built around a main Radical, making Swahili an “agglutinative” language, like Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Uralic languages (Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian), Quechua and Aymara.

There are only two examples of verb constructions in this song.

a.  Hakuna matata  (“There are no problems”)
This phrase was made popular in the song “Hakuna Matata” here in the Disney movie The Lion King, but let’s take a look at its grammatical basis. 

The Radical of the verb “to have” in Swahili is na, but the verb is commonly found in its Infinitive form (“to” have), which is kuna.  The radical is related to the particle –na meaning “with”, as in nina wakati (“I have time” or “I am with time”). 

To conjugative a verb like kuna Affirmatively in the present tense, you simply add the appropriate Affirmative Subject Prefix to the radical (-na).  For the sake of simplicity, we will using only Noun Classes 1 and 2, which are the most commonly used for simple Human Actions:

I have (1st person singular)  :  ni + na =  nina
You have (2nd person singular)  :  u + na = una
He/She/It has (3rd person singular)  :  a + na = ana

We have (1st person plural)  : tu + na = tuna
You all have (2nd person plural)  :  m + na = mna
They have (3rd person plural)  :  wa + na = wana

 To conjugative this verb Negatively, generally you add a pre-prefix (ha-, h-) to the above conjugations, with exceptionsIn this case, only the 1st person singular is an exception:

I don’t have    =   sina*
You don’t have :  ha + una –> huna
He/She/It doesn’t have : ha + ana –> hana
We don’t have : ha + tuna –> hatuna
You all don’t have : ha + mna –> hamna
They don’t have :  ha +  wana  –> hawana

Based on these conjugations, we can create phrases for the concept “There is/are” and “There isn’t/aren’t” in Swahili, with certain locational specifications.

There is/are : pana (here/there), kuna (over there), mna (inside)
There isn’t/aren’t : hapana, hakuna, hamna

Thus, hakuna actually means “there is/are not over there”.  Since matata is a collective noun (class 9) meaning “problems”, Hakuna matata usually means “There are no problems”. 

b.  Wakaribishwa (“They are welcomed”)

This verb is a good example of agglutination.  The Radical of the verb is actually Karibu, an adverb  meaning “near, soon” and used in the phrase “Karibu!” meaning “welcome” or “come in!”.    This root karibu leads to the common verb, karibisha, the so-called Causative Form meaning “to cause/make welcome”, as well as karibishwa, the so-called Passive Causative Form meaning “to be made welcome, to be welcomed”. 

As noted in the explanation of hakuna matata in part a, subject prefixes are added to the radicals.  In this case, the prefix is wa-, meaning that the subject is 3rd person plural.  Here is the 2 full examples:

Wageni wakaribishwa.    (“Foreigners, they are welcomed”)
Watu wote, wakaribishwa   (“All peoples, they are welcomed”)

Guitar Chords:
A, D, E, A


One thought on ““Jambo, Bwana” (Them Mushrooms)

  1. This was really helpful as I’m at teacher with a link school in Tanzania and I’m due to lead a short session on learning a new language for other teachers and wanted to use this well-known song as a way in with them. Asanta sana!

    Posted by Gary Newman | February 2, 2014, 12:11 pm

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