AS a young boy growing up in Kigoma Region, he looked up to Verkys Kiamangwana Mateta, one of the most influential figures in the history of Congolese music.
He idolised the Congolese music maestro, who developed his own honking, gutbacket style of saxophone playing, which characterised most of the exciting music of the 1960s and 1970s.
That is Mafumu Bilal 'Bombenga' for you. 'Super Sax,' as he is fondly referred to by his adoring fans, is one of only a handful of local musicians who have managed to emblazon Tanzania's name in the world of music.
“I admired Verkys because he was a good saxophone player and good at composition. In fact, he is the man who inspired me to venture into music, he was an accomplished musician,” says Bombenga.
Verkys has been credited with creating the Cavacha beat that led on to Soukous, and his songs have extra sax appeal.
As a saxophonist, composer and band leader, Verkys, once Franco Luambo Makiad's right-man, was able to rival both Franco and Tabu Ley.
“But,” Bombenga adds, “I think I must have started playing saxophone since my childhood because my father enjoyed playing it, so I grew up listening to his tune.”
Since he ventured into music about thirty years ago, Bombenga is still going strong, though his shows are now of necessity, getting rarer.
The veteran musician's success in the music and entertainment world is largely due to his extraordinary ability to play saxophone.
His sax-playing prowess has helped make songs of the bands he has featured for to be more appealing, danceable and pleasant to listen to.
Bombenga has featured for a number of bands, but scores of music fans still associate him with Dar International band, one of the groups that took the Tanzanian music scene by storm in the early 1980s.
His adoring fans long for repetition of those memorable days when he used to put revelers to the ecstasy with his stylish saxophone playing prowess.
During his days with the now defunct band, Bombenga teamed up with, among others, Marijani Rajab, then band leader, to release hit tracks that dominated local radio stations for a long time in the 1980s.
The band enjoyed great success with evergreen hits like 'Zuwena' and 'Uzuri wa Asili', which have been re-done by various young artists, including Judith Wambura or 'Lady Jay Dee,' as she is referred to by her adoring fans.
The reworked tracks are, however, not as appealing as the original songs, which were done with more emphasis on the saxophone, giving them better quality than the reworked ones.
In those days, jazz music enjoyed great popularity in the country and it was common then to hear people humming and singing various compositions by local bands.
Born in 1965 in Kigoma Region, Bombenga developed keen interest in music while he was a pupil at Manga Primary School (1972-1977), and alternated between studying and rehearsing with street bands.
In 1978, he joined Kazima Secondary School in Tabora Region before joining Makutupora National Service camp in Dodoma for a one-year military training course on compulsory basis.
It was around this period that Bombenga, then a teenager, decided to try and earn a living through music by joining Western Jazz band, whose other members then included Wema Abdallah and Ally Rashid.
Although he did not compose or record any song with Western Jazz, his stay with the band gave him more exposure and acted as a stepping stone to another level.
After a brief stint with the band, he switched to Tancut Almasi Orchestra of Iringa, then one of the leading bands in the country.
The band, whose hit songs like 'Nimemkaribisha Nyoka' and 'Masafa Marefu' dominated local radio stations in the early 1990s, was a blend of Tanzanian and Congolese musicians.
Congolese twin vocalists Kyanga Songa (now dead) and Kasaloo Kyanga, Tanzanian John Kitime (now with Kilimanjaro band) and Kalala Mbwembwe, another Congolese vocalist (now dead) were among the key members of the now defunct group.
After doing rounds in many other groups, including Kilimanjaro band, the multi-talented musician decided to form his own group -- African Beats band.
He says during his days with Tancut Almasi, Dar International and Kilimanjaro bands, he played the soprano saxophone and the flute, and sometimes provided back-up vocals.
About fans' waning interest in music by local bands, Bombenga, without mincing a word, says musicians themselves shoulder blame for not showing commitment and working hard enough to please music enthusiasts.
“We musicians are partly to blame because we don't seem to work hard and are not creative enough to find options that would keep fans flocking back to our shows,” he says.
Bombenga says aping and lack of genuine music promoters are the other factors behind Tanzanian musicians' failure to excel internationally.
“We should concentrate on doing our own compositions in Kiswahili so we can compete favourably with our Congolese counterparts. Aping kills our creativity,” he observes.
“There's high demand for Tanzanian music, but poor distribution and lack of proper marketing prevents it from going international,” he adds in a rather sad note.
To his fans, Bombenga, who now performs at Mashujaa Entertainment Centre, Vingunguti on the suburbs of the city, says he is not about to call it quits.