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After reading the essay, “Hooligans and Heroes: Youth Identity and Hip-Hop in Dar es Salaam,” write an essay of at least 500 words comparing the bad boys in the article with a famous hip-hop artist or group from another country. What are the similarities and differences? Why?

Hooligans and Heroes: Youth Identity and Hip-Hop in Dar es Salaam,
Perullo, Alex.
Africa Today, Volume 51, Number 4, Summer 2005, pp. 75-101 (Article)
Published by Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.1353/at.2005.0045
For additional information about this article
Access Provided by University of District of Columbia at 12/13/12 12:49AM GMT
Hooligans and Heroes:
Youth Identity and Hip-Hop in
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Alex Perullo
During the 1990s, the rise in popularity of hip-hop culture in
Tanzania brought increased public scrutiny of urban youth
due, in part, to preconceived notions of youth culture and rap
music. In newspaper articles and public discourses, youth
were quickly targeted and labeled hooligans (wahuni), and
often associated with words such as violent, hostile, and disruptive. Youth used music to combat these stereotypes and
project images of themselves as creative and empowered individuals in society. In this article, I examine the ways that
youth use rap music to confront stereotypes of young people,
and reach the broader listening public through politically
and socially relevant lyrics. Using transcriptions of lyrics
and interviews with artists, I argue that youth have turned
a foreign musical form into a critical medium of social
empowerment whereby they are able to create a sense of
community among other urban youth, voice their ideas and
opinions to a broad listening public, and alter conceptions
of youth as hooligans.
In a letter to The East African, an anonymous author wrote about the “youth
time bomb” that existed in Dar es Salaam. Lamenting the problems of youth
in Tanzania and the difficulties they have leaving the country for more
opportunities, he writes, “What, after all, is there to live for at home? Jobs
have disappeared in the wake of economic liberalization. . . . An army of
petty hawkers has emerged, and drug dealing and crime have soared.” He
continues by stressing that places such as Dar es Salaam are social time
bombs, where youth are on the verge of exploding with anger and disorder.
The pressures of living in Tanzania have caused young people to use any
means to survive (The East African 1999).
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In examining the pressures that youth encounter daily, it may seem
logical to assume that youth are on the verge of exploding through violence
and disorder. In Dar es Salaam, a city of 3.5 million people, unemployment
figures among the general population are estimated to be from 13 to 40
percent and potentially higher among young people, many of whom—even
some who have an education—work menial jobs, sit on street corners waiting to be hired, or search the city for employment.1 For those fortunate
enough, families provide support until jobs materialize; for others, however,
problems with hunger, corruption (being forced to pay bribes to police), and
inadequate social institutions can make the city unbearable (Lugalla 1995;
Moyer 2003; Tripp 1997).
Due to the ways young people are expected to react to these pressures—based on adults’ preconceived notions of youth culture and media
representations of young people’s practices—youth are often associated
with words such as hostile, violent, and destructive (Seekings 1993:xi).
Particularly in regard to hip-hop culture in Tanzania, many rappers and rap
fans are labeled wahuni (hooligans), and rap has been perceived as a music
corrupting the minds of the country’s young. Professor Jay, a Tanzanian
rapper, explains that during the early years of rap music (late 1980s and early
1990s), youth were vilified for associating with rap music: “If you rapped
during this time, you were immediately considered a hooligan. Even parents
would not permit their children to rap, or even allow them to listen to someone else rap” (2001a). Many other artists pointed out similar trends, where
parents and elders discouraged rap music fearing that it would encourage
students to leave school, turn them into criminals, and make them forget
their cultural traditions.
The views that social pressures cause youth to react violently and
rap encourages hooliganism are certainly not limited to Tanzania. Several
studies have examined youth who employ violence to cope with social pressures, political instability, or economic hardships (see Bucholtz 2002 and
MacDonald 1997). In regard to hip-hop culture, some authors conclude that
marginalized youth (those who experience the most dramatic social pressures) who listen to rap are likelier to be violent (Miranda and Claes 2004).
While these conclusions may appear compelling, they create an unfortunate
caricature of youth as a “lost generation” (O’Brien 1996) unable to deal with
complex situations and fi nd diplomatic solutions to adverse circumstances.
Positioning youth in opposition to the rest of society ignores their contributions in language, dress, and popular culture, and negates the ways they
cope with economic and social pressures. To say that they are going to
“explode” is to fail to recognize their agency as social and political actors,
and their ingenuity in creating opportunities for themselves and in moving
public opinions beyond representations of youth as a marginal age group.
In this article, I explore the ways that youth in Dar es Salaam use
rap music to deal with social pressures and project themselves as creative
and empowered individuals in society.2 In particular, I use rap lyrics and
interviews with rap musicians to examine the voices that rap offers youth
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in urban Tanzanian society. Rap has become a central means for youth to
teach others about joblessness, corruption, class differences, AIDS, and
other problems. It has created a sense of community among young people
in Dar es Salaam and other areas of Tanzania, and empowered youth by
providing them with confidence and self-reliance, not anger and violence.
It lets them know that others are facing pressures similar to the ones they
incur daily.
Tanzanian rap is also a means through which youth are able to communicate their concerns: hip-hop “is about being a spokesperson and representative for those without power” (Whiteley 2004:9). While it can also
represent those with power, it has become an important means for marginalized Tanzanian youth to address mass audiences. By identifying their
stance on important issues, they encourage others to consider the place of
youth in society. For Tanzanian youth, this means altering popular conceptions of themselves as hooligans and allowing youth to become knowledge
holders and educators within urban contexts. The process of representation
and education through music allows youth to voice their concerns to the
public and learn to cope with the hardships that they encounter on a daily
basis. Other outlets are available to youth, including comics and youthoriented magazines, but rap is a far more ubiquitous medium because of its
dominance on the radio and the ease with which people can comprehend
its message: literacy does not exclude one from listening to rap.
Tanzania has a long history of music that discusses social and political
issues. Before Tanzania’s independence from British colonial rule (in 1961),
many dansi and taarab artists wrote songs that commented on problems
of urban life. Mohamed Bwagajuga’s song “Dar es Salaam Usiende” (“Don’t
Go to Dar es Salaam”), for instance, warned people about the dangers of the
city (Graebner forthcoming). After independence, and particularly during
the socialist period, many dansi and taarab artists altered the content of
their lyrics. Although songs were still socially meaningful, artists often
used their music to praise the government or promote socialist goals. A
famous Tanzanian musician of the 1970s, Mbaraka Mwinshehe, composed
songs titled “TANU Yajenga Nchi” (“TANU Builds the Nation”), “Kifo
cha Pesa” (“Death by Money”), “Miaka 10 ya Uhuru” (“Ten Years after
Independence”), and “Mwongozo wa TANU” (“The Guidance of TANU”)
(Perullo 2003:84−85). 3
Aside from strong feelings of nationalism after independence, one of
the main reasons for prosocialist songs was the control that the government had on the country’s radio station and recording studio. Before the
emergence of independent radio stations and recording studios (in the early
1990s), artists typically went to Radio Tanzanian Dar es Salaam (RTD) to
record their music.4 To record at RTD, artists had to submit their lyrics to
a censor, who often made changes to lyrics that did not support or fit with
the socialist direction of the country. Most artists, including Mwinshehe,
received a great deal of support from the government when they composed
socially and politically appropriate lyrics; to avoid censors’ comments,
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however, other composers wrote lyrics with double entendres and hidden
meanings—a practice that has a long history in Swahili poetry (Knappert
1979) and taarab and dansi musical histories (Askew 2002; Fair 2001;
Graebner 2000; Knappert 1983; Martin 1980).
By the late 1980s, when rap emerged, artists no longer needed to mask
the meaning of their words. Artists avoided censors by using the independent radio stations and recording studios that emerged in the early 1990s.
Independent radio stations had obligations to avoid offensive material, but
rap artists were able to write, record, and air songs about any topic, as long
as they did so in a “clean way” (Perullo forthcoming). Messages therefore
became more direct than in pre-1990 dansi and taarab music. Currently,
many contemporary dansi and taarab artists compose songs with more
straightforward lyrics.
Liberalization was central in providing youth access to rap. During
the mid-1980s, the government, under the presidency of Ali Hassan Mwinyi,
began moving its economic policies away from socialism and toward capitalism.5 Liberalization brought about easier access to foreign goods, including hip-hop clothing, music, and magazines, it allowed independent radio
stations and newspapers to emerge, and it permitted many potential producers to import equipment needed to record local artists. Because of the
emergence of new radio stations, newspapers, and recording studios, many
youth were able to fi nd jobs as deejays, announcers, journalists, and producers or engineers. Since many of these youth were also part of the local
hip-hop scene, Tanzanian rap quickly attained a strong network of support.
Liberalization gave many youth in Dar es Salaam the tools and the medium
to promote their views.
In preparation for this article, I listened to several hundred rap songs
recorded between 1994 and 2003. About half the songs had been commercially released on cassette tapes or compact discs, and the other half had
been released to Tanzanian radio stations and recorded for me by radio deejays. Initially, I categorized the songs by the central message of their lyrics;
if a song had several messages, I placed it in multiple categories. The broad
thematic scope of hip-hop lyrics, from crime to drug use and alcoholism to
AIDS, was impressive and daunting.
Because of the profusion of ideas in Tanzanian rap, I focus this article
on two prevalent categories in rap lyrics: political issues, such as corruption and unfulfi lled promises made by politicians, and social conditions,
such as class, education, and the status of women. Specific songs that I
discuss were chosen for their popularity (all the songs had been on various
radio stations’ top-ten lists) and social importance (in interviews with fans,
deejays, producers, and performers, these songs were often mentioned for
their popularity). Throughout the article, I place the songs within a social
context and, wherever possible, allow the artists to discuss the importance
of the songs. In the final section of this article, I examine the reasons why
so many rap songs have lyrics that comment on life in Tanzania and do not
follow foreign models for rap-music content.
Ujumbe Mkali—“Strong Messages”
Though Nguvu Kazi has since disappeared, the government still views
loitering as a sign of laziness or criminality. This view, however, has done
little to diminish the large number of unemployed, urban youth who gather
in public areas—referred to as kijiweni, derived from the word kijiwe
“pimple.” Even with the local police (askari) occasionally arresting youth or
The Human Resources Deployment Act (popularly known
as Nguvu Kazi), passed by the Tanzanian government that
year [1983], criminalised the urban presence of those without
formal employment. As a result of “indiscriminate swoops”
on people “loitering” on the streets between 10 a.m. and 2
p.m., 15,000 were arrested in the last three months of 1983.
Those without employment were repatriated to their home
regions or sent to work on sisal estates. (Burton 2000:2)
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A dominant theme in Tanzanian hip-hop lyrics is criticism of social and
political conditions. Rappers write about problems they see in their communities, such as failing schools, limited employment and fi nancial possibilities, lack of adequate healthcare, and corruption among local leaders.
James Nindi, in a 2001 article on Tanzanian rap, writes, “When listening to
one of this country’s radio stations, it is common to hear rap songs by our
artists with ujumbe mkali [strong messages].” These messages tend to recur
in rap lyrics, as each artist sets out to present his or her viewpoint on important topics. The lyrics become a vehicle through which youth articulate
their ideas without fear of repercussions.
One of the earliest artists to use rap for social commentary was Mr. II.
His third album, Niite Mr. II (Call Me Mr. II) (1998), written when he was 25
years old, established a precedent for lyrics that spoke about injustices. As
he explains: “I had my own ideas, and I saw the direction that we [Tanzanians] were heading. . . . But who will listen to what I say? Can I climb up on
stage and become a politician? It’s not possible. I decided to use music, and
to speak directly [to people] with rap” (2000a). The opening dialogue of Niite
Mr. II displays the directness and the social message that Mr. II wanted to
achieve. The “Intro” track is a conversation between a judge, speaking in a
deep, menacing voice, and Mr. II, who sounds unmoved and indifferent.6
While the dialogue between Mr. II and the judge may sound improbable—why would a judge sentence a youth to five years of hard labor for
loitering?—loitering is a criminal offense in Tanzania. Since the late 1960s,
the Tanzanian government has made efforts to remove youth who loiter
from the streets of Dar es Salaam. In 1972, it launched Operation Kupe
(Operation Parasite) to send jobless youth in Dar es Salaam to rural areas
of the country (Burton 2005 and forthcoming). Four years later, the government initiated Operation Kila Mtu Afanya Kazi (Everyone Must Work). But
in 1983, the government made its strongest attack on urban joblessness:
Mr. II
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Kutokana na ushahidi wa upande
Based on the evidence presented by
wa mashtaka
the prosecution
Mshatikiwa unaonekana una hatia You are accused of negligence and
ya kosa la uzembe na uzururaji.
Hivi basi mahakama
Therefore, the court
Inakuhukumu miaka mitano jela
Hereby sentences you to five years
na kazi ngumu au faini ya elfu
of hard labor or a fi ne of $20.
Do you have anything to say for
Una lolote la kujitetea?
Mr. II:
Mr. II:
Poa tu, Mheshimiwa Hakimu.
Mimi kosa langu ni uzembe
na uzururaji kama
Sasa, kwa maana hio sina kazi,
Sasa ukami nitazofanya?
Kwa hiyo nitapoa tu kwenye jela,
Yote [ni] maisha.
That’s fi ne, Honorable Judge.
My crime is negligence and
loitering, as I have been accused.
So, that means that I don’t have a
job. You see?
How can I be told to pay the fi ne?
So, I will just (go) rot in jail,
That’s life.
forcing them to pay bribes (Andersson and Stavrou 2001), numerous young
people continue to gather in downtown urban areas to discuss their situations and devise strategies for fi nding employment. Mr. II’s introduction is
therefore a reminder of the dilemmas youth face: they have no work, nor
many opportunities for work, yet they are treated as criminals or vagabonds for sitting idle. By pointing out the hypocrisy of the situation, Mr.
II gives a heavy-handed critique of government policies. At the same time,
he is emboldening youth to understand their social plight. In the song that
follows the “Intro,” he speaks directly to these youth and offers a broader
social critique.
The laidback music of the song is punctuated with Mr. II’s deep, angry
voice. He directs the song at other youth, whom he tells of the obstacles that
they continually encounter. He attacks Tanzanian politicians, calling them
liars, and hints at the corruption that exists in the country when leaders can
remain in power for decades uncontested. In the middle of the next verse,
he raps, “I am saying that it is all right for youth to be mad. / This is the
real situation. / Yeah! It is all right to be mad. / Who is going to put things
right?” With these words, Mr. II tells other youth that they can be angry
about social inequality and political incompetence. While not advocating
Mr. II
“Hali Halisi” (“The Real Situation”)
violence, he is encouraging young people to stand up for themselves and
voice their opinions. The answer to who is going to put things right is youth
themselves. According to Mr. II, young people have the power and the need
to make their voices heard.
When Mr. II released “Hali Halisi,” it could be heard throughout
the country, in rural and urban areas. Shopowners blasted it from their
stores, bus drivers let it play repeatedly during their routes, and radio stations aired it several times a day. The cassette Niite Mr. II sold so quickly
during the fi rst few months after its release that vendors started inflating
Uzalendo unanishinda, miaka
Naona sura zile zile, viongozi wale
Toka wakati nipo shule mpaka
Usicheze na siasa,
Siasa ni mchezo mchafu
Wanataka umaarufu.
Wanasiasa wa Bongo wengi
Our lives are hard, even the
president knows
And we still have our smiles for
every situation,
Every real situation
Everyday it’s us and the police, the
police and us.
[Pontius] Pilate in the court is
waiting for us.
The wardens and the jails are
waiting for us.
In Tanzania, things are not good,
Things are still very hard.
Greetings to John Paul II
Angry citizens are burning people
Those of us that do not have jobs,
stay hungry.
When we are tired of peace, who
are we going to fight with?
As years go by, I become tired of
I see the same faces, the same
From primary school until the
Do not play with politics,
Politics is a dirty game.
They just want to be famous.
Lots of Tanzanian politicians are
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Tuna maisha magumu mpaka rais
Na bado tunatabasamu kwa kila
Ni hali halisi
Kila siku ni sisi na polisi na polisi
na sisi.
Pilato kizimbani anatungoja sisi.
Bwana jela gerezani anatungoja
Bongo mambo siyo mazuri,7
Jua bado kali.
Salamu kwa Papa John Paul wa
Wananchi wenye hasira wachoma
watu moto.
Tusio na kazi sasa tuko na
matumbo joto.
Tutapochoka amani tutapigana na
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its cost to make more money, but it still sold out within days after every
new shipment. The popularity of the song and the album reflected the way
that Tanzanians, particularly youth in urban areas, identified with Mr. II’s
message. Though some people did criticize Mr. II for being too vocal and disrespectful of his elders, many others rejoiced in a rap anthem that reflected
their concerns. The song was important for uniting disenfranchised youth
who believed that the government was discriminating against them and
not serving their interests.
After the release of Mr. II’s album, many other artists incorporated
similar political and social themes in their music. While I address social
concerns below, it is worth looking at the development of politically based
lyrics here to highlight the progression of one theme promulgated in rap
lyrics. Before and after the 2000 presidential election, several songs that
critiqued the local political situation appeared. Most of them attacked corruption, inefficient government spending, and the use of Western aid to
line wealthy Tanzanians’ pockets. Several artists used language to target
specific audiences. In the song “Ngangari” (“Brave Person”), Magangwe
Mob, also spelled Gangwe Mobb, employed slang from the Temeke section
of Dar es Salaam to speak about political issues relevant to that part of the
city. The select use of language created pride among members of the Temeke
community, who often attended Magangwe Mob concerts with banners
heralding their home district and neighborhoods. Despite the heavy use of
Temeke-centric speech, “Ngangari” eventually garnered a large listening
audience throughout Dar es Salaam (Perullo and Fenn 2003).
Other artists limited slang and used “standard” Kiswahili in their
political raps. In “Mwananchi” (“Citizen,” 2001), Balozi Dola warned Tanzanians about the difficulties involved in choosing a new president. He
composed the rap to “awaken people and have them speak out about how
they feel” (Dola 2004). In the opening verse, he states his position on the
role that citizens need to play in contemporary politics.
Dola does not name politicians, but the song can be read as a critique
of how CCM, the dominant political party, has governed. In one form or
another, CCM has been in power in Tanzania since independence. To Dola,
the policies of its government have exacerbated Tanzanians’ problems:
I was really angry to see that CCM continued in their usual
tradition of promising what they were not going to deliver.
Sitting outside my home at Ilala [a district in Dar es Salaam],
I started to look around me and see the improvised state that
people live in—from muddy houses with thatched straws to
brick houses with no lights, dirt all over the place. Most live
off selling vegetables and fruits that cost a few cents, and they
will be lucky to earn $3 a day, not enough to feed an extended
family of five to ten people. The government preaches that
gospel of democracy and the promise of a better tomorrow,
but they don’t fully understand what it means. (2004)
Balozi Dola
“Mwananchi” (“Citizen”)
Mwananchi mimi nina nini?
Kwenye nchi yenye kila aina ya
mali asili
Zaidi ya masakini uliokithiri
Blaming the CCM government for its lack of effort in assisting ordinary
people, Dola’s song references the wealth of the country that never reaches
the majority of the city. Calling for change and new leadership, Dola
implores citizens to evaluate the candidates for whom they vote. The line
“Considering we have smart people to solve our problems” entreats Tanzanians to look for an intelligent leader, not one who simply follows the
practices of previous administrations.
“Mwananchi” made an impact among radio listeners. The 2000 presidential elections had just ended, with CCM retaining power. Many people
believed that the elections would perpetuate the problems of the past. Dola
describes the song’s reception after it was broadcast on radio:
DJ LP played the song on Africa FM.8 He asked callers to call
in and say what they felt about the song. It was like a townhall-meeting type of atmosphere, with a lot of angry people
calling in to say that the policies of CCM were not working,
and accusing leaders of being corrupt and incompetent to
lead. LP had to switch the topic because it started to get out
of hand. (2004)
We don’t want a leader that’s going
to sell our country off and
change our flag.
Let’s be very careful, so that we
choose leaders with wisdom,
Leaders with visions of progress
We want patriotic leaders.
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Na vipi tuwe na vitu vyote hivi na
mfukoni tusiwena chochote?
Swala hila ndani iliulizwa kichwa
Hasa ukizingitia kwamba Bongo
tuna vichwa vingetatua
matatizo yetu yote.
Wananchi wenzangu,
tunapochagua kiongozi wetu
hapa kwetu
Tuemakini ili tuchague viongozi
wenye busara,
Viongozi wenye ishara ya
Tunataka mzalendo wala ushiba
na kujaa maji ya bandera.
Tusijatuchagua mtu wa kuuza
yetu nchi na kubadalisha yetu
What do I have as a citizen?
In a country with abundant
natural resources
Other than the inherent poverty
that keeps increasing
How can we have all this and have
nothing in our pockets?
This situation keeps blowing my
Considering we have smart people
to solve our problem.
My fellow citizens, when we
choose our leaders
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Although most rappers believe that they are free to state their opinions in
rhythm, none directly mentions individuals or political parties in their
lyrics. The same can be said of radio announcers. With the wave of angry
callers, DJ LP most likely feared negative repercussions from airing so
many criticisms of CCM. Since several radio stations in Dar es Salaam
are owned by businessmen who support CCM or rely on CCM’s support to
advance their business concerns, DJ LP was unlikely to allow such explicit
commentary to be heard on his show. Nonetheless, the effect of Dola’s song
was clear within the fi rst few minutes of the broadcast: it formed a bond
among those youth who blamed CCM for many of the country’s problems;
and it created an outlet for listeners to voice their views of the country’s
political leaders.
After the 2000 presidential election, drawing listeners’ attention to
a song by listing problems with government policies and practices became
more difficult. Artists could still rap about corruption, political negligence,
and misguided governance, but they needed to present these ideas in new
ways. In the early 2000s, one of the best ways to critique politics, as well as
social and economic situations, was through humor. Humor allowed artists to continue to make ujumbe mkali, while listeners could laugh at the
absurdity of country’s political environment.
One popular Tanzanian rap that mixed politics with humor was
“Ndio Mzee”(“Yes Elder”), by Professor Jay. In the song, Professor Jay acts as
a knowledgeable elder proposing numerous ways to transform the country
and rid it of its problems (Jay 2001b). Youth commonly call one another by
the term mzee, which means “elder” in Kiswahili: in a subtle alteration of
language, they appropriate the social power of being called mzee. In “Ndio
Mzee,” however, Jay becomes a real elder (someone senior in age) and a
politician, to highlight what he sees as the inadequacies of the country’s
leaders. The song shows the falseness and absurdity of real elders’ promises.
In the transcription and translation below, the voice of the elder politician
appears without quotes, while the answer of a group of supporters appears
in quotes.
“Ndiyo Mzee” was extremely popular in Dar es Salaam in 2001, when
it was released. It dominated airplay on many local radio stations, and the
lyrics were repeated and sung by Tanzanian youth—a practice that often
occurs when a song reflects common concerns. Having attended political
speeches or heard them on the radio, many urban Tanzanians understood
that politicians made extravagant promises during their campaigns, but
these promises were rarely fulfi lled, and only acted as a means for garnering votes or political support. While broken promises by politicians are
certainly not isolated to Tanzanian politics, many Tanzanians have become
cynical of their leaders’ extravagant claims for fi xing the country’s problems. Professor Jay seizes on this cynicism to present a politician rallying
support during a speech. In the opening verse, the politician makes confident statements about his political abilities. After recognizing the problems
that exist, he tells his audience that he will bring major changes if elected.
Professor Jay
“Ndio Mzee” (“Yes, Elder”)
Nipe hiyo nafasi jamani
Hamuoni hali ni mbaya?
Nataka kuigeuza Tanzania kama
Hivi nanii, ni vijimambo, “Ndiyo
Na vinanikera kweli kweli mimi,
“Ndiyo Mzee.”
Basi hali itabadilika, sawa?
“Ndiyo Mzee.”
Na hatamu tutaishika,okay?
“Ndiyo Mzee.”
Every person will get theirs,
conductors and ticket takers.
I will make Tanzanians happy,
“Yes Mzee.”
I am accepted, am I not? “Yes
So, I am your Savior my friends,
“Yes Mzee.”
And I will get rid of all your
problems, “Yes Mzee.”
These things, they are infuriating,
“Yes Mzee.”
And they really annoy me, “Yes
So, things will change, okay? “Yes
And, I will take the reins [as a
political official] okay? “Yes
Watu wa vijijini watasahau habari
za visima.
Nitafadhili wachawi waweze
kutengeneza ndege.
Kila mtu awe na yake, makonda
na wapiga debe.
Si mtafurahi waTanzania jamani,
“Ndiyo Mzee.”
Si ni kweli nakubalika jamani,
“Ndiyo Mzee.”
Basi mimi Mkombozi wenu, Jama,
“Ndiyo Mzee.”
Na nitafuta shida zenu zote,
“Ndiyo Mzee.”
Mabomba yatatoa maji na maziwa
nchi nzima.
Students will do their practical on
the moon.
In the hospital, I will put as much
medicine as there is sand.
I will open [bank] accounts for
every young child.
Pipes will deliver water and milk
to the entire country.
Villagers will forgot [problems]
with wells.
I will help witchdoctors build
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Cha kwanza nitakachikifanya,
nitafuta umasikini.
Wanafunzi mtafanyia practical
Kwenye mahospitali, nitamwaga
dawa kama mchanga.
Nitafungua account kwa kila
mtoto mchanga.
I would like to take this
opportunity my friends
Can’t you see how bad things are?
I would like to change Tanzania to
be like Europe.
The fi rst thing that I will do is
abolish poverty.
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Along with turning Tanzania into Europe, he will bring milk, water, bank
accounts, and medicine. The absurdity of his claims, with Tanzanians’ real
desire for some of them to materialize, creates the humor of the song.
Hip-hop lyrics help legitimize youth ideologies to the broader public,
adults and elders. Often, this process is difficult to notice, as changes in
perception are subtle and based on individual relations to a song. Occasionally, however, responses to rap lyrics surface in public spaces. In a speech
in Mtwara, the south of Tanzania, President Benjamin Mkapa reportedly
said there is no room in his government for people who have a policy of
“ndio mzee.”9 The comment, received with great laughter at the meeting, used Professor Jay’s song to make the point that politicians should no
longer be able to make bold claims and exaggerate their abilities. Mkapa’s
speech emphasized the potential for rap lyrics to reach even the highest
levels of government, thereby empowering the voices of youth. This remark
pleased Professor Jay, who relished the fact that his words could have such a
significant impact.10
Mkapa’s use of Professor Jay’s lyric can be viewed as a political tactic:
he humorously acknowledged criticisms of his administration while commenting that people who make false promises were no longer allowed in
his government, diffusing the tension created by public interest in the song.
But does this mean that Professor Jay’s rap will effect actual changes in the
Mkapa administration? Unlikely. While public interest in “Ndio Mzee” was
enough for Mkapa to take notice, the lyrics are only part of a movement for
changes to be made in government: Tanzanian journalists, radio announcers, television personalities, businessmen, academics, and others take part
in the dialogue supporting or criticizing the administration. Nonetheless,
rap, as exemplified by “Ndio Mzee,” is powerful enough to reach mass audiences quickly, influence people’s (particularly youths’) outlook on issues,
and place pressures on various areas of Tanzanian society. Since freedom
of speech has increased during the postsocialist period and youth control
many areas of the media, rappers’ lyrics quickly move into broader public
spaces, encouraging comment and reaction. The effects of these lyrics
depend on individual listeners. In certain circumstances, a well-articulated
rap can strengthen the presence of youth voices, opinions, and ideologies in
contemporary society.
Social Conditions
Rap songs that discuss politics are often angry and resentful; even the
humorous ones have a resentful undertone. Though they do not blame any
particular individual, there is a sense, as Mr. II states, that politics is a
dirty game, one that will never become clean. Some nonpolitical Tanzanian
hip-hop songs, however, present an even direr message. Rap songs about
social conditions are often far grimmer than political commentary, since
they add personal narratives that explore the harsher realities of living in
urban Africa.
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A prominent theme of raps about social conditions is unemployment. Songs such as Uswahili Matola’s “Ajira kwa Vijana” (“Employment
for Youth”) and Juma Nature and AY’s “Biashara ya Utumwe” (“Slave
Business”) comment on the difficulties of living in a city where youth are
more likely to be seen on streetcorners than in workplaces. Several rap artists comment on Tanzanians’ standards of living. Songs such as Wachuja
Nafaka’s “Dhiki” (“Hardships”), the Daznundaz’s “Maji ya Shingo” (“Up
to One’s Neck”), and Hardmad’s “Picha Halisi” (“The Real Picture”)
present listeners with some of the “realities” of growing up poor and in
impoverished conditions.
Since the emergence of rap in Tanzania, artists have commented on
AIDS. One of the most popular AIDS-oriented raps of the past few years
has been Mwanafalsafa’s “Alikufa kwa Ngoma” (“He Died of AIDS,” 2002).
Mwanafalsafa narrates the story of a youth who tells his friends to protect
themselves from AIDS by using condoms. At the end of the song, however,
the youth himself dies of AIDS. Even though he had told his friends to use
condoms, he himself never had. In the video for the song, Mwanafalsafa is
shown in a coffin, dramatizing the results of dying for sex.
In many raps about social issues, the past is presented through an
idyllic lens of positivism, nationalism, and hopefulness. Professor Jay raps:
“The current situation in Bongo [Tanzania] is not like the past (Bongo ya
sasa siyo ya mwaka arobaini na saba).”11 He goes on to list the country’s
problems (older women becoming prostitutes, youth fighting one another for
jobs, and the lack of humanity and respect in Dar es Salaam), implying that
these problems did not occur in the past. Other artists look to the United
States or Europe as the solution to Tanzania’s difficulties. In “Ingeuwa
Vipi?” (“What Would it be Like?”), Mwanafalsafa asks: “What would it be
like if Bongo was like New York?” The message of these and similar songs
is that things were better in the past, or they are better in other countries.
For these artists, Tanzania is in a state of economic and social decay, where
the conditions of daily life are worse than at any other time in the country’s
recent history.
Many Tanzanian rap artists also examine class issues in their lyrics.
Magangwe Mob consists of two artists, Inspekta Haroun and Luteni Kalama,
both from Temeke. Using local vernacular and discussing life in the “ghetto,”
they voice underprivileged urban Tanzanians’ concerns. Even their name
comments on their musical agenda. Inspekta Haroun explains, “Gangwe is
a patient person who endures many problems. We decided to call ourselves
Magangwe Mob because, with our music, we are able to endure living in a
tough environment” (2001). Music became a way to cope with the problems
of living in the “ghetto,” a term Haroun uses to refer to his home area.
The song “Mtoto wa Gheti Kali” (“Upper Class Girl”) is an example
of Magangwe Mob’s attempt to compare lifestyles between the rich and the
poor in Dar es Salaam. Inspekta Haroun, who wrote the lyrics, discusses
his interest with an upper-class girl. Through the song, he discusses how
he wants to speak with her, but does not know what to say; how her family
owns many cars, but he does not even have a bike; how she wears all sorts
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of makeup, but he remains gozigozi (a black African); and, how he does not
even have enough money to buy Big G (a type of cheap bubblegum, similar
to the American Bazooka Joe). In one verse, he describes what would happen
if the wealthy girl visited his home.
The language Haroun uses to explain his home is a humorous exploration of class. The passport-sized toilet refers to outdoor latrines where
the user’s head appears over the top of the thatch walls when she or he
stands. The food consists of dona, a bad-tasting porridge made of corn flour
and okra, a cheap vegetable. The women’s home is lavish in comparison.
Through using phrases and ideas drawn from poverty, Haroun uses language
to heighten the class tension that is the focus of his rap. Listeners connect
with these linguistic cues and acknowledge their proximity to the world
that Haroun explores in rhyme.
Many of my Tanzanian male friends laughed hysterically while listening to “Mtoto wa Gheti Kali.” They enjoyed repeating the lyrics as
they confronted their fears of fi nding a girlfriend who would be willing
to endure their poverty (many Tanzanian males believe that you cannot
marry a women until you have a sufficient and steady income). On one
evening, a group of us sat together and each started a line of the song. Before
each person fi nished, everyone else had joined in reciting the lyric. By the
time we arrived at a humorous moment—as when Haroun stutters upon
fi rst meeting the wealthy woman—the group broke into ecstatic laughter.
Almost no other words were spoken except the lyrics of “Mtoto wa Gheti
Kali.” Magangwe Mob’s rap became a voice for the concerns of many male
youth. It created solidarity among mostly male lower-class residents of the
city, who fi nd their poverty to be a heavy weight on their ability not only
to make a living, but also to engage in honest relationships.
Education is an important concern for Tanzanian youth. With failing
schools, limited resources in classrooms, and teachers who fail the same
national examinations that they teach to their students, youth are aware of
the problems that exist in their schools (The East African 2001; Galabawa
et.al. 2000). Some raps about education, such as Mash Y’s “Kisa cha Mwanafunzi” (“The Student’s Story”) and Jay Moe’s “Maisha ya Boarding” (“Life
of Boarding School”), explore the experiences of life in Tanzanian schools.
Many praise other students while helping them understand the difficulties
that can occur in the classroom. Other artists put more energy into critiquing the failures of the country’s educational system. Joni Woka’s “Walimu”
(“Teachers”) comments on the reasons teachers are unable to educate their
students. Woka takes on the persona of a drunken teacher complaining
about issues that teachers encounter.
On paper, these lyrics sound angry, cold, and full of contempt, yet
Woka minimizes their directness by slurring and slowing his words, just
as a drunk person might. When he asks, “I asked a question. Why aren’t
you answering?” the effect is less confrontational than humorous. He even
belches after the question, diffusing the sort of tension he expects to be
building in the song.
Magangwe Mob
“Mtoto wa Gheti Kali” (“Upper Class Girl”)
Despite the tactics of defusing the confrontation, the rap still questions the commitment listeners have to the country’s teachers. Why are
teachers struggling with such low salaries? Why are so few teachers in
the classroom and so many on the street? Given the state of education in
Tanzania, Woka’s questions have a strong impact. There are few teachers in
the classroom. Most do not teach during regular class hours, as they hope
to force students to pay for “tuition,” which is after-school training. Many
teachers take on additional jobs, such as selling goods on the street, leaving
minimal time for classroom preparation and instruction. As a result, many
students drop out of schools to earn an income, rather than spend money on
school fees (Tripp 1997:129−130). Those who remain in schools may learn
little, or be left with, in Woka’s words, “empty heads.”
Women and Urban Society
Of all of the material that I placed in the social-conditions category, songs
about the plight of women in urban society are the most controversial. Most
Tanzanians agree that unemployment, poverty, class struggles, education,
and AIDS are problems in their country; therefore, songs that discuss these
issues are typically well received. But songs that discuss gender inequalities
are far more divisive among general listeners. The attitude of many urban
males in Dar es Salaam is that women are inferior, second-class citizens,
who need to rely on men for guidance and support (Che-Mponda 1991); they
view women as sex symbols and objects of desire. As a result, women often
Mud buildings, toilet made of
thatch, passport size,
Tell me,
Where do we welcome her?
At her home she is used to sitting
on a sofa
In a sitting room on a veranda,
Eyes on a television,
Food presented buffet style,
Served with seven types of
In my poverty stricken home, we
peck at dona and okra.
She make me crazy.
Aaah ananipagawisha.
The problem is when she’ll want
to see my home
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Tatizo ni pale atakapohitaji
kutembelea nyumbani wakati
Jumba la udongo, choo cha
makuti, passport size,
Ni tonye,
Ni tumkaribishe wapi?
Kwao kashazoea kuketi sofani,
Sitting room, varandani,
Jicho kideoni,
Msosi wa draft, self service,
Mboga saba kujisevia
Kwetu ngangari, dona bamia.
Joni Woka
“Walimu” (“Teachers”)
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Walimu tuna hali ngumu.
Na sisi tuna umuhimu.
Tutazua kitimutimu,
Hadi Wizara ya Elimu.

Haki mnatetea walimu sijasikia.
Hivi vilio vya walimu mnavisikia?
Au mnaamua tu kuvichunia?
Maisha yao duni mnachekelea.
Wakifanya biashara ndogo
We teachers have a hard life.
But we are important.
We will march and cause trouble,
All the way to the Ministry of

I have not heard you defending
So you hear the teachers’ cries?
Or have you decided to ignore
You are happy with their poor
Mshahara mdogo ataishi vipi huyu
standard of life.
If they engage in some petty
Kama si kuuza pipi na ubuyu?
Watoto wenu wanatukana darasani
business you reprimand them.
With the small salary how will
Wanapiga walimu hawana kitu
this teacher live
If not by selling candies and
Hivi matatizo haya yataisha lini?
Your children use profanities in
OK let us go kijijini.
They beat up their teachers, but
Na hii inanitia uchungu moyoni.
Walimu watatu tu wapo shuleni.
they have empty heads.
When will these problems end?
Wagawane masomo waingie
OK let us go to the village.
Wakati mitaani walimu
And this causes pain in my heart.
Wakitoka vyuoni ajira hakuna.
There are only three teachers in
the school.
Ngoja niweke lilizo langu bayana: They divide the classes and go to
Bila walimu viongozi wangetoka
While there are many teachers on
the streets
Nauliza sasa mbona mnanyamaza? When they graduate from college,
there is no employment.
Let me lay out my complaint in
the open:
Without teachers how would we
have gotten leaders?
I asked a question, why aren’t you
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become victims of domestic violence and public beatings (Moyer 2003:
chapter 8); some become prostitutes to gain fi nancial independence, and
many are excluded from the best and most lucrative jobs.
Even though many people in Dar es Salaam view women as inferior to
men, Tanzania has organizations, media programming, and cultural groups
that promote gender equality. Radio shows carry programs about women’s
ability to divorce, own property, and protect themselves in sexual encounters. Television shows teach youth about the roles that men and women
need to play in protecting themselves from HIV/AIDS. Organizations such
as the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) hold meetings,
training workshops, and lectures on gender issues. These forums tend to
debate issues respectfully and use education as a means to empower men
and women to make changes. Several rappers, however, choose more confrontational tactics to transform local cultural practices and attack specific
social elements that they believe need to be changed.
The fi rst rap artist to confront the treatment of women in Tanzanian
society openly and directly was Mr. II, whose song “Chini ya Miaka Kumi
na Nane” (“Under the Age of 18”) became the most popular rap in Tanzania in late 2000. It discusses the distress of a girl who becomes involved in
transactional sex, and her subsequent status.
The personal narrative style that Mr. II uses adds to the overall affect
of the song. Through using his encounters with one girl, he personalizes the
struggles that women endure. It is an effective means of making listeners
understand that the plight of women is something real, something visible,
and something human. In this way, listeners sympathize with the girl, or,
at least, learn about the problems of young, female Tanzanians. Toward
the end of the song, Mr. II speaks directly to women: “I will not call you
bad names / I will not call you a prostitute. . . . / Us men are uncivilized.”
He then quietly repeats the word pole “sorry”. The point of the song is to
illustrate the problems that young girls encounter and recognize that men
need to change how they view and interact with women.
Since Mr. II was an important figure in Tanzanian society at the time
he wrote the song, his words influenced people’s conceptions of women.
Radio shows, such as “Deiwaka” on Radio Uhuru and “Dr. Beat” on Clouds
FM, aired the rap and discussed its meaning. Listeners called in and debated
the importance of the song. Newspapers and magazines carried stories
about Mr. II and his music (Ngahyoma 2001; Osiah 2001). Even though
many of these outlets typically shied away from directly discussing the
hardships that women face, Mr. II’s narrative made a sensitive topic more
accessible. People could ask, “What do you think about the woman that Mr.
II encountered?” They did not need to describe women’s shame or “bad life,”
but could instead use the encounter as a basis for debate.
Though many public dialogues about “Chini ya Miaka Kumi na
Nane” raised questions about women’s status in Tanzanian society, several
radio personalities and authors misinterpreted the lyrics of the song. In an
album review in the glossy rap magazine Rockers, Seer writes, “The fi fth
Mr. II
“Chini ya Miaka Kumi na Nane” (“Under the Age of 18”)
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Ana miaka chini ya kumi na nane
Wanamwita malaya
Kilio nikimtazama, macho
yanatazama chini
Hawezi kunitazama usoni.
Ana uzuli moyoni.
Hana tena furaha maishani.
Sitamwita kwa jina nitamwita
binti fulani.

Kila na anapopita watu
wanamtazama kama cinema.
Hataweza kurudi kwa baba na
Anaishi maisha mabaya.
Hawamwita tena kwa jina,
wanamwita malaya.
She is under 18 years old
They call her a prostitute
Every time I look at her, her eyes
are looking down
She can’t look at me in the face.
She has beauty in her heart.
She no longer has happiness in her
I can’t call her by name, I call her
the daughter of so-and-so.

Whenever she passes, people look
at her like a movie.
She can’t return to her father or
She lives a bad life.
They will not call her by name
again; they will call her a
track admonishes our loose and way [sic] ward sisters from becoming playa
fodder. A mere stiletto step away from the lows of prostitution and fi nally
the slammer, all before their 18th birthday” (2000). Seer places the blame
for prostitution on sexually active women who stray from social norms,
implying that all women can easily become prostitutes. His interpretation
highlights the Tanzanian difficulty in discussing gender issues, even with
regard to a song meant to question specific cultural practices.
After “Chini ya Miaka Kumi na Nane,” only a few artists rapped as
directly and clearly about Tanzanian women’s struggles. King Crazy GK
rapped about young women’s plight in “Sisters,” and many others, including
Professor Jay and Balozi Dola, included in their songs verses that discussed
women’s life in Dar es Salaam. Several years after Mr. II’s song, female rappers began to address the situation. Their delay reflects the difficulties they
face in becoming performers. Many who perform as entertainers in public
are quickly labeled prostitutes (Perullo 2003). Girls are at a disadvantage
when learning to rap, since, according to several artists, they are expected
to return home after school to help with chores, while boys can do other
things, such as practice rapping. Many families do not let their daughters
out at night, when most rap concerts occur, for fear that something bad
will happen to them. Therefore, female voices are often neglected in public
discourses on social injustices.
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Since 2001, however, several female artists, such as Ray C, Sista P, and
Zay B, have become popular in the Tanzanian rap scene. Zay B, whose real
name is Zainab Lipangile, has made a name for herself with tough, socially
conscious lyrics. Having performed in clubs in Dar es Salaam, released an
album (Mama Afrika, 2002), and earned the respect of many fans, she has
used her music as a voice to empower Tanzanian women. One of her more
poignant songs, “Mama Afrika” (“Mother Africa”), speaks directly to young
women—sometimes called children (watoto) in the lyrics—and comments
on their need to take control of their lives.
The opening verse of “Mama Afrika” is striking for two reasons. First,
the lyrics are bold and aggressive. Zay B warns “children” not to “walk”
with elders (to walk is slang for “to have sex”). She notes that men give gifts
to women in return for sex. Well-off men (buzi) provide women with gifts,
including candy, food, drinks, and clothes.12 They often give these gifts at
clubs, such as the Aqwa. Zay B suggests that the gifts are insignificant,
not worth the problems that sex can cause. Importantly, she uses the word
rape to refer to the sexual act of wealthy men buying the sexual favors of
young “children.” Second, the opening verse attempts to unify women to
take control of their lives. In the chorus of the song, Zay B calls all women
of the continent “Mother Africa,” and tells them to not fall behind, but
to get a good education. She directs them to be careful and to not “play”
around, since life is fi lled with traps. She ends the verse by telling women
that the choice of their futures is in their hands: if they want to end up
hawking cheap goods (“rice fritters”) on the streets, that is a choice that
y make. Unlike Mr. II, who blames men for mistreating women, Zay B
tells women that the problems they encounter are due to their decisions.
The better choices women make, the better able they will be to make a
prosperous living.
Zay B wrote “Mama Afrika” to strengthen women’s position in
Tanzania. She says, “Many Tanzanian women are reticent and have no
confidence. . . . This song encouraged a lot of women to be stronger. Even
men told me that they agreed with the song’s message” (2005). Although
her song was popular, few subsequent rappers have tackled similar issues so
directly. (Even she has not released any new material since 2002.) Typically,
a theme that becomes popular is recycled in numerous raps. Because of the
tension that rap about gender can cause, up-and-coming artists are unlikely
to release a song about women’s social roles. Established rappers may not
agree that gender is the most important issue to present in socially conscious rap, or that it even needs to be discussed. Further, many female artists fi nd more success rapping about love, romance, and personal strength.
Rap about gender equality is therefore bound to stay on the periphery of the
Tanzanian hip-hop scene.
Zay B
“Mama Afrika”
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Watoto wa kike wanabakwa
Kwa ajili ya pipipipi na offa za
Tunadhalilisha na kuonekana
chombo cha starehe.
Tujaribu kujitunza.
Watoto wadogo msiende kutembea
na wazee.
Fuatini wosia, hiyo tabia
Tujithamini na tujiheshimu.
Tusikae nyuma tuzingatie elimu
Wazazi tuwape heshima zao.
Watoto tusiwatie wazimu.
Kujirusha poa hakuna noma kama
Lakini unakuwa take care.
Siyo unacheza kama makinda
Hasa mnaochipukia hamjui wapi
Mnaleta mapepe, angalia
Mnacheza na dunia.
Ishi kijanjajanja.
Mtego unaotega unajifanya unajua
Shauri lako utaishia kuuza
Girls are raped
When they are offered gifts at
We are demeaned like an object of
We should take care of ourselves.
Children, do not walk with male
Follow these orders so that these
traits do not continue
We value and respect ourselves.
Let’s not fall behind, let’s focus on
our education
Parents should respect us.
Children, let us not push adults to
There is nothing wrong with
having fun,
But, you should take care.
Don’t act immature
Especially since, as you grow,
you don’t know where you are
running to
You bring about silliness, look out
You are playing with the world.
Life is cunning.
The trap you set for yourself, you
will know
It is your problem if you live to
sell rice fritters.
Reasons for Ujumbe Mkali
A few years later, as lyrics started to be composed in Kiswahili rather than
English, Tanzanians relied less on the lyrical content of American rap;
instead, they localized rap with ideas and themes that exemplified their
own struggles. The combination of linguistic changes and the localization
I started to rap in O level, when I was in the seventh grade.
In 1989, there were many different styles of rap music being
heard in Tanzania. During this time, I listened to rap such as
Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” This music really drew me
straightaway to become a rapper because I saw the way that
a black man was able to search for his own thing [identity].
Public Enemy had the power to stand somewhere and speak
with people. Those people listened to what the group had to
say, and followed their message, so it was this type of thing
that drew me to rap—people such as Public Enemy, L. L. Cool
J, KRS-One, and others like that. (2001a)
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In many countries, rap has political and socially conscious lyrics. In Brazil,
Senegal, South Africa, Japan, and the United States, rappers have turned the
basic form—rhyming over beats—into a powerful voice for youth ideologies (Mitchell 2001; Watkins 2004). Part of the reason for this style of lyrics
reflects the origins of the genre. During the 1970s in New York City, rap
emerged as part of hip-hop culture, which included graffiti, breakdancing,
and deejaying; essentially, it functioned to get people to dance, and was not
a kind of “urban streetgeist” (Samuels 2004:148). As its popularity grew
and it was disseminated through albums and concerts, its verbal meanings
changed, and it engaged larger audiences of people, rather than just those
on a dance floor (Dimitriadis 2001). Groups such as Public Enemy and
Boogie Down Productions brought elements of urban, African-American
lifestyles into public consciousness (Rose 1994:11). This process attracted
young people from various sociocultural backgrounds, nationally and internationally (Bennett 2004:179). It produced lyrics that were political and
commented directly on social issues.
It was around this time, the mid-1980s, that many Tanzanian youth
fi rst heard rap. Initially, mostly affluent youth has access to it, since they
could rely on relatives and friends in Europe or the United States to send
them albums and cassettes. These youth, such as Conway Francis and
Fresh X, either mimicked the American rap they heard, or wrote raps that
reflected the ideas on the albums. By the late 1980s, youth from all over
Tanzania had become interested in rap, particularly as the copying of
albums and cassettes had become prevalent. Since many Tanzanians heard
the music of rappers who spoke about daily life (performers such as Public
Enemy, KRS-One, and NWA), they brought this element into their own
musical compositions. Professor Jay explains:
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of lyrics allowed Tanzanian rap to appeal to a broad audience throughout
Aside from the influence of American rap, the Dar es Salaam music
scene plays an important role in shaping the content of rap lyrics. To receive
airtime or a distribution contract, artists often have to listen to the advice
of deejays, record producers, and, less commonly, record distributors. The
leaders of this industry, many of whom are youth themselves, enforce
strict guidelines for rap lyrics. Songs have to be about important social
issues, make sense to local listeners, and avoid the topics of violence and
sex. John Dilinga, a radio announcer on East Africa FM (a Tanzanian radio
station), explains: “If I know you and your music is bad—that is, if it does
not make any sense to society—I do not play it. If I think that it is leading society astray, I do not play it. If I think that it is educating society, I
play it and promote it” (2002). Since deejays act as gatekeepers and thereby
greatly influence the success and popularity of songs, rappers need to be
sure that some of the content that they submit to radio shows is socially or
culturally significant.
To avoid cursing is also an important part of the local rap scene, since
most Tanzanians consider swearing unacceptable in public. Taji Liundi,
manager and radio announcer at Times FM, explains why Tanzanian
rappers do not swear, even though their American counterparts do:
That is because from the very beginning I was the only one
playing hip hop on radio and I decided that I am not going to
put on the songs with the explicit content. If they [the artists]
brought music in that had cursing, I would not play it. And at
concerts, I would get them off the stage, make a lot of noise,
and look disappointed. (2000)
Tanzanian rappers, fans, and radio announcers discourage the use of profanity or vulgar language in hip-hop songs. The rap community usually ignores
artists who curse in English, and no one, to my knowledge, has rapped a
song in Kiswahili with vulgar lyrics (although several groups have had their
songs pulled from the radio because people thought the content too strong).
As Liundi points out, the rap community is direct about discouraging
vulgarity in rap because it distracts from the message in the song.
Tanzania’s socialist past also affects contemporary rap music.
Although socialism officially ended in the 1980s, it remains an important
influence on local cultural and educational practices. Many musicians view
their role in society as educators of the public—a conception that was greatly
strengthened during the socialist period. Tanzanian rappers adopted this
“educational voice” in an attempt to legitimize their music to a wider community and form an outlet for youth voices. An “educational voice” allows
youth to disrupt conceptions that people have of youth as hooligans.
In commenting on the need for more educational music, Wilfred
Edwin writes in the Tanzanian newspaper Business Times, “Musicians
Rap has become popular all over Africa, and has availed youth on the continent opportunities to create their own identities as popular musicians.
Almost anyone can participate in the genre, since it is both cheap (i.e., does
not require instruments) and widely accessible (on radio, television, schools,
and clubs). In Tanzania, it dominates the daily lives of many urban youth.
Though many Tanzanians still see it as a music for hooligans, no other
occupation has lifted youth so dramatically out of poverty into wealth and
fame. Several Tanzanian rappers have become wealthy and bought new cars,
homes, and fancy clothes; several groups have traveled to Europe, the United
States, and other areas of East Africa. For people growing up in Tanzania,
those who fi nd success in rap are far from hooligans: they are role models
and knowledge holders, who openly discuss the problems that Tanzanian
youth encounter.
This conclusion does not imply that Tanzanian youth hold a unified
vision for their country. As several authors have commented in other contexts, “It should be clear that ‘youth’ is not seen as a unified entity with a
collective consciousness in pursuit of clearly defi ned objectives” (Van Zyl
Slabbert et al. 1994:15). Tanzanian youth are no exception. They frequently
disagree on many issues, both in lyrics and in conversation. They often
debate topics and, though rarely, have slandered one another in song. Tanzanian rap lyrics are not always about political or social issues: nearly the
same number of artists currently release material about partying, dancing,
and love as they do with ujumbe mkali.
For many Tanzanian youth, rap songs with ujumbe mkali exist to
destroy stereotypical notions of youth culture, solidify and strengthen
local communities, and correct problems that appear in everyday life. As
an empowering form of legitimization, rap gives voice to many youth, often
labeled as marginal, violent, or lost. And while these labels have meaning
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have failed to utilize the opportunity by informing and educate [sic] their
audience, but have some [sic] how managed to dwindle and misinform
them. Those old goldies taught us a great deal of lessons. Even if one would
not know what is happening, he was likely to be told through the music”
(2003:10). Edwin comments that “old goldies,” which generally means songs
written after independence and during the socialist period, were far more
educational than contemporary music; several rap groups, however, are an
exception: “Thanks to some of the hip hop and rap musicians like Wagosi
wa Kaya, Johnnie Walker and Mr. Ebbo for delivering to the mass [sic] current and vibrant messages which educate their audience. They should keep
the spirits up” (Edwin 2003:10).13 Many other Tanzanians, particularly
those of the generations that grew up under socialism, similarly conceive of
music. It is this audience, as well as the country’s young people, that youth
hope to reach when incorporating educational issues in their music.
in certain contexts, the labels creative, empowered, and socially conscious
are important to comprehend the state of contemporary youth in Africa. KR,
a rapper from the groups G.W.M. and Wachuja Nafaka, states, “Rappers are
modern poets because whatever they write is able to shake up the minds of
even older people. That is why I can say that now, here in Bongo [Tanzania],
rap music is more popular than any other genre” (2000).
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I am grateful to Deo Ngonyani and Ahmed Dola for their comments on the transcriptions and
translations of the lyrics found in this article. All errors or omissions, however, are my own.
One author reported that unemployment in Tanzania is at 13 percent (Mihayo 2003). Not
only is it unclear how Mihayo arrived at this statistic, but it seems improbably low. A significant percentage of employment in Tanzania is in the informal sector. Formal employment is limited—which would make unemployment figures much higher than 13 percent;
unemployment in Tanzania is likelier nearer to Kenya’s 40 percent.
In this article, I use the term youth to translate the Kiswahili word kijana. Generally, kijana
refers to any young person between the ages of 15 and 30, but it can also refer to unmarried
older individuals.
Tanzania African National Union (TANU) was the government’s political party between 1961
and 1977. After merging with the Zanzibar Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP), it became the Chama cha
Mapinduzi (CCM) or the Revolutionary Party.
Several artists traveled outside of Tanzania to record their music. Also, during the 1980s, the
Culturally, many practices remained rooted in socialist ideology. The economic transition
Tanzania Film Company (TFC) recorded music in Tanzania.
toward capitalism and the tendency to maintain socialist ideologies in cultural and political
affairs is best termed postsocialism. The movement from socialism to postsocialism (rather
than socialism to capitalism) has occurred in several formerly socialist countries in Eastern
Europe (Verdery 1996). Elsewhere, I provide a more detailed discussion of postsocialism in
Tanzania (Perullo 2003).
The Judge is played by Balozi Dola, a Tanzanian rapper, whose voice was modified to make
it sound deeper and more threatening. The initial announcement of the court case is the
voice of rapper Saigon.
Bongo literally means “wisdom”, but is slang for “(1) the knowledge and skills needed to
survive in difficult circumstances; (2) the city of Dar es Salaam; (3) Tanzania.” In this example,
Mr. II is referring to Tanzania, where people need wisdom to survive. Tanzanian rap is often
called bongo flava “the flavor of Bongo.”
The names of the deejay and the radio station have been changed for this article.
The reports of this speech come from a several journalists in Tanzania, including Charles
Mateso and James Nindi.
Several other rap groups have even been offered gifts by politicians who want to thank
the artists for their work. The regional commissioner of Tanga, George Mkuchika, and the
regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam, Yusuph Makamba, separately invited the group
Wagosi wa Kaya to dinner events to thank them for their music.
The phrase mwaka arobiana na saba “the year 1947” is slang for the past, and does not refer
Buzii literally means “goat” but is slang for a male lover who provides financial support for a
woman in exchange for sex. For a discussion of buzi, see Moyer 2003.
Joni Woka’s name is occasionally written Johnnie Walker.
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