Interview with Nash MC – hip hop artist from Tanzania
By Adam Rodgers Johns
Whilst at the 30th Swahili Colloquium in Bayreuth, Germany, I met the Tanzanian hip hop artist Nash MC. Nash had been invited to the conference to perform as well as to talk about his grassroots work in Dar es Salaam promoting the Swahili language. During the conference I spoke to Nash about the political situation in Tanzania and the history of hip hop in the country. I also bought a CD from Nash entitled ‘Mchochezi’.
There is a significant amount of literature on hip hop, for example exploring its global scope and various localised formations. Following reading the introduction to Msia Kibona Clark and Mickie Mwanzia Foster’s book ‘Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati’ (2016) I decided to send a series of questions to Nash, responding to the political meaning behind the record ‘Mchochezi’, the relationship between hip hop and social change, as well as his grassroots work in Dar es Salaam.
Nash replied to my written questions with oral responses sent via WhatsApp voice messages. What follows is an edited transcription of these responses and a translation of the interview into English.
*English translation follows Swahili transcript
- Katika wimbo unaoitwa ‘Mchochezi’, hebu tuambie, mchochezi ni mtu wa aina gani? Na je, maana hii inaashiria nini siku hizi? Kwa nini?
‘Mchochezi’ inatokana na neno la Kiswahili ‘kuchochea’. Kwa mfano, unawasha moto kupitia kuni lakini haukolei vizuri, kwa hiyo unaongezaongeza vitu ili upate nguvu zaidi. Yule anayechochea anaitwa mchochezi – analichochea jambo fulani ili hilo jambo baada ya kuchochewa linakuwa na matokeo makubwa.
Niliona ni vyema nitumie uwezo wangu wa kimashairi na sanaa kusimama kama sauti ya jamii, na nilitoa wimbo unaoitwa Kaka Suma ulikuwa unaelezea kupanda kwa nauli nchini Tanzania. Baada ya hapo serikali iliufungia huu wimbo na kunipa jina la Mchochezi. Waliniita hivyo wakiwa na maana ya kwamba mimi nachochea uvunjifu wa amani – nafanya vitu ambavyo vitasababisha uvunjifu wa amani. Kwa maana ya kwamba wimbo wangu na mashairi pengine ambayo inahamasisha watu kupigana vita ama kuhamasisha watu kuandamana na mambo ya aina hiyo. Tofauti na maudhui ya wimbo, wao walichukulia hivyo.
Serikali nyingi za Kiafrika hazipendi kukosolewa – haipendi kuona watu wakitoa maoni yao. Niliamua kufanya hivyo kuhakikisha tu kwamba kunakuwepo na hiyo hali ya kutetea watu. Siku hizi hili neno linaanzia kwa serikali kuja kwa watu ambao wanaonekana kutetea maslahi ya wananchi. Unaweza ukaona tafsiri nyingine mpya – serikali imeleta tafsiri yao ya kwamba mchochezi ni mtu anayetaka kuchochea nchi kuingia na machafuko, vita na uvunjifu wa amani.
- Kwenye wimbo huo huo wa ‘Mchochezi’ unalalamika kuhusu hali ya kisasa ambapo viongozi wanasababisha mateso ya watu wa kawaida. Kwa mfano, wizi wa madini na kusaini mikataba kwa siri n.k. Je, unaona kwamba mfumo uliofuata ujamaa – mfumo wa ubepari / soko huru ambao umewawezesha watu wachache kumiliki rasilimali ya nchi – ni mfumo wa aina gani? Ni mbaya mno?
Kwanza hii yote inatokana na mfumo wa ubepari – mfumo ambao umelazimisha watu wachache kumiliki mali kwa kiasi kikubwa na kuwacha wengine wakiwa maskini. Huu mfumo ambao umewekeza zaidi katika maslahi ya ubinafsi kuliko ile hali ya umoja. Ukitazama maisha ulivyokuwa zamani watu walivyokuwa wakiishi katika umoja na namna ya kutengeza mazingira ya kujitegemea. Mfumo wa ubepari umesabaisha watu kutokuwa na mstari mzuri kwa kuweza kutambua washike sehemu gani. Kwa hiyo ubepari umesababisha tabaka la waliokuwa nacho na wasiokuwa nacho kuwa kubwa mno.
Mfumo wa ujamaa ni mfumo ambao una misingi mizuri sana. Mimi naamini kama watu wangeweza kuwekeza zaidi katika ujamaa ama kujitegemea – vikundi vya ushiriki, vikundi vya kusaidiana – tungeweza kufika mbali zaidi. Hasa katika nchi zetu za Kiafrika – tunahitaji maendeleo ya pamoja, baada ya kujikuta kuingia kwenye swala na ubepari. Tumejikuta tuko chini zaidi – kwa hiyo tuna hali ngumu sana. Nilijaribu kuangalia hali gani ambayo imesabaisha haya na katika utafiti wangu nimekuta ni hali ya ubepari imesabaisha matatizo haya.
- Je tangu mwanzoni hip hop imekuwa ni chombo kikubwa cha ukombozi? Au hili ni jambo jipya? Naomba utuelezee maoni yako juu ya fursa au nafasi ya hip hop katika mapinduzi ya umma – unafikiri hip hop ni chombo muhimu cha kuwachochea watu? Na ni uchochezi wa aina gani?
Ukirejea katika historia na kuanzishwa kwa utamaduni wa hip hop unaweza ukaona alama zote zinazoashiria ile picha: uhalisia ya historia ambayo unaungana moja kwa moja na mapinduzi ya watu sehemu kibao duniani. Kwa maana ya kwamba utamaduni wa hip hop umechangia kwa asilimia kubwa sana kihistoria kuleta hamasa, kuchochea mambo mengi ambayo hayako sawa: kwa mfano, uchochezi wa haki za wanawake, na watu kwa jumla. Hip hop inazalisha watu ambao wanahoji, wanapata huo uhuru wa kuzumgumza. Ni utamaduni unaochochea mambo ambayo yanatafuta haki na usawa na jamii, na mabadiliko katika maisha yetu kwa kiujumla.
- Umeanzisha onyesho ya ‘Kinasa’ katika jiji la Dar es Salaam. Kinasa kwa maana pana ni ‘Kiswahili na Sanaa’ na lengo la Kinasa ni kuinua sanaa zote ambazo zitasaidia kukuza na kueneza lugha ya Kiswahili. Kwa nini lugha ya Kiswahili ni muhimu kwako, na kwa nini umeamua kuanzisha harakati hii ya “grassroots” yaani watu wa chini, au akina ‘yahe’, watu hohehahe?
Kinasa inatoa jukwaa kwa vijana ama wasanii wa hali ya chini kwa ajili ya kuendeleza lugha yetu ya Kiswahili kupitia sanaa zetu mbalimbali. Tumeangalia watu wengi wamejikuta katika matamasha ya kiutamaduni lakini haihusiani hasa na lugha. Kwa hiyo tulikaa chini tukaangalia namna tunaweza tukaunganisha nguvu – tuliamua kuanzisha Kinasa kwa maana hiyo. Kinasa inatoa nafasi kwa wasanii wa hali ya chini kabisa ambao hawana jukwaa la kuweza kupaza sauti zao, sio tu kuendeleza lugha ya kiswahili, mbali tulitumia lugha ya kiswahili kufikisha ujumbe uliokuwa sahihi kwa jamii zetu. Kwa maana ya kwamba lugha tunaitumiaje kama chombo cha kuisaidia jamii kuelezea matatizo yao – kuelezea maswali ya kiafya, matumizi ya madawa ya kulevya, ukimwi, na mambo mbalimbali ya kijamii. Tunatumia lugha kuandika mashairi ambayo yanafikisha ujumbe moja kwa moja kwa jamii.
Kwa nini lugha ya kiswahili? Kwa sababu asilimia lugha ya Kiswahii sasa hivi Afrika ni lugha namba mbili baada ya Kiarabu, na unaweza ukaona nguvu yake inavyozidi kusambaa ulimwenguni. Kwa hiyo tuna nafasi kufikia watu mbalimbali kuweza kutusikia tukizumgumza ama tukiweza kutoa kazi zetu za kisanaa kwa lugha ya Kiswahili. Mimi naamini taasisi yetu ya Kinasa ina uwezo wa kufika maeneo mengi zaidi kwa kutumia hili jukwaa letu uhuru ambalo linatoa nafasi kwa wasanii. Kuhamasisha watu wengine waweze kutumia lugha ya kiswahili katika sanaa zao. Tukiendelea kusimama katika msingi wa kuitangaza lugha yetu ya Kiswahili.
English translation of interview
- In the song called ‘Mchochezi’, please tell us, mchochezi is what type of person? Moreover, what meaning has it acquired these days?
‘Mchochezi’ comes from the Swahili verb ‘kuchochea’. For example, you light a fire with firewood but it doesn’t take well, so you add more things to increase its strength. The person that agitates in this way is called ‘mchochezi’ (agitator) – he agitates something until that thing which is being agitated yields a bigger result.
I saw that it was good to use my poetic ability and art to represent the voice of society, and I released a song called Kaka Suma which outlined the rising price of travel fares in Tanzania. After this the government decided to ban the song and they labelled me as an ‘agitator’. By calling me this they meant that I was doing things which were causing a disturbance of the peace. They meant that my song and my poetry were potentially motivating people to fight each other, to protest, and other things like this. In contrast to the theme of the song, this is what they took from it.
Many governments in Africa don’t like to be criticised – to see people voicing their opinions. I decided [to use my art in this way] to assure that people would be defended. These days the word is given by the government to people who can be seen to be defending the public interests. You can see the meaning the word has acquired – the government uses it to describe people that it sees as wanting to bring the country into a state of confusion, conflict and general disturbance of peace.
- In that song ‘Mchochezi’ you lament the currently situation whereby a country’s leaders cause the suffering of ordinary people. For example, by stealing natural resources and signing secret contracts etc. Do you think of the system that has followed ujamaa – capitalism and free market economics that allows a few people to control a country’s resources – is an extremely bad one?
Firstly, all of this results from the capitalist system – a system which forces a few people to control the majority of the wealth and leaves the rest in a state of poverty. This system that encourages private profit more than unity. If you consider the way things were in the past people lived in unity and created an environment of self-reliance. The capitalist system has caused people to lose their way and not know where to hold on to. It’s caused the divide between the haves and the have-nots to be extremely big.
Ujamaa was a system with very good foundations. I believe that if people were to engage more in a system of unity and self-reliance – workers unions, cooperatives – we would be more successful. This is particularly true in African countries – we need cooperative development, rather than finding ourselves mixed up in the issues of capitalism. We’ve found ourselves right at the bottom – and this is a very difficult situation. I tried to look at what situation caused this to be the case and in my research I’ve discovered it’s the capitalism system that has caused these problems.
- Has hip hop always been a tool of liberation? Or is this something new? Please explain to us your views on the opportunity and space that hip hop holds in the revolutionising of society – do you think that hip hop is an important tool in awakening people? And what type of awakening is this?
If you return to the origins of hip hop you will see that all signs support this picture: the historic reality of being directly connected to revolutions all over the world. Hip hop has contributed a great deal in the history of exciting change, sparking change in areas where it was needed: for example, women’s rights and the rights of society as a whole. Hip hop causes people to question things, and to seize freedom of speech. It’s a culture that agitates many things and concerns itself with the search for rights and equality in society, and change in our lives generally.
- You have started a show called ‘Kinasa’ in the city of Dar es Salaam. The full meaning of Kinasa is ‘Swahili and Art’ and it’s aim is to promote art which will assist in the lifting up and spreading of the Swahili language. Why is the Swahili language important to you, and why did you decide to start this grassroots movement for ordinary people at the bottom of society?
Kinasa gives a stage to young people and artists from difficult backgrounds, across different art forms, with the aim of furthering the Swahili language. We saw that many people were involved in cultural shows but that [these shows] weren’t explicitly concerned with language. So we sat down and looked at how we could help to increase strength in this area – and we decided to start Kinasa. Kinasa gives a space to artists who don’t have a stage to voice their opinions, not just for the purpose of improving the position of language, but also to use language to promote positive messages in society. This means the question of using language as a tool to help society in explaining it’s problems – to explain predicaments of health, substance abuse, HIV and other social issues. We use language and written verse that directly reaches the audience with its message.
And why the Swahili language? Because Swahili is the second biggest language in terms of percentage [of speakers] in Africa after Arabic, and you can see the way it’s strength is continuing to spread across the world. Therefore we have the opportunity to reach a range of people who are able to hear what we have to say and our artistic output. I believe our Kinasa institution has the ability to reach many areas with an open stage that promotes the work of artists, motivating people to use the Swahili language in their art, and continuing with the aim of promoting this language.
Due to limitations in word count, I have not been able to include a translation commentary to support this essay. This commentary would explore the political vocabulary used and the translations I have opted for, some of the issues I encountered in transcription and translation, as well as the translation approaches applied.
Overall I was pleased with the depth and thoughtfulness of Nash’s responses to the questions, which gives validation to the depth of the questions themselves. The interview raises a number of important theoretical issues which it would be good to explore further, such as Tanzania’s adjustment from socialism to post-socialism. Another area for further research would be more explicit textual analysis of the lyrics themselves.