In Africa, it is very common for artists to rap about the political climate of their countries. They do this to try and bring awareness and a call for change on issues within the countries. In Africa, hip hop artists are some of the biggest voices that influence the public’s thoughts, actions, and views on different opinions. Power in identifying with an artist’s lyrics can transform youth, and threaten dominant power structures. On a group level, it can be a threat and a source of fear for authority figures. I will analyze the songs, This is Nigeria, Siri ya Mchezo, Another thing! Don’t be a groupie, Tanzania, and Hegemony to unpack how they all share a common theme of carrying political messages, while also focusing on the places, time period, and social context of each piece of music.
When Nigerian hip hop artist Falz released his hit song, This is Nigeria it garnered attention and racked up over 18 million views on youtube. It focuses on the harsh realities of what the current political climate of Nigeria is. Falz calls out the Nigerian government in the verse, “This is Nigeria, Never ending recession o, When looters and killers and stealers are still contesting election o, politicians wey thief some billion and billion e no day go prison o, Police station day close by 6, Security reason o” here he uses a mix of Pidgin English, which is common for African rappers especially when they are trying to reach a specific audience. In this case, he is making this song for other Africans. In the verse, he is calling out politicians that have been accused of stealing from the government. Most stereotypes we are aware of are because of cultural representation. In the song and video, Falz uses a constructionist approach to describe Nigeria. A constructionist approach is when a song reflects reality, not just what the artist wants to say but what it is also representing. Our perception of things and places is often formed by music. In the opening scene of the video Falz is talking about corruption within the government. This would give me the impression that the government in Nigeria is poor and doesn’t provide in the ways that it needs to for its people. I would only think this way because it is the narrative the artist is painting.
In Fid-Q’s song, Siri Ya Mchezo which translates to “The Game’s Secret” is done entirely in Swahili. He is a Tanzanian hip hop artist that has never been shy to speak on political ideals, as he has performed at presidential election campaigns. This song, in particular, was released in 2014. It is a song that is critical of neoliberalism and government corruption in Tanzania. In translation some of the lines of the song are, “long live the party of Hooligans, neo-colonialism gave us independence of a flying flag so we can witness the blasphemy of those with money, There is no true freedom in Africa, Don’t be fooled by the illusion.” Fid-Q deeply criticizes the government and refers to the CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) party which is the dominant ruling party in Tanzania and the second longest-ruling party in Africa, as the party of Hooligans. And believes they put on an illusion of offering freedom when in reality it isn’t there at all. In Africa, the state heavily impacts the careers of hip hop artists. Most artists need to stay on the good sides of the government for radio play and music video play on TV. In a social context, African hip hop artists use social commentary as a platform to address their audiences. The music is a space to allow artists to freely communicate on social and political issues.
Another thing! Don’t be a groupie by Nigerian hip hop artist M.I Abaga is a song that focuses on both the political and social movements of the country. As previously said, for many artists it is common to mix political statements with a catchy song that will gain popularity. In the song, he talks about other hip hop artists that have done and will do anything for fame so far to the point where they lose focus of their craft in the pursuit of money and fame. In the line, “Money makes these niggas do some funny things This music business isn’t funny business but why am I expecting more? When half of APC were PDP before?, “do not be a groupie, Do not be starstruck, okay?, Carry yourself and protect yourself, Like a professional, In a professional manner” APC stands for the African People’s Convention and PDP stands for People’s Democratic Party. In Africa, the PDP is center right-leaning making it more on the conservative side and the APC is more on the liberal side. M.I questions this in his song. He is conveying his disappointment with the Nigerian government and their current political climate.
Roma of Tanzania is one of the most outspoken rappers in the country when it comes to politics. The Tanzanian rapper has been open about how the government has affected him. When he came and spoke to our class he quickly touched on getting kidnapped and held captive for what he had been rapping about. In some of these African countries, it is extremely dangerous to be outspoken about your views. In 2014 Roma released the song Tanzania which addresses political leaders and how they steal government money and betray the country. He says, “racism and corruption in offices are obvious. The lost state, Tanzanians are crying for your fake promises.” In Tanzania, racism and oppression are reflected between newcomers to the country and original inhabitants. Roma speaks on this in his music.
Hegemony is a song by South African rapper Ben Sharpa. The song was released in 2009 and deals with the corruption at the hands of police, who are the main institution of government enforcement among the civil population in South Africa. Ben provides social commentary on police brutality. He says, “cops all over the city are ready to lock you if you’re dark-skinned, easy for the Boer to moer you if you look poor and get comments.” This line discusses the relationship between police and Black South Africans. Much like the way of life in America where the unfortunate reality is a black man is a target for the police, that is the same sad reality for black people in South Africa as well. It again touches on the betrayal and mistrust between the government and the people of the nation
The common theme and flow of all of these songs are easily spotted. They all communicate to the audience what the political climate is like in their respective countries. Every single one of these rappers touches on the betrayal and mistrust they have faced when it comes to their governments. After analyzing all of these songs I have gotten a glimpse into what life is like in some of these countries because of the cultural representation provided.