Excuse me Prof, Je, unaweza kunifundisha jinsi ya kurap kwa Kiswahili?

Professor Jay

I have not ventured far into the history of hip-hop in African countries; but I am disappointed in myself for not understanding the dichotomy that existed between Bongo flava and Tanzanian hip-hop. Contrary to previous beliefs, hip-hop in Tanzania is very particular about distinguishing their art from the pop-infused bongo flava. Several MCs delve between both realms but the “OGs” do not stray away from the religious nature of hip-hop they believe in (rhythmic beats, word count and Swahili lyrics). Today, I will be highlighting one of my favorite “OG” Tanzanian MCs- Professor Jay.

Born “Joseph Haule”, the forty-three year old Tanzanian hip-hop artist has always been relevant in the hip-hop scene from his days in the group Hard Blasters. They were known for their hit song “Chemsha Bongo” and he used to be known as Nigga J around that time. They successfully won the title for best hip-hop group in Tanzania, circa 1995. He was very influential in the group’s success on their first album, “Funga Kazi”. He launched his solo career in 2001 and has since then remained a prominent voice in the hip-hop community in Tanzania.

One of the most interesting things about Professor Jay is his use of hip hop to address political issues in the East African nation. He did this exquisitely in one of his songs- Ndio Mzee. In this song, he addressed the false promises that politicians make to the masses and his ability to do this effectively shows how profound he is in commanding meaning behind his lyrics. This gained so much ground that the President of Tanzania borrowed Professor Jay’s lyrics in one of his speeches, granting a serious acknowledgement to the Tanzanian hip-hop scene. In 2015, Professor Jay, himself, successfully participated in Tanzanian politics as he won the Mikumi constituency parliamentary seat.

His control of Swahili in his rap songs and consistency in delivering his flows is characteristic of the hip-hop style Tanzanian rappers started with in the 90’s. Although he still supports the bongo flava artists, when on collabs he sticks to his caricature style regardless of the beat or artist. This is evident on songs like Nikusaidiaje(featuring Ferooz), Kipi sijasikia (ft. Diamond Platnumz), Woman (ft. Victoria Kimani), and Yatapita (ft. Harmonize) just to mention a few.

Professor Jay is a very strong voice in the Tanzanian hip hop community and his career has been filled with so many awards and honors. His second album “Mapindusi halinsi” won the best hip-hop album in Tanzania, his song “Nikusaidiaje” also won numerous awards, and he was nominated for best hip hop at the 2008 MTV Africa Music Awards. I cannot imagine beginning to sit down to write lyrics addressing issues in my hometown when just being exposed to a genre of music not familiar to my community.

I took Swahili in the Fall semester of my Senior year in college and I can say that it must take a great deal to compose meaningful and impactful songs for several young artists in our generation. This does not necessarily apply to just Tanzania, it is evident in other African communities. This is why it is important to always celebrate the pioneers of hip-hop in Africa and cite their works as examples to follow in our continuous journey to tell our own stories and fix our own problems. I hail Professor Jay for the effort he has played and continues to play. I appreciate his artistry and his constant representation; I have one question though- Excuse me Prof, je, unaweza kunifundisha jinsi ya kurap kwa Kiswahili?

Nikusaidiaje translates to “how do you want me to help you?”

The heroes of Bongo Flava, vol I

Fid Q

“Bongo Flava” is the phrase used to refer to hip-hop in Tanzania and in East Africa in general. It was derived from the Swahili word for brains “ubongo”. Bongo also refers to the city Dar es Salaam- the birthplace of hip-hop in Tanzania in the eighties. Over the years, this genre of music from East Africa has gained global recognition due to the efforts of Swahili rappers who evolved from just rapping over American beats, to infusing local synthesized beats, sounds, and rhythms into the Swahili lyrics while addressing Tanzanian issues. This would not have been possible without the efforts of brave pioneers of hip-hop in Tanzania. I refer to them as the heroes of bongo flava who still continue to promote the East African culture through their lyrics and ultimately their art. Some of these artists are X Plastaz, Juma Nature, Fid Q, Gangwe Mobb, AY, Professor J, etc.

Today I will be focusing on the career of Fid Q, born Farid Kubanda on August 13, 1982, in Tanzania. He kicked off his bongo flava career in 2000 where he released his first song “Huyu na Yule” (which means this person and that person) which was received well by the public giving his artistry recognition and respect. Fid Q is known for his sharp style lyrically and also for addressing social and political issues in the streets of Tanzania. My favorite song by Fid Q is lelewe Mitaa which translates to “raised in the streets”. In this song, he highlights the struggles he went through as a young boy surviving the streets of Tanzania. Many hip-hop fans often refer to him as a “lyrical god”. Fid Q is a prominent voice in bongo flava as he continues to release songs that celebrate Tanzanian hip-hop. One of his notable acts was in 2004 where his “FidQ.com” record was released. This record was widely acclaimed to be responsible for restoring Tanzanian hip-hop as it came at a time where hip-hop was deemed unacceptable and unpleasant to the Tanzanian community. In 2008, his song “Ni Hayo Tu” won the Kili award for best hip-hop record for 2007-2008. In 2015, Fid Q was recognized by the European Union as a champion of 2015 European Year for Development in Tanzania. This stemmed from all his efforts in the community through his music.

Fid Q has worked with a lot of prominent acts in the bongo flava scene- Diamond Platnumz, Juma Nature, Professor Jay, and Sauti Sol to mention a few. His second album, PROPAGANDA, is labeled as his best project career-wise and was well received in the Tanzanian hip-hop community as well as surrounding East African neighborhoods. Fid Q once noted in an interview with BUZZ, “Kiswahili language has been a strength of the industry because it delivers the message and it’s our identity. Our weakness is lack of ability to create that African brand that will make us different in the world of music”. I share this belief too that the use of indigenous African languages in hip-hop will help improve the brand of our music on a global scale and this is why Fid Q is one of our heroes. Heroes who will continuously put Africa on the global map with culture-rich art. Some of his other songs are Fresh, Sumu, and Bongo hip hop.

lelewe Mitaa by Fid Q