In the article titled Hooligans and Heroes: Youth Identity and Hip-Hop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Alex Perullo explores the many ways that hip hop has affected the the lives of Tanzanian youth. Although many older Tanzanians regard hip hop with contempt and label its followers as “wahuni” (hooligans), there is no mistaking the fact that the music has gained an intense amount of popularity over the years. Hip hop music has been called the “voice of the youth” because it provides young people with a way to voice their opinions and concerns. In Tanzania, hip hop has been used as a means to educate people about important issues, “For Tanzanian youth, this means altering the popular conception of themselves as hooligans and allowing youth to become knowledge holders and educators within urban contexts”. There are many Tanzanian artists who have written songs addressing a wide variety of topics, and many of the lyrics are thought-provoking and clever. Perullo mentions the fact that strict censorship in the 70’s did not prevent hip hop artists to voice their disapproval of the government. Many bands found their way around bans and censorship by using double entendres and hidden meanings in the lyrics, a practice that “has a long history in Swahili poetry”. This challenges the common misconception that hip hop is vulgar and hateful. Many of the messages of these young Tanzanian artists represent the common struggle of the average person in Tanzania.
Perullo’s research focuses on many popular and influential artists such as Mr II and Professor Jay. He includes song lyrics in Swahili with an English translation on the side. One of the songs that he includes is one by Mr. II, titled “Hali Halisi” (“The Real Situation”). This song focuses on the political corruption in Tanzania, “Our lives are hard, even the president knows/And we still have our smiles in ever situation…everyday it’s us and the police”. This song was popular because it expressed the anger and frustration of the youth. Many of the bands that are played in the radio have clean lyrics and are politically and socially conscious. They educate the youth on important issues.
The article Immunization Strategies: Hip-hop and Critique in Tanzania by Koen Stroeken written in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, talks about Tanzanian hip-hop music style called Bongo Flava, which when translated to English literally means “flavor of the brains”. Just like Hiplife in Ghana, Bongo Flava is another example of localization of hip-hop to conform to existing traditions and customs of a society. The author talks about the history of the emergence of Bongo Flava and the various factors that affected its growth, various Bongo Flava artists and their songs together with the social and political issues they address. This article can be found in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol.75, No. 4 (2005), pp. 488-509 or can be accessed by clicking the link below.
The article Aesthetic of the Entrepreneur: Afro-Cosmopolitan Rap and Moral Circulation in Accra, Ghana written by Jesse Weaver Shipley on Anthropological Quarterly talks about Hiplife music in Accra, Ghana. Hiplife, according to Shipley, is a music genre in Ghana that “combines hip hop sampling, scratching and rap lyricism with older forms of highlife popular music, traditional storytelling (Anansesem), and formal proverbial oratory.” Hiplife, is one of the many examples of the hybridization of western hip hop with local culture to create a unique music genre. In this article, the author explores the lives and works of hiplife artists like Sidney and the Mobile Boys. He talks about the messages of Hiplife artists and how they portray public morality in their songs. This article can be found in the magazine Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 82, Number 3, Summer 2009, pp. 631-668 or can be accessed online by clicking the link below. One has to use CSULA NIS account to log in and read the article.
The article written by Mwenda Ntarangwi titled African Hip Hop and Politics of Change in an Era of Rapid Globalization shows how African hip hop artists address social and political issues in their songs. The writer gives credit to globalization for the emergence of hip hop in Africa. The writer writes how African hip hop has gained popularity because the youth comprise a huge percentage of the total population of Africa. The youth, the author says, use hip hop “…to express and represent their lived experiences, to formulate the relationship between Africa and the West, to challenge the practices and policies of their own governments, and to paint a picture of the kind of society in which they desire to live.” Hip hop gives the youth the empowerment and representation they lack due to the African culture already in place that marginalizes them. The author also recounts the evolution of African hip hop from being an imitation of American hip hop to being a culture of its own and the various factors that shaped it.
Ntarangwi, Mwenda. “African Hip Hop and Politics of Change in an Era of Rapid Globalization.” History Compass 8.12 (2010): 1316-1327.
The article Keeping it Real: Reality and Representation in Maasai Hip-Hop by Katrina Daly Thompson published in the Journal of African Cultural Studies analyzes the style, message and success of a Maasai-themed Tanzanian hip-hop group X Plastaz. The Maasai are a tribe of semi-nomadic people who live in Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They are known around the world for their distinct culture and residence in and around national parks in Kenya and Tanzania. With a member of the Maasai tribe as part of the singing group and the use of Maasai language, costumes and chanting in their performances, the group X Plastaz can be viewed as an example of how hip-hop which has origins in the West has been localized and is an integral part of Tanzanian culture. The writer tells how the group was very popular in Tanzania when they used Swahili in their raps and sounded “…like the Tanzanian version of the Brooklyn rap crews they had been listening to.” When they changed their style, the group became very popular internationally while their success locally declined. Their decline in popularity at home, according to the writer, is attributed to the group’s refusal to pay bribe to get their songs on the air and Tanzanians’ attitude towards the Maasai. Their international success can be attributed to “…their use of traditionalism to appeal to the touristic desire of Western audiences.” The author also writes how by their unique style and message the group X Plastaz claims it is “keeping it real”. CSULA students can access the article by clicking the link below and signing in with their NIS account.
The paper titled Masculinity and Nationalism in East African Hip-hop Music by Evan Mwangi published in 2004 may not be current in terms of the date of publication but applies even today to hip-hop in general and East African hip-hop in particular. Hip-hop in East Africa has grown considerably since 2004 both in the number of artists and the variety of styles and messages but the majority of the artists are still males and the message is masculine in nature. Mwangi explains in his paper this and more including how female artists try to reverse this portrayal. He also writes about how East African hip-hop, even though influenced by Western hip-hop culture, is localized and is growing to be a culture of its own. Using examples and illustrations the article explains how hip-hop music is used to portray nationalism in the countries of the East African Community namely Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The 16 page paper can be accessed through the link below.
This is an essay written by, Alex Perullo and John Fenn which can be found in the book Global Pop, Local Language by, Harris M. Berger and Michael Thomas Carroll. Since Hip Hop’s emergence in North America during the 1970’s and 1980’s, Hip Hop has become a global way for the youth to express their own local styles. This is no different in Tanzania and Malawi, two neighboring African countries. Both countries use English in their hip hop music, but Tanzania uses also Swahili and the Malawian youth use the language Chichewa. Author, Alex Perullo, states that Tanzanian hip hop in English reflects American hip hop in talking about the pleasure’s of life for example, parties, friends, and praise of the artist. Perullo then says that when the musicians use Swahili, the hip hop artist is usually conveying a message to the Tanzanian people about important social issues like lack of employment, corruption in the government, police brutality, and HIV/AIDS. Tanzanian hip hop artists have stayed away from some American themes found in rap music like violence, because it is seen as disrespectful by the Tanzanian people. Although English is the dominant political and economic language in Tanzania, it is only spoken by five percent of the population, so Swahili has become the most dominant language in the Tanzanian hip hop scene. Many Tanzanian hip hop artists use American rappers such as Tupac Shakur to learn the flow of hip hop music and once they have acquired the skills they develop themselves as Tanzanian hip hop artists. The creation of new words and the changing of the meaning of old Tanzanian words is core to the hip hop scene because this creates a common culture the youth of Tanzania are able to identify with. In Malawi, English is all over rap and hip hop music, but it is usually accompanied simultaneously by the language Chichewa. Much of the conversation about hip hop music in Malawi is done in English including newspapers, radio, and face to face dialogue, but the young hip hop artists of Malawi realize the importance of using the local Chichewa language when trying to convey certain messages in their music. The Malawian youth see hip hop as having important social functions as well as a way to effectively transmit meaning.