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?
“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.
Though continuously evolving, Tanzanian hip-hop has never been consistent be it by the breaks artists take during their careers or the switch up from genre to genre. A great example is my favorite GNako.
Full name George Sixtus Mdemu , he was born in Arusha in May 1983. G-Nako, has two sisters and a daughter named Samantha.
Also popular by the stage name G-warawara, he started his music career in 1998 at Nangwa Technical school with his friend BouNako. In the year 2000 G-Nako joined Nako 2 Nako Soldiers led by Lord Eyes . While being an active member of Nako 2 Nako, G-Nako released solo tracks including Mama Yeyoo featuring BenPol and Right Here featuring Banx
GNako has a habit of jumping from hip-hop/rap to a dancehall-ish/afro beats type of vibe. Not that I am complaining, I just find it confusing as to why artists do this. Perhaps its the arrogance they gain once they have clout or its because being rich gives them the avenue to do so. Either way, I support it one hundred percent. We need more Swahili artists to go mainstream and I believe GNako is very promising as he had a very busy 2018 dropping singles such as Tingisha and Gengesha. These two songs are actually a great example of the two different dynamics I commend that GNako possesses. Tingisha , from the cover to the beat, can be played right after a Davido (afro-beat artist) song. He raps in the song to add his own raw spice but the song is mostly dependent on the beats just like a lot of dance songs. Gengesha is a feel-good song that also has amazing beats but is carried by GNako’s smooth way of telling us amejipanga . I would group it with songs like Digi Digiby Arrow Bwoy just because they share the smooth rap vibe even though it is not throughout in Digi Digi. Though 2018 was full of singles (which we are not mad at), I hope that 2019 will be full of EPs and new Albums. I stan an artist who can make me think and shake my *** all in a matter of a few minutes.
Wakazi is a bilingual Tanzanian hip hop artist. He grew up in Dar es Salaam, but spent several years in the United States, where he was active in the Chicago hip hop scene. Like many MCs who spend several years abroad, when he returned to Tanzania he had to prove himself on the local scene. He was able to craft his brand, largely by harnessing the power of social media. In this interview, Wakazi talks about his experiences in Chicago, with the local hip hop scene and how his experiences there have impacted his career. He discusses his return to Tanzania, the reception he faced on his return, and how has managed to build his career. Wakazi, who is fluent in English and Swahili, also talks about multilingualism, and the use of other Tanzanian languages in hip hop. Wakazi also reflects on some of the struggles within the hip hop community, some of which he feels is largely due to a lack of mentorship by the first generation of Tanzanian hip hop artists. He also discusses perceptions & understandings of African American culture in Tanzania.
Wachata Crew is the biggest, and oldest graffiti crew in Tanzania. With more than a decade of experience, the members of Wachata Crew are established and respected members of the hip hop scene in Tanzania. The members of Wachata are Local Fanatics, Kala Singa, Medi, and Mejah.
We met up at their studios at Nafasi Art Space (nafasiartspace.org) in Dar es Salaam and talked about graffiti culture in Tanzania. We discussed the origins of Wachata Crew with WAPI (Words and Pictures) at the British Council in Dar es Salaam back in 2007. Wachata Crew sheds light on how many Tanzanians see graffiti culture in Tanzania and the connections between graffiti and hip-hop culture in Tanzania.
Graffiti culture differs all over the world, the members of Wachata Crew talk about the cost and qualities of spray paint cans in Tanzania, v. other places. The artists also discuss their connections with graffiti beyond Tanzania, and the participation of women in graffiti culture in Tanzania.
You can find Wachata Crew on Instagram @wachata07 and each member at @muabaka, @kalasinga24, @mejahmbuya, @localfanatics
This is an interview with Tanzanian hip hop producer Duke, founder of M Lab records, Tamaduni Muzik, and the Hip Hop Kilinge (cypher). The interview is mostly in SWAHILI, but we switch back & forth a lot. The Hip Hop African podcast celebrates the various elements of hip hop, but this is our first interview with a hip hop producer.
Duke talks about how he became involved in hip hop in Tanzania, his involvement with the founding of Tamaduni Muzik and the Hip Hop Kilinge (cyphers) they used to host. These cyphers used to bring hundreds of youth from around Dar es Salaam to listen to the DJs, hear MC rhyme, participate in cyphers, buy hip hop fashion made by local artists. Duke also talks about issue of copyright and the art of sampling and the role of the producer in hip hop. We also discuss sounds, the role of the boom bap sound, as well as chopping up other sounds to create a unique sound that represents Tanzanian hip hop. He also talks about the top five artists outside of Tanzania that he would love to work with, as well the directions he sees hip hop in Tanzania going today.
Haya ni mahojiano na Duke, prodyuza wa muziki wa hip hop Tanzania, mwanzilishi wa M Lab Records, Tamaduni Muzik, na Hip Hop Kilinge (cypher). Mahojiano yako zaidi katika SWAHILI, lakini tumechanganya na English kidogo. The Hip Hop African Podast inawakilisha nguzo mbalimbali za hip hop, lakini haya ni mahojiano yetu ya kwanza na prodyuza wa hip hop.
Duke anazungumzia jinsi alivyohusika katika hip hop nchini Tanzania, kushiriki kwake na kuanzishwa kwa Tamaduni Muzik na Hip Hop Kilinge. Kwenye Kilinge, vijana vyengi kutoka Dar es Salaam walikuja kusikiliza muziki uliochezwa na DJs, kusikia sauti ya MC, kushiriki katika cyphers, kununua bidhaa za mitindo ya hip hop. Duke pia anazungumzia suala la hakimiliki na sanaa ya sampling na jukumu la prodyuza katika hip hop. Tulizungumzia pia sauti ya boom bap, na pia kuchop sauti nyingine ili kutengeneza sauti ya kipekee ambayo inawakilisha hip hop ya Tanzania. Pia anazungumzia kuhusu MCs watano wa nje ya Tanzania ambao angependa kufanya kazi nao. Pia tulizungumzia muelekeo wa Hiphop ya Tanzania katika nyakati hizi.
2016 was the year of Beyonce’s Lemonade, Rihanna’s ANTI, and the maturation of girl groups like Little Mix and Fifth Harmony. Black women dominated the charts, producing music and music videos that allowed them to express a range of emotions, from angry to heartbroken, while exuding a sense of power, confidence, and sex appeal. In the same year that black American female artists embraced these powerhouse roles, across the globe another black female artist took note. Continue reading “Vanessa Mdee Subverts Gender Norms Through Color in Her 2016 Hit, “Cash Madame”.”
Witnesz Kibonge Mwepec is a female rap artist from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Witnesz is considered the biggest female MC in East Africa, and this is a title that she worked hard to achieve. She is regarded as an artist with ingenuity, complexity, and an amazing sense of humor. In her videos, Witnesz typically adorns traditional East African clothing, and she raps/sings in Swahili.
Prior to translating the lyrics, I just watched the video and listened to the lyrics. I wanted to see if I could get an idea of what the song was about, solely based on the images shown in the video. I paid attention to the setting of the video, the colors used, the clothing they wore, and the overall vibe of the song. After watching the video three times, I had the idea that the song was about a return to tradition. I thought this included honoring elders, ancestors, and Tanzanian customs. In the video, Witnesz and the dancers are having a celebration, or a chama. Men play the drums, the group does traditional dances, food is being prepared, there are dance circles, and a boy comes to meet a girl. The colors in the video were vibrant, and highlighted the colors of their skin. In addition to this, all of the clothing was traditional. This made me think that the theme of this video was a return to Tanzanian traditions and customs. Continue reading “A Return to Tradition”
Ever since Rosa Ree hip the hip-hop scene she was a force to be reckoned with. Rosa Ree was born Rosary Robert, she had a passion for music at a very young age and with the support of her family she was able to focus on music. Rosa ree use her rapping talent to express clear emotions or her experiences throughout her life, and rap is her communication medium to the world. The East African hip hop scene, similar to any other African hip hop scene, often undermines women MCs, who can be considered not strong enough to be in the rap game. It’s good that Rosa Ree’s music is not only proving them wrong in Tanzania, but across Africa.Continue reading “Tanzania’s Hottest”