Roma: Tanzania’s Social Change Powerhouse

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Ibrahim Mussa, also known as Roma Mkatoliki once stated in an interview that he sees himself as “an ambassador, to be a voice of the voiceless, to speak on behalf of the challenges and struggles of everyday Tanzanians.” As a successful conscious rapper, he has become a voice for the young people of Tanzania, speaking out about everything varying from government actions to social challenges. In his newest song release, Mkombozi, he touches upon the struggle faced by many of the impoverished youth in Tanzania: the cultural pressure on young men to be the primary provider of a household. Roma’s lyrics tell a story of a young man who’s struggling to try to support his family after his father chose to leave the household with lots of debt. Debt-bondage is, unfortunately, an all too common issue in Tanzania and is often a result of individuals not being able to find economic alternative methods in order to provide for their family.     

In our Hip-hop and Social Change in Africa class, we were fortunate enough to have Roma in as a guest speaker and during that lecture, he specifically talked about Mkombozi and the meaning behind the lyrics. He discusses how cultural pressure in Tanzania often forces people to marry extremely young therefore putting immense stress on young men to not only provide and support wives and children but also their parents and other family members. This struggle is expressed in lyrics such as, “I owe rent, I owe my children school fees.” He also includes lines such as “I am hunted every corner of the street.” to express how overwhelming the pressure of financial responsibilities can be. Although most of the song is an expression of this struggle, the chorus is a little more encouraging, with Roma advising those to not lose faith in God during these hard times. I believe Roma’s purpose for creating this song was to vocalize a shared struggle amongst Tanzanian youth whilst also providing encouragement to them to not give up. 

Furthermore, the music video created for the song is very emotional and begins with the young man trying to hang himself as he’s become distraught and overwhelmed by his responsibilities. It then moves on to highlight several different challenges he faces, including when he gets a young girl unexpectedly pregnant and when he has to beg his debtor to help him out because he couldn’t pay the money he owed. The music video does a good job of providing distinct visual imagery aligned with the lyrics making the overall production very powerful. 

It is safe to say that Roma’s socially conscious drive has propelled him to use the art of rap as a pathway to express relatable struggles amongst his fans, bringing to light important social justice issues that need to be addressed in Tanzania.

Head to Roma’s Youtube for more music and follow him on his Instagram.

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