Tumi Molekane-Once Upon A Time

Tumi Molekane is a South African hip hop artist who mainly performs in Soweto, South Africa. He is originally from Tanzania, a country where his parents exiled to escape the apartheid in South Africa. However, Tumi went back to South Africa when he was 11 years old. He is now a prominent hip hop artist, known for producing songs with conscious lyrics. For example, in a song called Once Upon A Time, Tumi collaborates with Chinese Man, a French hip hop band. In this song, Tumi tells his version of African history through creative historical references and wordplay. For example,

“Once upon a time in this great land
European settlers would set off on a cave man quest
Dutch king summoning Jan Van Beek…
The rest was Queen Elizabeth conquest
As portrayed quite well by Cate Blanchett
Great actress, wait I may digress!
Before that was pyramids and villages where pigmy little man and other such denizens rest”

In the above lyrics, Tumi is referring Jan van Riebeeck, who is a Dutch explorer who went to Cape Town to establish a Dutch Cape Colony in the 17th century. In the next line, Tumi is referring to how the British Empire colonized South Africa on the behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. He then references Cate Blanchett for playing Queen Elizabeth I in the film Elizabeth. The question is why might he say the actress’ name if he knows he is digressing? This is because the word “Blanchett” and the word “conquest” are slant rhymes. Moreover, on the last two lines, Tumi refers to the indigenous population as “pigmy little man” and “denizens”. The words satirically reflect what the Europeans had viewed of the native population when they first came to South Africa. In the next verse, Tumi says

“Break a law, take a farm you get our your acres I’d sooner root for
That than a handout with arms embargo
 It’ll be my own Zimbabwe so Colin Powell will swallow my bow
And arrow and follow that”

Through these lyrics, Tumi touches upon a land appropriation issue in South Africa and says it could be radicalized like Zimbabwe.  He then says how Colin Powell, which represents the U.S., could impose arms embargo on South Africa by “swallowing bows and arrows”.

Tumi through the two verses, touches upon the past and present issues of South Africa. He then ultimately pays homage to his country as he sings,

“Bring out the marching band
Let’ em play an anthem for our continent”


Palm Wine no Whisky


Ghana is known for being a pioneer of African Independence. Kwame Nkrumah lead a crusade to reclaim Africa for Africans and invited the whole Diaspora to seek refuge inside the West African land.  During the 1960s and 1970s,  many African Americans moved to Ghana and reclaimed their African roots, so Ghana over the years has had a special linkage to American Blacks and other members of the continent and the Diaspora.

The Diaspora is comprised of the many lands of exile Africans inhabited after their enslavement. The Diaspora is outside of Africa, but Africa is at the heart of everything.  Showing pride for African roots and your Diasporic home is common among many hip hop artists. M.anifest, a Ghanaian hip hop artist who has spent his life living in Ghana and the United States, shows love to both Ghana and America. In M.anifest’s aesthetic appeal, he wears kente cloth, beads, African clothing, and other jewelry that shows a pride in his African heritage. In his music, M.anifest uses language that both his American and Ghanaian listeners can follow but also slips in colloquial that each audience will understand respectively. While listening to M.anifest’s music, it was evident that he uses his worldly view of not only being familiar with Ghanaian culture and American culture, but culture all over the world as a powerful tool to broaden the scope of his lyrics, maximize his audience, and to enhance the overall sound and presentation of music.

I particularly studied  M.anifest’s song “Palm Wine & Whisky” The title totally sums up his ties to both American and Ghanaian culture. Palm Wine is a common African alcoholic beverage and an American parallel could be whisky. Both are made from natural sources like palm trees or grain. Using pidgin English, M.anifest uses the trope of “being tipsy” to symbolize how people think that he’s unaware or easy to be fooled, but he asserts that he’s aware of the game and steps ahead. The meaning within a meaning in the song is a very African American hip hop thing to do. Many hip hop artists in America make songs where on the surface it’s just a song about drinking, having fun, and beautiful women, but often interwoven into the lyrics are deep, metaphorical messages that you have to sift through to find which the chorus of “Palm Wine & Whisky” supports.  The chorus, rapped by Dex Kwasi, in the third verse says, “palm wine, not whisky” I see this as a rejection of American culture as symbolized by the whisky, and saying that I’m going to choose the African way, my African culture. Also to know that both the American culture and African culture exist, but not letting the American culture overpower the African one.

In class, we focused mainly on the immigrant experience of many African people. The overarching theme through the stories and music of African immigrants is trying to find a balance between an African and American world. This desire for balance could be argued to be a struggle for all Black people wherever they find themselves. How do I stay true to my African self? I think through hip hop, there is an avenue to really make sure that the two selves exist harmoniously. It’s vital for survival. As evidenced through the very nature of this course, hip hop is a language that all black people speak and it’s how we can stay connected.