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?”

Diamond Platnumz and Ne-Yo Find a Common Language in “Marry You”

Tanzanian rapper, Naseeb Abdul Juma, more commonly known by his stage name Diamond Platnumz, is perhaps the most commercially beloved hip hop artist in Tanzania today. His music always seems to reflect the Bongo Flava unique to the East African country, with Caribbean sway and Afro-pop beats. Continue reading “Diamond Platnumz and Ne-Yo Find a Common Language in “Marry You””

Vanessa Mdee Subverts Gender Norms Through Color in Her 2016 Hit, “Cash Madame”.

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”.”

A Return to Tradition

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”

Diamond Platnumz and Mr Flavour Re-examine what Hip-Hop Looks Like in ‘Nana’

The opening credit reads, “Somewhere in Africa”, showing a well-groomed lawn, large home, or school presumably, and a classroom that could easily be transposed into American society. The clothing worn by the students is very heavily influenced by American culture, with large headphones, sports jackets, and elaborately jeweled outfits can be seen throughout. In fact, the first noticeably “African” element of the film is the accent heard from the first female speaker. There is a heavy emphasis on materialism in this video. From the gold watches and headphones, to the cars that Diamond Platnumz and Mont Flavour lean against in their solo shots, each character has a unique style that still manages to conform to a trans-Atlantic image of what hip-hop culture should embody. Continue reading “Diamond Platnumz and Mr Flavour Re-examine what Hip-Hop Looks Like in ‘Nana’”

Hip Hop as Social Commentary in Accra and Dar es Salaam

Hip Hop as Social Commentary in Accra and Dar es Salaam by Msia Kibona Clark

African Studies Quarterly | Volume 13, Issue 3 | Summer 2012

Abstract: This paper looks at the use of African hip hop as social commentary in Accra, Ghana and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Hip hop is by its definition a tool of self- expression and self-definition, and is often used as a tool of resistance. Young artists are using the platform of hip hop to speak out on a host of social and economic issues. A transcontinental conversation is now happening with artists all over Africa and the Diaspora. This paper focuses on the hip hop communities in Accra, Ghana and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Both nations have hip hop communities in which socially conscious hip hop is marginalized. In addition, the histories of these two nations are linked by their histories as battlegrounds in the struggle for Pan Africanism, non-alignment, and socialist ideals. These factors have influenced the use of hip hop for social commentary in both cities. This examination of hip hop in Accra and Dar es Salaam reveals important conversations occurring around politics and economics, on both a national and international level. Hip hop artists and the youth they represent are an important component of any social or political struggle towards progress. This research contributes to the need to engage with African hip hop culture and understand its growing implications for Africa.


Mimi Ni Msanii, Kioo Cha Jamii

The article ‘Mimi Ni Msanii, Kioo Cha Jamii’ Urban Youth Culture in Tanzania as Seen Through Bongo Fleva and Hip-hop  by Maria Suriano talks about how bongo flava is empowering the young generation by giving them a channel to voice out their grievances and concerns in a region where their place in society is ambiguous. The sentence ‘Mimi Ni Msanii, Kioo Cha Jamii’ is a line from the song Darubini Kali by Afande Sele and it means “I am an artist, a mirror of society”. Bongo Flava artists address issues in the society in their songs. The author argues that Bongo Flava has evolved to be a music genre of its own and should not just be regarded as Tanzanian hip-hop or rap. The author also talks about Bongo Flava styles and how it borrows from Western culture, social values the songs address and the music’s impact on media and politics. The article can be accessed by clicking the link below.


Bongo Flava and Hip Hop

Tanzanian hip hop emerged in the late 80s, and by the late 90s was being labeled: Bongo Flava. As this new genre went in the direction of pop and incorporated rap and R&B there continued to be confusion between the two. By the early 2000s Bongo Flava began to eclipse hip hop in popularity, air play, and sales. As a result, several hip hop artists began distancing themselves from Bongo Flava.

The divisions within the music industry in Tanzania center not on a need to destroy popular music and culture, but on the perceived need to save hip hop and its culture. Out of this desire to “save” hip hop came the need to define its boundaries. which allowed artists to define their movement and have an identifiable goal, even if some of the specifics get lost in individual ambitions.

Continue reading “Bongo Flava and Hip Hop”