Hip hop music as a youth medium for cultural struggle in Zanzibar.

Author:Omari, Shani


This paper seeks to examine the initiatives of Zanzibar's youths in engaging in hip hop music from its early age to the present. It discusses how youth in Zanzibar adopt hip hop music as a medium to articulate their cultural identity and resistance to traditional art forms. The paper as well, will highlight how hip hop artists strive for the development of Zanzibar's economy by promoting its tourism industry and by criticizing corruption and the poor living conditions. A few songs will also be referred to in order to understand their themes and contextualize their struggle. The data for this study was collected through interviews conducted among the public and among artists in Pemba and Unguja between September 2010 and October 2010. This paper intends to answer three questions: Why do Zanzibar's youth engage in hip hop music? What challenges do they face? and How do they tackle those challenges?

The argument in this paper tries to build on the notion that cultural identity is not a static phenomenon by drawing on the work by Stuart Hall (1990, p. 223) whose work on cultural identity emphasises as equally important "what we really are", "what history has done", and "what we have become". In this sense cultural identity is not something that already exists, transcending place, history, and time. Instead identity undergoes constant transformation. Identities are the ways we position ourselves within the narratives of the past. What elements of difference and contrast are important and emphasised at different times, and in different social contexts, must by necessity vary (Palmberg, 2002). The analysis is also aligned with Burgess (2002) who studies revolutionary politics and youth soon after the Zanzibar Revolution. Burgess looks at how in the 1960s and 1970s political leaders in Zanzibar attempted to prohibit youth from appropriating Western clothing fashions and hairstyles in defense of nationalist, socialist, African and Islamic standards and values. His arguments are very useful in the analysis of the contemporary youth and their struggle through hip hop music. Although space does not permit us to discuss comprehensively the history of Zanzibar and its society, in the following section the paper summarizes briefly its background.

Zanzibar Society in Brief

By way of background, Zanzibar is a coastal region of Tanzania and consists of two major islands, Pemba and Unguja. Following the Omani expulsion of the Portuguese from the coast at the end of the 17th century, the Swahili towns were "under the impetus of Omani-dominated trade and accompanied by markedly greater Arab influences" (Insoll, 2003, p. 201). After the abolition of slavery in 1897 Zanzibar was declared a British Protectorate.

It achieved its political independence from British colonialism in 1963, and in 1964 united with Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania. The population of the islands is approximately one million and is comprised of the Swahili, Shirazi, Arabs, Indians, Goans, and Pakistanis. Most people of Zanzibar are Muslims, there are also small populations of Christians and Hindus. Traditional African beliefs are still held by many local people, and there is often considerable crossover between aspects of Islam and local customs (Mclntyre and Mclntyre, 2009; Depelchin, 1991; Bowles, 1991; Ferguson, 1991; Sherrif, 1991; Othman, 1995; Hoyle, 2002). The following section discusses the development of the hip hop music in Zanzibar.

Emergence of Hip hop in Zanzibar

Hip hop music started in Zanzibar in the late 1980s, but it was not until the1990s that it really matured. The popular appeal of this youth culture in Tanzania, and many African countries, was a by-product of globalization and cultural imperialism (Ekstron, 2010). Also, liberalization resulted in many youth turning to foreign styles of music for inspiration. The new music represented the otherness and foreignness that many urban youth sought in their movement toward a sense of cosmopolitanism (Perullo, 2007). In the early days of rap, like on the Tanzanian mainland, a hip hop pioneer in Zanzibar DJ Salehe notes that "youth started by imitating the American rap songs by singing in English. At that time there were no private media outlets; there was state-owned radio station Sauti ya Tanzania Zanzibar (STZ) and Television Zanzibar (TVZ) but they did not air the music as it was associated with hooliganism" (1). As rap developed they switched to Kiswahili and that was one of the early developments of rap in Tanzania, as Cool Para, one of the first hip hop artists in Zanzibar, explains "On a Christmas of 1993, I rapped Saleh Jabir's song (2). People who attended our rap show at Fuji bar in Jang'ombe were very excited to hear an English song being sung in Kiswahili" (3).

The rap founders in Zanzibar in the early 1990s include DJ Salehe, DJ Kim, Cool Para, Dula Ukasha and Abdullah. Later they were joined by Makoya Man, Cool Muza, Salima Juma Kibao a.k.a SJ, Dogo Halifa, Kif B, the defunct New Rapping Style crew (Rama B, Bakari a.k.a Cool B, Stick Bingo and Ibrahim Jeshi), Alhaji Goya, and the defunct Wazenji Kijiwe. Other popular artists today are Rashid Amin (Rico Single), Shubana Halifani Metaya (Short Gun), Mbaraka Abdalah Mbarak (White Berry), Mbaraka Abdalah Mgeni (Berry Black), Dorica Mukaka, Jamila Abdallah Ally (Baby J) and Hadija Ramadhan Rashid (Didah).

The motivating factors for the young generation in Zanzibar, and Tanzania in general, to do hip hop music are, according to them, the possession of singing talent, a desire to engage in a global culture, search for employment and a fascination with local and foreign stars.

According to hip hop artist Hatibu Hassan, "When we sing we entertain and educate society and most importantly we also want to be known up to America and across the world like Ronaldo who is currently renowned worldwide as a soccer player from Brazil." (4) Although in its advent it was not known that rap music would develop to this stage, it was through struggle and persistence that hip hop has got its current shape and has become a source of employment and a forum of expression for many youth. There are not as many artists in Zanzibar as there are on the Tanzanian mainland, but a handful of artists are continually engaging in it. As a result, a generational conflict between young and older generations arose.

Generational Conflicts

It has been revealed in fieldwork that it is difficult for some youth to engage in hip hop music. Various reasons have been put forward by informants. With regard to Pemba, Salum Ali Mselem, like many other informants of this study, raises the issue of religion as the main factor of the parental refusal. He points out that:

Although hip hop is contemporary youth music but few of them get involved in it, because Pemba is compliant to Islamic morals. Morals of this island don't give opportunity for both girls and boys to involve in such music. Even in Unguja it is not entirely acceptable as the Tanzanian mainland. It is true that Unguja and Pemba's population is mainly Muslims but we differ in our stands, here in Pemba people are so devoted compared to Unguja (5). Salum reveals that on the Tanzanian islands, hip hop is to some extent more acceptable in Unguja than in Pemba. He links this disparity of reception to religious conformity. Supporting this is the fact that since the early 2000s in Unguja, apart from the STZ station, the following FM radio stations were established: Spice FM, Coconut FM, Zenji FM, Chuchu FM, Bomba FM and Hits FM. In Pemba, however, there exists STZ (which covers Pemba Island for only a few hours), Radio Istiqama and Radio Maria (which are religious stations), and Radio Micheweni. In addition, while in Pemba there is currently no recording studio, in Unguja there are several, namely Heartbeat Records, Teddy Record, Jupiter Record and Makonela Records. In comparison with the Tanzanian mainland, Rico Single also adds "In Zanzibar we are lagging behind in hip hop because in the Mainland people are mixed up so they live a Western style but here we follow Arab traditions so we are more religious" (6).

As stated earlier, a large percentage of Zanzibaris are Muslims, and most of the informants commented on music with several references to Islam. It is therefore necessary to briefly discuss the stances regarding music and Islam to better understand their arguments. With regard to music and Islam it seems that there are two stances. The first stance belongs to the advocates of music, the Muslim mystics, to whom music was a spiritual staple, not merely a permissible (halal) religious practice, but a required religious practice (wajib). With regard to the significance and legitimacy of music in the Islamic tradition S.H. Nasr (1987) points out that it is not merely juridical or theological; it involves most of all the inner and spiritual aspect of Islam (Lewisohn, 1997).

Opponents of music, the mediaeval ayatollahs, take the second stance. They are individuals who call blasphemy to all who believe music to be food for the soul. Such exoteric clerics considered music as belonging to categories of sinful things such as fornication and intoxication, and argued that all musical activities, whether playing instruments or singing, are fundamentally vanity. They defend this position, in part, based on a religious interpretation that reference the sixth verse of the Sura Luqman to "idle talk" as designating and thus banning singing (Lewisohn, 1997, p.3). This paper, therefore, argues that those who prohibit their children from doing music make reference to the second stance that music, in particular hip hop, is profane (as opposed to sacred).

In regard to music and Islam Hatibu Hasan elaborates that, "Society is against this music because it does not confine to Islamic practices. Parents don't like to see us wearing bling bling, smoking weed and drinking alcohol. Things that will make us...

To continue reading