Rap songs from Tanzania’s urban youth are especially popular due to two factors: (1) unlike the majority of countries in Africa, Tanzania has a well-established national language, Swahili, which is spoken from one end of the country to the other, and has enabled the emergence of a well-subscribed sentiment of national belonging; and (2) as of 2013, 64% of Tanzania’s population was 25 years old or younger.
Like much youth music, a constant theme for Tanzanian rap is romance and relationships, but social and political critique has also proven emblematic of the genre. With penetrating lyrics, Swahili rappers target those who engage in predatory capitalism and political corruption—elites who hoard resources to accrue ever more wealth, spending it in an ever more conspicuous style, while the majority find their lives made ever more difficult.
This according to “Neosocialist moralities versus neoliberal religiousities: Constructing musical publics in 21st century Tanzania” by Kelly M. Askew, an essay included in Mambo moto moto: Music in Tanzania today (Berlin: VWB: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 2016, pp. 61–74).
Above and below, Soggy Doggy’s Nyerere uses clips of Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, who believed that socialism was the antidote to colonial-era capitalism.
Until the second half of the mid-19th century, the Asante and related peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast used small brass castings made by the lost-wax process as weights for measuring their gold-dust currency.
These weights, made in large numbers by professional metal workers, came in all shapes and sizes. There were two sorts of weights: those which represent miniature objects, creatures, and activities from local life, and those in non-representational, geometrical forms.
Many of the representational weights depicted musical instruments, either on their own or being played, and activities which traditionally took place to the accompaniment of music. The great majority of these weights show only two types of instruments: ivory trumpets, and various types of drums.
This according to “Music and gold-weights in Asante” by Malcolm Donald McLeod (British museum yearbook 1980, pp. 225–42).
Above, a weight depicting a pair of atumpan drums of the Akan people; below, the atumpan in action.
Taarab’s performers and audiences consider the genre to be a link to Egypt as another powerful place of coastal imagination, but it demonstrably owes more to centuries of exchange across the Indian ocean.
Despite the political agendas that engulfed Zanzibar in the mid-20th century, Swahili musical and urban sensibilities prevailed, and taarab continues to flourish. However, the older style of song text, which thrived on social commentary and improvisation, gave way in the 1950s to songs about the human condition, particularly romantic love songs.
This according to “Between mainland and sea: The taarab music of Zanzibar” by Werner Graebner, an essay included in Island musics (Oxford: Berg, 2004).
The Gnawama’llem (spirit master) Abdellah El-Gourd and the African American jazz pianist Randy Weston met in El-Gourd’s native Tangier in the early 1970s; over the next 30 years their interactions transformed their lives.
They recognized a common thread in slavery, as the Gnawa were originally sub-Saharan peoples who were mainly brought to Morocco as slaves. The two men collaborated musically, and Weston’s music was deeply influenced by the experience.
For El-Gourd, the great figures in jazz—both historical and contemporary—became symbolic ancestors; their portraits hang in his home next to those of Gnawa elders. Also due to his Western encounters, El-Gourd realized the importance of documenting his local laylaẗ tradition, a project that possesses him in a way that may be compared to the spirit possession of the laylaẗ ceremony itself, and which resonates with the way that Gnawa music has possessed and is possessed by the West.
This according to “Possessing Gnawa culture: Displaying sound, creating history in an unofficial museum” by Deborah Kapchan (Music & anthropology: Journal of musical anthropology of the Mediterranean 7 ). Below, a brief interview with El-Gourd.
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