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Immunizing Strategies: Hip-Hop and Critique in Tanzania

  • Koen Stroeken

Tanzania has in the last decade seen a vibrant form of hip-hop emerge that is gaining wide public exposure thanks to its political tenor. First, this article illustrates how rap lyrics reflect Tanzanian political history and in part determine it. Bongo Flava, as the local hip-hop genre is called, has gained credibility by reinterpreting Nyerere's normative legacy and by expanding freedom of expression in the country, while unhampered by factors that normally mitigate the social impact of popular culture. Second, the article explores the global relevance of their social critique. Bongo Flava attempts to outwit the sophisticated indifference and neoliberalism of postcolonial rulers and ruled. Partly inspired by African American popular culture, many songs expose the postcolonial strategy of survival, which is to immunize oneself against the threat of commodification by fully embracing it, the contamination yielding extra power. The lyrics, in their irony and pessimism, exhibit the same immunizing tendency. However, this tendency is curbed by two principles that safeguard streetwise status: the rapper's willingness to ‘duel’ and the Kiswahili credo of activating bongo, ‘the brains’.

Au cours de la dernière décennie, la Tanzanie a vu émerger une forme de hip-hop survolté qui trouve un large retentissement auprès du public par sa teneur politique. Dans un premier temps, l'article illustre la façon dont les paroles de rap reflètent l'histoire politique tanzanienne et la déterminent en partie. Le Bongo Flava, nom donné au style hip-hop local, a obtenu sa crédibilité en réinterprétant l'héritage normatif de Nyerere et en développant la liberté d'expression dans le pays, sans être gêné par les facteurs qui atténuent normalement l'impact social de la culture populaire. Dans un second temps, l'article examine la pertinence globale de sa critique sociale. Le Bongo Flava tente de déjouer l'indifférence sophistiquée et le néolibéralisme des dirigeants et dirigés postcoloniaux. En partie inspirées de la culture populaire africaine américaine, beaucoup de chansons dénoncent la stratégie de survie postcoloniale qui consiste à s'immuniser contre la menace de la marchandisation en s'y ralliant totalement, la contamination rapportant un gain de pouvoir. Les paroles, à travers leur ironie et leur pessimisme, présentent la même tendance immunisante. Or, deux principes sauvegardent le statut de musique de rue et modèrent ainsi cette tendance: la volonté du rappeur d'≫affronter en duel≪ et le credo kiswahili d'activer le bongo, ≫le cerveau≪.

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