Hip Hop Music as a Youth Medium for Cultural Struggle in Zanzibar

By Omari, Shani | Journal of Pan African Studies, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Hip Hop Music as a Youth Medium for Cultural Struggle in Zanzibar


Omari, Shani, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

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).

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