Tanzania’s ‘Underground’ Hip-Hop Artists Mark Africa Day

Participants expressed disappointment with the level of economic independence that Africa has achieved in six decades of political freedom.

Dar es Salaam. The theme of economic liberation dominated discussions at the commemoration of Africa Day celebrations in an occasion that brought together members from the ‘underground’ hip-hop movement in Tanzania and those from the country’s other social movements.

The ‘underground’ hip-hop artists define themselves as artists who have refused to go mainstream and have decided to remain ‘underground,’ organising under the umbrella of Watunza Misingi, which means Foundations Keepers in English.

Marked every year on May 25th, this year’s Africa Day coincided with the commemoration of 60 years since the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), later renamed to the African Union (AU), with celebrations taking place in several African countries and around the world.

The ‘underground’ hip-hop artists and other members of Tanzania’s social movements marked the day at the Amy Garvel Hall in Manzese Tip-Top in the city, a hall named after one of the female founders of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914, a pan-Africanism fraternal organisation established by the African Diaspora.

Disappointment

During discussions that accompanied the commemoration of the day, the participants examined the state of African affairs, expressing disappointment with the level of economic independence that the continent has been able to achieve almost six decades after earning political freedom from colonialists.

The discussants agreed that Africans must make deliberate efforts to improve their situation to live a life of respect and dignity, free from poverty, dependence, and humiliation.

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Frank Mwakyembe, an ‘underground’ hip-hop artist who goes by the stage name of Lugombo, was very clear in his analysis that to achieve that goal, several people will have to come on board, pointing out the role of hip-hop artists whom he said traditionally have been at the forefront in supporting meaningful changes in the communities.

“Hip-Hop has contributed so much in promoting liberation in all important areas concerning the well-being of Africans and human rights,” said Lugombo. “Before and even after political independence, hip-hop artists from within and outside the African continent have been working tirelessly to inspire the continent’s liberation.”

Lugombo, who also works as an Assistant Lecturer at the Mbeya University of Science and Technology (MUST), emphasised the benefits of collaboration, noting that the challenges are too enormous to be countered by a single individual or organisation.

Because of this realisation, Lugombo said their organisation, Watunza Misingi, has been collaborating with members from other social movements in Tanzania to improve Tanzanians’ welfare and realise the goal of a free, prosperous, and unified Africa.

The event at the Amy Garvel Hall saw discussions and reflections accompanied by performances of different types of entertainment. Poets read their poems. Hip-hop artists performed, and reggae artists southed the souls of participants.

Freedom from hunger

Faria Shomari, a member of the Manzese Working Women’s Cooperative (UWAWAMA), an organisation of women building alternative economic models in the communities, reminded participants of the timeless suggestion that freedom will be meaningless if it will not be freedom from hunger.

“We have political freedom, but what about economic freedom?” Faria asked rhetorically. “It is time to make sure Africans are liberated economically by taking control of our economy and finding alternative ways to make the economy works for the many, not the few.”

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She named the cooperative model the best model of ensuring women, youth, and other community members improve their lot, empowering themselves economically and psychologically as they learn to work for themselves instead of bosses.

“We need to work together,” Faria reminded the participants of the occasion. “Let’s try to establish small cooperatives businesses and production activities.”

UWAWAMA is trying to minimise its members’ dependence on traditional financial institutions like banks, which they have criticised for “enslaving” working-class women of Tanzania. Instead, it builds alternative models to ensure women get startup capital to establish small businesses.

New tactics

Discussants agreed on the need to expand the scope of the fight for the betterment of Africans, acknowledging the limitations of the approaches used for the past six decades of Africa’s political independence.

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James Kitime, a member of the Tanzania Socialist Forum that unites Tanzania’s socialists, spoke of the need to question what is considered normal, calling it the first step in redefining the approaches aimed at liberating Africans socially and economically.

“We need new approaches that will question every form of social and economic relationships that exist in Africa and around the world,” Kitime intoned.

“Because it is important to remember that there will be no liberation without the liberation of working people, and by people, we mean workers and peasants,” he added.

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