Monday, November 19, 2018



East Africa’s finest Afro-pop singer Naseeb Abdul, known by his stage name Diamond Platinum has once again found himself IN hot water after Baraza la Sanaa Tanzania (BASATA), the national art council, banned his latest single titled “Mwanza.” To my recollection, it is the fourth time the Bongo Fleva singer has been on the receiving end of BASATA’s stringent moral code. Bongo Fleva is probably Tanzania’s fastest growing industry in the last two decades (of course, with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek). It is made of “youth music” or, as known in the country, “new generation music.”

Bongo, i.e. brain, stands for Tanzania when it is parochially used, but it can also mean Africa if stretched to the pan-Africanist discourse. Mbongo, i.e. someone who uses his/her brain to survives, is a Tanzanian, but can also mean an African. Bongo Fleva, thus, means the flavor of Bongo, musically.  
The last time Diamond’s music was banned was early this year when he released Hallelujah and Waka Waka. It led to a heated exchange between him and the Deputy Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports. Later in April, Diamond was made to issue a public apology after video clips of him and his girlfriend(s) enjoying intimate moments were posted online. It is not like they were caught in the act, just those little things most couple would do in private: like a lap dance, for instance. Such is the level of moralism sweeping Tanzania in the age of the internet!
A few weeks ago, the country’s film board indefinitely banned from acting a famous socialite, Wema Sepetu, after she posted a “sexually explicit” video of her kissing a boyfriend. Tanzania has a tough law in the Cybercrimes Act, 2015which makes it criminal to post online pornographic materials that are “lascivious or obscene.” She has since been charged of the offence and could face 10 years behind bars. 

Back to Diamond Platnumz, he is just a mega star. He is the country and region’s biggest export in the music industry. He has done collabos with international artistes, such as Nigeria’s famous duo P Square, Jamaica’s legendary reggae group Morgan Heritage, America’s A-list rapper Ricky Ross, Ne-Yo, and Grammy-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari. He has 5.5 million followers on Instagram. He is constantly involved in relationship dramas where he has had multiple love affairs. He is a dream newsmaker for the notorious rumor mill. He is the country’s showbiz. 
But he is not Fela Kuti. Nor is he Vitali Maembe. Far from it.

I am a big Diamond fan. I once bumped into him in the waiting lounge at Dubai International Airport. I approached, greeted, and told him I was a fan. We shook hands graciously. I even asked for a selfie with him but his manager declined politely, saying they had denied the opportunity for a good number of people who were shoving one another to get a shot with the Bongo Fleva superstar“It’s not fair if we allowed you to take pictures with him in the presence of those we have refused,” suggested Sallam SK, Diamond’s usually boastful manager.

I understood, high-fived with the celebrity, and left. It was all cool.

As hinted above, his latest feud with BASATA follows the release of his single Mwanza. In fact, he is only featured in the song by his fellow Wasafi Classic Baby’s (WCB0 group member, the talented Rayvanny (stage name). WCB is Diamond’s label group. Mwanza was an instant hit. Two days after the release, the song was viewed nearly 2 million times on YouTube. The Mwanza fever caught the country’s youthful Environment and Union minister, January Makamba, who praised WCB for improved choreography and world-play. Hours later, the song was banned and has since been removed from YouTube, at least for Tanzanians.
Because of Diamond’s stature, anything that happens to him is equally big. It was a big ban, which ignited the debate on morality in the country, on the one hand, and the role of BASATA, on the other. Quite a good number of music releases have not escaped BASATA’s wielding axe, since the 5th phase government came to power in 2015. In March last year, rapper Ney wa Mitego was arrested after releasing a song that was deemed critical of the government. He was released after the Minister responsible for information said the President loves the song and has suggested improving its lyrics "to take on other issues, such as tax evaders, corrupt businesspeople and drug traffickers." Another song by rapper Nikki Mbishi titled I am sorry JK was also banned. In the song, the rapper artistically apologizes to the former president Jakaya Kikwete for criticizing him when he was in power, insinuating that his successor has been worse. That, in BASATA’s book of law, was equivalent to insulting President Magufuli.

So, what is in Mwanza to the extent that it was deemed inappropriate for the Tanzanian public? It is not clear since the statement from BASATA only points to “immoral” content. But there are two contentious parts of the song: Mwanza is the city in the North of Tanzania on the shores of Lake Nyanza (shamelessly colonizers called it Victoria). In the song, the singers sing about “Nyegezi”, a popular suburb in Mwanza. But they first set apart “nyege” from “nyegezi,” before demanding that they are taken to Nyegezi because that is where their home is. 
It is a soothing poetic, melodic word-play that leaves the listener in a metaphoric state of mind because “nyege” is a Swahili word for horniness! In another line, Diamond sings about a girl who goes to his house and she seductively alludes to having anal sex to which he responds that he is fearful of the law, therefore, won’t be tempted. Sodomy is a serious crime in Tanzania. The backdrop to this is a leaked sex tape of a certain Amber Ruty (female) performing sodomy with a male partner, causing a national furore.  “I am fearful of the law, I am not doing an Amber Ruty,” sings Diamond. That was enough for BASATA; the mere mentioning of sodomy in a homophobic, patriarchal society can land one in trouble.
Tanzania has seen growing moral conservatism in recent years, a development that must warrant a social scientific interrogation. Public offices have introduced a conservative dress code for both their employees and visitors. In some offices, normal miniskirts are deemed too short and revealing, the wearer would be blocked at the gate. Patched jeans are prohibited for visitors. In some places, it has been reported that local governments there have introduced corporal punishment against young people with sagging pants!
The justification given by moralists is always suspicious: the wazungu (white people) are destroying our culture, we are a nation of men and women of God! Recently, speaking against homosexuality during a parliamentary session, the Home Affairs minister, Kangi Lugola strongly maintained that his government is not about to succumb to forces of evil by condoning homosexuality. “Tanzania is a nation of the Holy Spirit,” he announced.
This growing moralism, together with shrinking civic space in Tanzania, has created a breeding ground for homophobia, misogyny, and moral conservatism which calls for purity. I have blogged about this elsewhere

Earlier I mentioned that Diamond is not Fela Kuti. Unlike Kuti, Diamond is a regime sympathizer. Time and again he has expressed his admiration for President Magufuli and his government. The Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner who recently announced a manhunt on gay people is the WCB’s guardian. This political connection has created a wrong assumption that the country’s music prized asset is somehow untouchable. He seems to enjoy this status because he has not been outspoken when the government is wrong. To be fair to him, Tanzania now lacks militant art in the mainstream. And those in power love it.

Sometime last year, the Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports advised musicians to compose songs that are not “political.” He used Diamond as an example of those whose music is not political but has reached stardom. He bizarrely warned artistes not to follow Fela Kuti’s way and end up as losers! However, the social and political context in Tanzania is leaving no one untouched. Not even Diamond. He may have avoided getting political, but the moral requirement imposed by BASATA has evidently failed him.
For an artiste of his stature, Diamond may be forced to radicalize. But only if he is aware of the power he has. It is a good sign he is now rivaling the country’s music establishment by organizing Wasafi Festival, an event that features nationwide music concerts. It is a project he says will emancipate the usually underpaid, undervalued talents of Bongo Fleva. He may want to use this platform and his stature to redefine our art. And our conservative morals, too.


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