Let’s journey to an African land called Tanzania. Tanzania is probably one of the oldest known inhabited areas on Earth. It is reported that fossil remains of humans and pre-human hominids have been found that date back over two million years. More recently, Tanzania is believed to have been populated by hunter-gatherer communities, probably Cushitic and Khoisan speaking people.Tanzanians are famous for one of the most important technological achievements in human history: the production of steel. The Haya people of East Africa discovered a type of high-heat blast furnace that allowed them to forge carbon steel at 1,802 °C (3,276 °F) nearly 2,000 years ago. Centuries later in Europe during the Industrial Revolution, this was duplicated.
With history running strong and rich among the people of Tanzania, I wanted to take a look at the country’s hip-hop scene to see if the same kind of feeling could be felt in Tanzania’s music. A good friend of mine spent a month in Tanzania last year. He is a MC by the name of Okai and he had the opportunity to meet and even perform with a few of the local artists. One very well know MC goes by the name of Fig Q. When he returned, he spoke of the seriousness that Tanzanian hip-hop artists feel towards their craft, and how that inspired Okai in his own music. Okai told me that artists like Fig Q and others are leaders of their neighborhoods in a political manner. Their followers are not just fans of their music, but also see themselves as soldiers of an army to stand for justice.
I was on a quest to find some new music from Tanzania and found a group by the name of X Plastaz. The group’s style mixes elements from international hip-hop and traditional Maasai music, represented by Maasai singer Merege. The hip-hop of X Plastaz is more slowly paced that most African hip-hop and strongly characterized by deep chanting, a typical influence from Maasai musical styles. One of the group’s more famous songs, “Aha!,” is about life in a traditional Maasai village, and the music video of this song was shot in a traditional village, displaying the lifestyle and customs of the Maasai people. The song’s rap is in Swahili and Haya, while the chorus is actually a traditional Maasai chant. The song was also included in the HBO documentary, This Is My Africa.
X Plastaz’s focus is to make truly African hip-hop instead of mimicking American black music and, through its music, to express subjection towards Western culture. For example, its website makes reference to the American magazine National Geographic, which published an article on their music, but is also careful to explain what the magazine is in the first place.
The group just launched its new video and single, “Africa.” The highly anticipated song features the vocals of Fid Q and vocals and production by Bamba Nazar. The message in the song is about the need for peace and unity in the continent of Africa.
Just like in its video to “Nini dhambi kwa mwenye dhiki” (the most viewed East African hip-hop video on Youtube, with close to a million views), this one shows the natural heritage of their homeland, in sharp contrast with the lyrics in which X Plastaz criticizes the way people treat their next of kin. “Africa” was shot in different parts of Tanzania: Unguja (Zanzibar), a island off the Tanzanian coast, and Arusha, the city in which the members of X Plastaz live.
X Plastaz represent what my friends and I call “Indigenous hip-hop” to the fullest. The group’s video is so full of culture and traditional expressions. X Plastaz, as a group, are everything I hope to find from a land with roots as deep as Tanzania.