Thursday, April 30, 2009

Short Skirts Are Behind the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Listening to the radio at an unnatural hour of the morning, I managed to catch one of those 'issue of the day' debates. Topic: Does sexy clothing encourage people to have unsafe sex?* Most of the people who were polled on the radio (men and women) were of the opinion that it did. I listened in fascinated horror as one guy explained how he assumes that sex with a woman in tight/short clothing is hardly worthwhile unless he ditches the condom...sadly, the interviewer didn't ask him if he used condoms with lovers who wore more conservative styles. I suppose he had already picked up on the fact that this guy was a few bricks short of a stack.

The real clincher came when a lady pontificated at length that it is against African culture to wear revealing clothing of any kind. My breakfast nearly strangled me as I listened to this. Where do people come up with these specious assertions anyways? It is one thing to say that our current environment is conservative and we don't generally appreciate seeing lots of flesh on display, but to claim that the supergroup labelled Africans have always been into neck-to-ankle coverage is just boneheaded.

Our family collection contains the most wonderfully incriminating picture from the 1960s of My Lady of the Saucy Smiles posing against someone's car (The Patriarch is suspected here) whilst wearing a dress which is more like a glorified belt with sleeves. And I know I am not the only person who can blackmail her own mother with such material. How quickly we forget...

Brief hemlines and cleavage valleys aside, the implications of the 'yes' argument are horrifying. The Adam&Eve female temptress vs. stupid male victim argument is a tired excuse. Why do we insist on expecting our men to behave in a bestial manner in this day and age? What is next, justified rape and stone-age tools? Surely we can come up with a better social contract than this.

Of course, people weren't saying that we suffer from some form of sexual dementia so much as exposing our laissez-faire attitude towards sexual safety and our tendency to infantilize men. I confess, I was disappointed that no one spoke about the flip side of the coin, in spite of the high incidence of casual male nudity in Paradise.

* The Kiswahili term for unsafe sex is ngono zembe. Literal translation yields 'negligent fornication.' Somehow it strikes me as a far more accurate description of the practice...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bongo Flavor, Bongo Flavorless

A recent debate about the quality of Bongo Flava got me thinking about the 'then' and 'now' of this art form. Okay, I confess- I am actually listening to Magic FM's Flava 'hour' and they have been airing an excellent then-and-now playlist today. When Flava was hitting hard in the early naughties, there were some artists and songs that set the basic standards and sounds of Tanzanian Hip Hop: Mwanafalasafa, Professor Jay, Wagosi wa Kaya and even TID with 'Zeze.' In the early days, no one was talking about having money, fame or women because the art form was being practiced by young Bongolanders who had none of the above. They had to make themselves known by the tightness of their rhymes, their delivery, their subjects and lastly their music. Because the truth is that almost none of our Flava artists can play an instrument or produce a track to save their lives.

Still, things were good. Local producer Ludigo and Clouds FM did a lot to incubate the nascent Flava and give young talent a chance at the mike. Wagosi wa Kaya nailed the public service complaint as a form of rap with 'Wauguzi' and other similar tracks. Ndio Mzee continues to be the standard chant of political satire- no one has done better to date. Crazy GK's delivery gives life to the saying 'ulimi hauna mfupa.' Mikasi, Mirungi, Blanti is still one of the best urban anthems about drugs, sex and youth. Mangwea, Mr. Blue...the list goes on. People were hungry, creative and the field was wide open. But the very best of Bongo Flava in my humble opinion has always been the social commentary and political commentary tracks. Those are where Kiswahili shines as a language of praise and censure, of humor and rhyme, of subtlety and depth, of intelligent protest.

It is undeniable, and perhaps even inexcusable, that in recent times Bongo Flava has been dominated by lazy commercial tracks of the American Derivative variety. Yes, the kind that utterly unimaginative youth the world over keep spewing in copious amounts, complete with tiny muscles shown off in limp singlets and Daddy's borrowed car standing in for the blinging ride. Thanks to payola and a whole slew of other music industry problems it can be difficult for the quality to rise to the top where all the shit floats. Is Bongo Flava dying, or even worse, being overshadowed by Kenyan Pop? Not even close, in spite of the best efforts of these talentless hordes.

One piece of good news is that Nakaya Sumari of 'Mr. Politician' fame has signed a contract with Sony, I guess to record and distrubute her work. She'll put us on the map even if she's not necessarily the most Bongo Flavorful of artists. But I understand that she has the voice, the look**, the polish and the command of English that are necessary for a certain kind of international marketability (the kind where you don't end up in the World Music discount bin of Virgin Music Stores). Other songstresses who write their own material and produce locally-inspired sounds (Jay Dee, Ray C, Saida Karoli) don't sell too good outside of the region. Except in Japan. I want to go to Japan. There are so, so many reasons to love Japan...

Aside from Nakaya's windfall, Political Hardcore Bongo Flava continues to deliver as do some of the humor tracks. TMK Wanaume are keeping the form alive and local, and works from the other urbanities- especially Mwanza aka Rock City- remind us Zenj-inspired Bongolanders that there is something going on in Tanganyika. So yeah, like any urban grassroots artform Bongo Flava's golden era came in its early days- right after Hip Hop landed at Nyerere International Airport and bought a Swahili dictionary. Bongo Flava is the love child of that union, going through a rocky puberty.

Eh? What's that you are asking? Where are the female Flavans? Let me get back to you on that...

**So, I don't mind so much about the polish, command of english and such like criteria. But the look? Its like with the Mwishos, the Nakayas and Richards, Paradise is trying to promote a certain svelte caramel-colored hip-young international image for Bongo. It is subtle, but coupled with the protests over Richa Adhia's Miss Tanzaniahood, I sense our melanin politics are doing interesting things to our entertainment industry. So props to Tigo for tapping into our diversity in their ad campaign. Express yourself, indeed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

One Year Already?!

Wow. I am bad with birthdays but there is something particularly hopeless about forgetting your first blogirthday isn't there? I'm happy to report the blog has survived its first year, in spite of blog health tapering severely in the past six months or so. Big up to my silent readership (all three of you) who emerged out of the woodwork this past week to remind me that the posts are getting read. It is people like you who keep us feckless bloggers populating the interwebs with our unsolicited commentary. I'm grateful.

As of the 23rd of April which is the official blogiversary there were 112 posts up! Which, I have just realized, means that I also totally missed the 100th postiversary. Go figure. Coming up in year two: more of the same! Keep well and keep reading.

Do we get the leaders that we deserve?

About four years ago I developed a severe crush on South Africa and started sniffing out the similarities between the Rainbow Nation and my beloved Paradise. There are a number of superficial ones: Mandela? Nyerere. Mbeki? Mkapa. ANC? CCM. Gold? Big Mining. There are also a number of not-so-superficial similarities. Mandela? Nyerere. Mbeki? Mkapa. ANC? CCM. Gold? Big Mining. But South Africa was a Dutch and British settler colony while Tanganyika and Zanzibar could charitably be called the red-headed stepchildren of the British Empire. And so our post-majority-rule histories diverge. Apartheid? Ujamaa.

Centuries of colonial endeavour have given South Africa that Europe-away-from-Europe feel that is so essential to passing as a Developed Nation. Thus our Saffie compatriots got into the habit of calling everything north of the Limpopo 'Africa,' as in "I'm going to Africa this week on a business trip, to Tanzania." An tenuous position to be sure, but maybe not so unexpected since the whole world has been blowing smoke up South Africa's ass about their exceptionalism for the past fifteen years. In spite of this attitude and the violent xenophobia it has enabled, I was seriously hoping that South Africans (especially members of the ANC) would prove to be exceptional after all by avoiding a Zuma presidency.

Ah, well.

1994: Nelson Mandela (Moral Authority: Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy). 1999: Thabo Mbeki (Moral Authority: Danny Glover in Bopha!). 2009: Jacob Zuma (Moral Authority: Chris Brown circa The Rihanna Battery Incident)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Robbing Peter to Rob Paul?

The latest pyramid scheme recently collapsed, leaving scores of 'shareholders' to anxiously await the return of their monies. Development Entrepreneurship for Community Development (DECI) was registered by some shady independent church as a business, which allowed it to fly under the radar of our Government undetected for quite the while. The organization encouraged people to 'plant' their investments so they could 'reap' returns of 100% interest or more...

When their operation was outed by a nosy newspaper the Government was inspired to investigate. Their findings: DECI is a pyramid scheme, which makes it illegal, so Paradisans should refrain from investing while they gathered themselves to shut down the operation. Since no good deed goes unpunished, upon hearing this DECI investors immediately herded together and bleated that since the Government had failed to enrich them, it should butt out of their business and stop interfering with real investors. Heh.

It was serious enough to make the evening news- DECI preachers preaching, mobs of investors chanting, some making overripe statements to journalists: "DECI saved my life! The Government doesn't know what its job is!" Yet in the papers, we read that Kenyans had defenestrated the Director of DECI Kenya when they found out it was a con. You'd think this would have given Paradisans a clue. Luckily, the Paradisan story ends well. When DECI finally came clean, they just asked 'planters' to claim their refunds and gentle Paradisans flocked to their offices to sign up for the repayment schedule.

Admittedly DECI was exploiting our credulity when it comes to men of the cloth (which serves us right), but did we have to go and exacerbate matters by rejecting a Government intervention that was useful, for once? When it was up and running, DECI refused to tell its clients how it was investing their money and getting such high returns. And we flocked to their offices in droves. And then we reprimanded the Government for getting in the way of making money. If I was a con artist myself, I would assume from this incident that a Paradisans and her money are soon parted.

Which is a bit unfair, admittedly. As Bernie Madoff so handily demonstrated, wealth and education are no defence against a good swindle. Confidence artists only need to exploit our natural anxiety to make more money. As evidenced by DECI's experience and our oversubscribed IPOs, there is money hanging around unbanked and looking for an investment opportunity. Like, say, a mutual fund or a sub-prime mortgage con...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Blog Shout Out: African Bambataa

After only a couple of months of (hand-wringing, dithering and stonewalling) deliberation, Ink Head has taken the plunge into the murky waters of blogging. Put your hands together for African Bambataa which can be found at

Be sure to give him hell in the comments section :)

A little birdie told me...

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