Nash MC is a long-standing fixture in the Tanzanian hip-hop scene. With three albums to his name, he stands out from the crowd not only because he is an avid aficionado of hip-hop culture, but also because his subsequent works flit between merging hip-hop with other mediums of art and language. A storyteller through hip-hop and poetry, Nash MC is passionate about the use and importance of language in art and culture and uses his organization KINASA (Kiswahili and Sanaa) that translates as Swahili and Arts to promote the Swahili language in hip-hop and poetry in Tanzania.
In this yoyo tinz conversation with Nikitta, Nash MC tells us about his passion for stories and his take on the music scene in Africa and particularly, Tanzania.
Your artiste name is Nash MC. Why MC?
MC because that is an element of hip-hop and it is a role that I as a rapper fulfill.
As a Tanzanian hip-hop artiste, you only use Swahili in your music. Is this a deliberate choice on your part and do you think this hinders your art form on an international platform?
I choose to use Swahili in my music because it is my language. As a hip-hop artiste, my aim is to use storytelling to get people to think, to create self-awareness and conceptualize new ideas. To do this, I have to use their own language and in Tanzania, that language is Swahili. Nationally, Swahili is the best vehicle for my music because it is the official language other than English. The first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, promoted Swahili as a language of unity among the different ethnic groups. Swahili has so much history dating back to the times of trading with the Arabs that I can always draw upon in my music. I don’t think it hinders my international appeal because I promote a specific image plus my primary aim is to speak to the everyday average Tanzanian and to speak to them, I need to use Swahili.
You mentioned that the aim of your music is to “get people to think, create self- awareness and conceptualize new ideas”. What then does your music talk about?
I talk about everyday life particularly that of the average Tanzanian. I rap about their problems as well as their successes relating to topics such as love, electricity, water and public transportation (daladala). A hip-hop artiste has to be the voice of the people through rhythmic language. For example, one of my most popular songs ‘Mtihani’ which translates as examination, talks about life as a difficult exam. It revolves around a series of tests that the main character goes through in life within and outside of Tanzania such as poverty and stigma. These ‘tests’ are everyday occurrences for the average Tanzania and my music gives a voice to their hardships as well as successes.
What’s your take on the current soundscape in Africa?
African music now is very varied and yet, the opposite of what it should be. People have forgotten their roots. Artistes like Fela Kuti and Salif Keita whose music is filled with awareness and consciousness are few. As a result of globalization, artistes constantly copy what comes from the West and African music has now regressed. People are brainwashed and artistes don’t’ reflect the truth of being African. Current African music is not terrible; it is just not at the stage it should be, where it is about real African issues.
Focusing now on Tanzania, especially hip-hop, could you give us a look into the hip-hop scene?
Music in Tanzania is mostly dominated by Bongo Fleva, which has a pop and RnB sound. Hip-hop is not mainstream, i.e it is not very popular in the media. Also, hip-hop cannot be mainstream because it changes things, ideas and concepts. It makes people self-aware and conscious in their lives. The media is wholly a business that dictates what is truth. Hip-hop contrasts this because it does not dictate truth but rather leads people to thought. Consequently, artists have to create their own path in the music industry in Tanzania.
Your album was titled Mzimu wa Shaaban Robert (the ghost of Shaaban Robert). This was an obvious reference to Shaaban Robert who is one of the leading figures in Swahili literature.
The title of the album was to pay respect to Shaaban Robert. Mine was the first hip-hop song or album to reference him. I am very inspired by him as he an author due to his grasp of the Swahili language but also because of the different themes he explored in his works. My job as an artiste is to take people back to their history and in this case, that of Swahili, which is not complete without Shaaban Roberts. A lot of young people now don’t know him and have not fully read his books. I gave them a reason to do so.
Other than hip-hop music, you are involved in some other projects that also relate to hip-hop and poetry. Could you elaborate on this?
I created an organization called KINASAA (Kiswahili na Sanaa), which translates as Kiswahili and Arts. Its purpose is to celebrate the Swahili language and art. Swahili has a longstanding tradition of the arts that is seen through numerous poems and novels written in the language. KINASA wants to use music to bring back this tradition. At the moment, we organize open mic sessions within various neighbourhoods in Dar es Salaam where we nurture the artistic talent as well as language skills of our participants. KINASA also means microphone in Swahili and this is an apt description as the organization is used to spread the message of the arts to society.
Rap is art. It is rhythm and poetry. Everyone can rap but not everyone can be an MC. MC’s move the crowd, they don’t follow the trend. MC’s are within hip-hop.