By Anne Njeri
He lives up to his name. A bright, transparent, and precious stone, a diamond is a symbol of brilliance, light, riches, and intellectual knowledge. Born in 1989, Nasibu Abdul Juma is considered influential among his fans and is said to be the most loved and decorated artiste in East and Central Africa. (“Platnumz Diamond”) He is among the few African artists who hit one billion views on YouTube. His popularity notwithstanding, Diamond floats in riches, a reflection of his success in the music industry. Like platinum, he presents himself as a useful, valuable voice in the Bongo Flava genre of music. His songs are full of creativity, insight and expertise. I have picked “Gongolamboto”, a song he sang with his fellow Tanzanian, Mpishi Mpoto, to discuss why I am drawn to his music. From the choice of lyrics, the contrast of the two voices in the song and the impact it leaves on the listener, the song is in a class of its own.
“Gongolamboto” is a song that brings to light the power of music. It proves right the words of Maria Von Trapp, matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers, (“Maria Von Trapp”) “music is a powerful instrument, a mighty weapon”. Laden with emotion the two musicians enumerate the aftermath of explosions that occurred on 16 February, 2011 in Gongolamboto at a military ammunitions depot. “Poleni sana wale usiku hatujalala, kweli mabomu yamewapa madhara,yalosababisha maafa…mpaka sasa hawana pa kulala, watoto bado njaa wajala”. Gongolamboto is a slum in Dar es Salaam with many people living in abject poverty and with HIV/AIDS. One can only imagine the agony and loss that resulted from the explosions coupled with the poverty levels in Gongolamboto. Perhaps the pain is intensified by the fact that these explosions that left 20 people dead were a ‘mistake’. How then were the residents expected to deal with such a grievous mistake? What words would they use to explain to their children that the place that should offer protection and defend them from their enemies was the source of death? Perhaps these are the questions that Diamond and Mrisho seek to raise in the song. This referral to an actual place calls its audience to a reality check. It speaks not only to the Gongolamboto population, but also to the many people who are suffering in the world. The song reflects the universality of music and the hearts of Diamond and Mrisho.
“I believe that a person’s taste in music tells you a lot about them. In some cases, it tells you everything you need to know” Leila Sales. (qtd in Qincy) How true these words are! The artistes show their love for people, their humanness and empathy for their countrymen and women. The singers share in the pain of the victims and in turn transfer these feelings to their listeners. In doing so, they help their audience understand what the residents of Gongolamboto went through. The lyrics portray the confusion and destruction that come with such acts. Mrisho says that no one was looking out for another. It was the case of every man for himself. Parents and children were separated as well as husbands and wives. “…Hakuna aliyekumbuka viatu wala kumshika mwanawe, hakuna aliye mkumbuka mumewe wala kumbusu mkewe…”
The song has a canny way of condemning evil, creating awareness and also giving hope to Tanzanians its listeners. It is partly a song and also a speech. The artistes not only address their fellow citizens but also include themselves as recipients of the explosions. They use the third person pronoun ‘we’. “Sisi ni wale hatujalala…”Mrisho candidly expresses his sympathy. “…Poleni sana, poleni sana…” This obviously bridges the gap between them and their audience. They are able to penetrate the souls of the wounded people and encourage them not to lose hope. When the victims hear this song they feel they have not been neglected or left to deal with their problems alone. Consequently, empathy is created rather than simply raising sympathy for the victims. Notably, Diamond and Mrisho do not stop at bringing out the effects of this heinous act. They give the audience hope. With such acts, people gravitate towards hopelessness, depression and even resign to fate. However the song reminds the citizens not to give up. “…Yaliyopita si ndwele tugange yajayo…”
The melody of the song is commensurate with the Afrobeat and Taarab music. I love the sound of the drums and keyboard which bring out the bongo flava taste. The contrast between Diamond’s soft voice and Mrisho’s powerful and authoritative voice create a magical effect. Diamond’s harmony raises pity and empathy allowing his audience to relate to the feelings of the community in Gongolamboto. This reminds me of Leo Tolstoy’s words: music is the shorthand of emotion. (qtd in Quincy) Mrisho’s commanding voice on the other hand, has a very dramatic effect. His oration comes out forcefully as he endeavors to instill hope and re-awaken the wounded people. As I watch this song, Mrisho stands out as that father figure who is determined to help his family pick up the pieces of what is left after a crisis. His words strike the core of the listeners “…ningekua mwanasiasa ningesema… nichagueni mimi… lakini hizi ni roho za watu…” Their body language complement their sincerity. They can be seen kneeling and praying for Tanzania with solemn faces in front of a large gathering. The song is also rich in language use. Mrisho uses Swahili sayings which are popular with Taarab and Swahili culture, pointing to the expertise in the song. “Apasuaye nguo lazima awe fundi wa kushona.”
“Music is the language that does not speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions and if it is in the bones, it is in the bones.” Keith Richards. These words describe Diamond and Mrisho. This song carries both the voices and the spirits of the artistes. If it was not in their bones it would have been just another song, without consequence.