Tanzania: Political pressure and corruption silence musicians

INTERVIEW

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Tanzania:
Political pressure and corruption silence musicians

According to Tanzanian musician Muumin Mwinjuma there are a significant number of causes for oppression and censorship of music in Tanzania – ranging from political pressure and corruption in media houses to economically unfair rewards, all of which lead to so many frustrations for Mwinjuma that he dropped his music career.

By Lingson Adam, reporting for Freemuse from Tanzania

The story of music censorship in Tanzania is rather obscure. Looking on the surface, one is convinced everything is going on well. But a little scratch beneath reveals that things are not that smart. One of the country’s prominent dance musicians, Muumin Mwinjuma, gave an account of his experiences in the field of music censorship when he spoke with Freemuse in March 2008.

Muumin Mwinjuma performs under the name of Kocha wa Dunia – ‘a world coach’ and he is the founder of the famous Tanzanian band called Double M. He declared his stance to quit the music platform in a press conference by the end of 2007 (Majira Newspaper, 28 November 2007). At the meeting he told the press that he would start a company to deal with other businesses than music, and that he saw no other way forward than to drop his music career in favour of other commercial activities.

“I have been trying a lot in this industry. But what have I got? Nothing. Many other musicians have tried over time – what have they earned? We get very little. We do not get a fair and decent reward for what we do. It is the same whether you own a band or are employed somewhere in the music field. The musician gets the least of the dividend. I realized that my big name in the music arena has earned me nothing, and there is so much pressure around that I can’t take,” Mwinjuma said.

Corruption in the media
According to Mwinjuma, the first culprit behind stunting music industry in Tanzania is the corrupt radio DJs, followed by print media reporters. It is not easy for a musician to promote his or her work: “Most radio stations DJs are corrupt. They publicly demand that you give them money for them to play your songs.”

Mwinjuma’s claims echo what Mashaka Mathias – who performs under the name Shakabizo – reported to be the main cause for many talented musicians to stunt. Shakabizo said that radio DJs and producers are notorious for insistently demanding bribes, and that they can be held responsible for the fact that many talented musicians drop along the way (Maisha Newspaper, 10 November 2007).

Mwinjuma recalls an incidence in 2002 when his ‘Kiu ya Mapenzi’ (‘Thirst for Love’) song was reported to have been deleted from a computer by a DJ who was putting pressure on him for a bribe. He also informs of an event in 2007 when one DJ sold his songs before they had been published officially.

“A friend of mine at Mto wa Mbu in Arusha called to congratulate me for the new album, and I was so surprised because at that time plans were still underway to launch that album. I followed it up and discovered that this bar owner who was playing my CD had bought the music from a DJ working for a radio station in Dar-es-Salaam.”

What measures did he take? Mwinjuma says that he could not do much because the legal system was not supportive. As regards to newspapers, Mwinjuma says their problem comes in when they are bribed by rival musicians to mudsling their opponents.

“These tabloid papers are very ‘effective’ in cooking up stories. Once they have been bribed, they are ready to say whatever comes to their mind to defame a musician. And I tell you, this is very discouraging.” Mwinjuma explains.

Political pressure
“One of the most embarrassing things is when we musicians are told to compose songs for the ‘national interest’ – be it for public anniversaries or when there is a state visit of some foreign leaders.” says Mwinjuma, adding that this kind of assignment takes away the musicians’ freedom to do what they plan to do at that particular time.

“The government and ruling party, CCM, are always haunting musicians to sing and perform during public holidays, party meetings, etc, with little or no pay at all. They are very tactical. They will summon you and humbly request you, but if you are resistant they intimidate you for a ban.”

“In 2005 I was summoned by some prominent CCM party leaders and asked to compose some songs for the Union Day. I refused because I was engaged to other paying concerts. They harshly told me that I must accept or else my band (Double M) was going to be banned.”

Mwinjuma, knowledgeable of how the party operates, had to turn down what would have paid him handsomely for a free ‘national interest’ show.

Asked if musicians are free to compose what they feel, such as to criticize the union, he quickly replies: “That is not possible. What they do is normally to give you hints of what they want to hear. In some cases they give you lyrics. Here is praise only. You are not allowed to sing what you want.”

He added that before the day comes you must submit the CDs for them to screen, thereafter – if they are satisfied – they allow them to have air play in state and party owned radios.

Role of the government
The government’s indifference when it comes to the promotion of music is also central when trying to explain why dance music and the music industry in general experiences failure in Tanzania.

“Pirate copying of our music is at its highest level in Tanzania. Our ‘government’ passed a law to oversee piracy of the works of art in 1999. But till this date enforcing it and making it operational has lacked a push. No one has ever been charged for the theft of our music. This is very much discouraging.”

Instead, the government has imposed heavy tariffs to the import of musical instruments, which makes it very difficult for artists to sustain their bands. “This gives opportunity to the bongo flavour musicians because most of their music is computerized. The government puts pressure on us to compose and perform during various public holidays, but when it comes to removing or relieving tariffs, they close their eyes as if they don’t know us. I decided that this was enough. I better do something different.”

The government of Tanzania has often made promises. The presiding president Jakaya Kikwete brought back the dying hope to musicians when he addressed the Parliament for the first time in 2005 and clearly promised that he was determined to see to that music would be made a priority. He also promised that he would enhance musician’s freedom as expression. In 2006, he admired the young musicians performing in two different occasions which was interpreted as a good sign, and which made him stand out from his predecessors. All the same, Tanzanian artists hold that he is yet to live up to those promises. Up to date, nothing significant has been done to lift or support the music industry in the country.




Muumin Mwinjuma
 

Photo by 
the author



Tanzania



The President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete expresses his interest in music, both traditional and modern.

Photo credit: courtesy of Ikulu Press


Of recent times, the director for cultural issues in the Ministry of Culture, Information and Sports, professor Herman Mwansoko, pronounced that his department was determined to make sure that artists benefit from their labour fairly (Mwananchi Newspaper, 22 December 2007). This is about three months ago now. Nothing of any significance has come up to enhance freedom of expression through music and as a source of livelihood.

Censorship from the audience
According to Mwinjuma, the Tanzanian community is very actively determining what musicians have to sing. It is the community which is to blame for the amount of overly love songs that most musicians in Tanzania compose and perform, he says:

“Believe me, Tanzanians are more active with enforcing censorship than the Censor Board which is very dormant in this country. Most people prefer entertaining songs to any other category, and they shun songs that are critical.”

As an example he mentions his song ‘Call box’ which portrays a woman who is selling her body and as a result creates many problems in the society.

“I tell you, this song brought me down. Women hated it and me all together. But the song was a reality. That is what goes on. But they made a lot of noise. This kills creativity.”

Mwinjuma also recalls the song ‘Manungayembe’ by Ngoni Group which was banned, ultimately by the government, in the 1990s due to pressure from the community.


About Muumin Mwinjuma
Muumin Mwinjuma stood out in the music arena in Tanzania in the early 2000s when he released ‘Tunda’, which was reported to have done very well in the market. His musical career however, goes back to 1989 when joined a music band called DDC Mlimani Park. He thereafter joined many other music bands in Tanzania and Kenya.

By the end of 2002 he founded his own music band called Double M and managed to release five albums: ‘Kilio cha Yatima’ (‘Orphan’s Cry’), ‘Mgumba’ (‘Barren Woman’), ‘Ndugu Lawama’ (‘Relatives’ Censure’), ‘Zawadi kwa Watanzania’ (‘A Gift to Tanzanians’), and ‘Call Box’.

In 2005 Double M united with Extra Bongo, a band led by another prominent dance musician, Ali Choki, forming a short lived Double Extra band. Double Extra band came up with only one album called ‘Chungeni Ndoa’ (‘Take Care of Your Marriages’).

Muumin Mwinjuma revived Double M, until he dropped it again in 2006 and joined TOT Plus, a band which he composed and was the leadsinger for until he put tools down in the end of 2007.

Muumini was born on 3 March 1970 in Pande village in Bagamoyo district, and he attended primary education there. In early years of life, Muumini reports to have been active in reciting religious lyrics and in school choir.



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