Nakaaya Sumari


12 August 2009

In this interview the Tanzanian singer Nakaaya Sumari explains why she sings about corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in her hit song ‘Mr Politician’. She talks about ‘the inconvenience of truth’, and also about musicians’ self-censorship, and the strong role which music plays as a tool for communication in East Africa.

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Nakaaya Sumari is a singer and songwriter who became famous in East Africa in 2006 when she was a cast member on the popular East African reality-show ‘Project Fame’. She didn’t actually win the contest, but became a fan favorite, winning the hearts of her viewers through her passion and dramatic flair.

She recorded her debut album, ‘Nervous Condition’, in the Tanzanian capital Dar-es-Salaam together with the regional super-producer Ambrose Akwabi of Mandugu Digital. It was released in February 2008, and her song ‘Mr. Politician’ quickly became a hit, not only in Tanzania, but in all of East Africa. Later in 2008, ‘Mr Politician’ was one of the songs nominated by MTV nominees for the prestigious Listener’s Choice Award.

Equality and empowerment
Nakaaya’s songs reflect her committment to gender equality and women’s empowerment. She was recently invited to perform at the UN in relation to the Millenium Development Goals, and in December 2008 she visited Denmark to attend a conference about music and development. Here she spoke about her personal and general experience as a singer and songwriter in Tanzania and her various commitments, and was also interviewed by the national broadcasting corporation DR TV. Another outcome of her journey to Denmark was that she was contacted by Sony Music and later signed a record deal with the company


About her background, it is written on Nakaaya’s home page:
“Born in Tanzania 26 years ago, during her childhood based in Arusha, near the border to Kenya, growing up and attending schools in both Kenya and Tanzania, Nakaaya Sumari represents the dynamic spirit of the modern East African woman. The compelling passion of her voice conveys the pain and pride and the internal struggles between the two that so many deal with. Always a performer, Nakaaya has been in love with music since her early days singing in school choirs.”

Nakaaya’s official home page:

MySpace profile of Nakaaya:

Watch the video for ‘Mr Politician’ below.

The video clip is produced by Freemuse. It was recorded on 4 December 2008 in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Mik Aidt.
Video postproduction by Mik Aidt.

Click to listen to the audio track alone Right-click and choose 'Save Target As'

7:38 minutes

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Album cover of ‘Nervous Condition’

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The truth always hurts

Transcription of the interview with Nakaaya Sumari

Music has much more than what a journalist could write. People listen. And when they listen, and it is coupled with music, they relate to that, it sinks into them so much more than someone standing there in suit, lying about things that they will do. Everybody really pays attention to music, and that is why music is just huge in East Africa — although we don’t have a system to support it — we don’t have a proper system to support music, but even so, music is the biggest form of communication in East Africa. People really listen to music…

Music has so much power. People just relate to it. People respect it, because the musician, the artist, say it like it is. You see, journalist try to rosy up things and try to make you see how much they know, and how educated they are, so they write things in a certain fashion, and politicians with their style of trying to steal from you, they talk in a certain way, that put that little lie in every other second, but artists, they speak from the normal persons perspective. And then they couple it with music. And so people relate. And when people relate, and it is the truth, they respect it much more, and they are more loyal to that than to politicians or the journalists.

The truth will always be unconfortable
As long as you have an uneasy political situation in your country, when you have so much corruption, speaking the truth will always be unconfortable. Not speaking it will also be unconfortable. So what do you do? You really have to figure it out. Because if you don’t say anything, your kids are going to have a much worse situation than you, because the more the problem persists, the more the problem roots itself. It is going to be even harder to solve the problem. So why don’t you solve it when you still can? Even if you don’t solve it a hundred per cent. Just hoping that you are going to succeed in solving it a hundred per cent. Something that can allow the next generation to even fix it. Not only the next generation, but just everybody, you know, mobilize people! Mobilize people! Make people aware. Just deal with it. Either way, it is dangerous. The truth always hurts, and that is why they say ‘Truth hurts’.

Fear… is just fear
For a long time I was afraid of expressing myself, saying what I felt. With the fear that nobody would probably feel what I feel. And that is why, I think, I started my career very late. But, I think you kind of get sick and tired of it. You get sick and tired of being treated in a certain way when you really know that things could get better. You know what I am saying?

A very good example is when I was writing ‘Mr Politician’, and I recorded it, and I went home with it, and my mother was very… “Oh no! No, you can’t release this! They would want to take you out. And you say Amina’s name… Oh God, oh no!”, and my dad was saying: “Yes, you should release this! It is about time! We are tired of this, we are tired of that!”, and I would make people listen to it before I released it, my friends, people around me, and I got a very high percentage of people saying: “You know, you should release it, because somebody needs to say the truth! Somebody needs to tell them something!”

And so you realize that fear is just what it is: fear. Nothing really. It is just fear. And even if I die today or tomorrow, my song is going to be out there. The message still lives on. It is just flesh, like, she was burried, so what… This is just flesh. And so, you taking it away, it doesn’t mean anything. If the song is out there, it is out there. And if you take me out, the song is even going to be ten times more out there.

Respect comes with silence
And so… yes, I was very afraid. Because we are raised in a certain way, you know. We are raised to respect our older people — which is not a bad thing — but then again, respect comes with silence. You know: “Don’t say what you think. What you think is you. But I am older than you. I am in government. Don’t say anything to me. Don’t say anything to me, just because I am in government. You are younger. You don’t know what you are talking about. I know better.”
“But you are stealing!”
“No no no! I know better!”
You know…
So it is a very tricky situation. But I think it has to do with how we were raised. Just not supposed to say anything. And to couple it with the fact that I am a girl. Tsch… You just don’t really say much. It comes across as disrespectful, when indeed, it is not. When indeed it is just human:
“I am human and I know my rights. And I am suffering. I am smart. Why can’t I get employment? Why are you giving somebody else… Why are you giving a cousin a job when he doesn’t have the same capacity as I do? Why are you giving your brother a job when he can’t really do what my sister or my other friend can do? — and they are very good at what they do!”

So it is a very very messed up situation, and at some point you just get enough of being strangled. You just want to breathe. And that is what I am fighting for: a breath. Just fresh air. Something to just say… “Hhhhhuh! This feels better!”. That is what I am fighting for.

The interview was recorded on 4 December 2008 by Mik Aidt for Freemuse


Nakaaya Sumari
featuring M1:
‘Mr Politician’
Click to open or download the music video

Nakaaya Live on CNN

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