By Boniface Nyaga
Tanzania’s ruling party’s decision to ignore bongo flava artists during campaign season has divided opinion.
“From today Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) will not use bongo flava artists in our political rallies," CCM secretary Bashiru Ally during a meeting of the executive council in Dodoma, last week. "We shall use our own band, Tanzania One Theater (TOT). [And] when we go to various provinces we shall engage regional traditional dancers so as to save cost."
Comedian and actor Steve Nyerere has expressed his support for the move. “As a staunch supporter of CCM, I totally agree with our secretary," he said. "The announcement may appear as though CCM doesn’t value musicians but that is not the aim. Our party supports the arts so there will always be room for performers. TOT has always performed at CCM campaigns and they will continue to do so."
CCM employed bongo flava artists during the 2015 campaign, following the death of singer and Mbinga West MP John Damiano Komba. Popular for belting out patriotic and CCM-themed songs, Komba was a permanent feature at rallies until his death.
Artists who participate in campaigns often end up compromised and unable to speak truth to power. And by choosing one side, they risk alienating fans who support the opposition.
During the 2016 Ugandan election, Bebe Cool, Anne Kansiime, Jose Chameleon and Juliana Kanyomozi, among others, actively campaigned for the incumbent, Yoweri Museveni. Though it was a profitable venture, it came at a great price, as they were castigated for their participation in promoting Museveni’s 32-year reign. Their role in Museveni’s theme song ‘Tubonge Na We’ (We're With You) infamously earned them the nickname, the 'Tubonge Artists'.
Ugandan pop star Bebe Cool was recently pelted with bottles at a concert for what he calls "divergent political views". Following the arrest and recent hospitalisation of Bobi Wine amid allegations of state-sponsored torture, Bebe Cool claimed that the popstar MP was faking his injuries. Consequently, Bebe Cool announced a cancellation of all public appearances for the safety of his family, friends and fans.
In Kenya, Afro-pop groups Sauti Sol and Elani made a conscious decision to stay clear from the 2017 campaigns. Known for their social commentary, they didn’t want political patronage to taint their moral authority to challenge power. Both acts continue to challenge the status quo with Sauti Sol recently releasing ‘Tujiangalie’ and Elani ‘Mahindi’.
With governments across Africa failing to create infrastructure for the creative economy, most artist find it hard to refuse campaign money. Once this money is received, it becomes hard to demand better leadership once the giving politician enters office. There are those, however, who disregard the profit of silence and use their voice to agitate for change.
Zambian rapper-activist Pilato experienced the wrath of the state after the release of ‘Koswe Mumpoto‘(Rat in a Pot). The rapper fled the country earlier this year fearing for his life only to be arrested upon his return. Perceived as an affront to President Edgar Lungu, the song is seen by many as the reason Pilato continues to face numerous charges.
As a voice to the voiceless, it is probably prudent for artists to avoid actively campaigning for a political party and instead address themselves to issues. It remains to be seen if the CCM’s latest move will give Tanzanian artists the independence they need in order to be the voice of change. – Music In Africa