Music censorship: Tanzanian MPs speak truth to power

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Boniface Nyanga

Across Africa government institutions tasked with promoting music are stifling the industry by arresting performers and banning music videos on the basis of indecency. Several Tanzanian MPs recently came out to protest against these laws.

Though still a drop in the ocean, the outcry represents what African artists need to do to mitigate against draconian laws designed to oppress freedom of expression.

Early this year, Russian belly dancer Ekaterina Andreeva (31), popularly known as Johara, was arrested in Cairo for “inciting debauchery” and spent several days in jail.

This happened in a country known as one of the originators of belly dancing. Late last year, an Egyptian court sentenced Shyma Ahmed (21) to two years in prison for the ’sexually suggestive video ‘I Have Issues’.

Kenya’s Sauti Sol, P-Unit and Noti Flow have all had their music videos banned from TV during the watershed period of05h00 to 22h00.

In the most recent incident, Sauti Sol’s megahit ‘Melanin’ featuring Nigeria’s Patoranking was banned from daytime TV for being inappropriate for family viewing. Instead, the video has racked up more than 10 million views on YouTube.

A few months ago, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) announced a ban on 13 songs. Most notable among them were two Diamond Platnumz international collaborations: ‘Hallelujah’ ft Heritage Morgan and ‘Waka Waka’ ft Rick Ross. The government partially lifted the ban last month.

Speaking during a recent parliamentary sitting, Tanzanian MP for the northwestern city of Geita, Joseph Musukuma, took the government to task. Addressing the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Sports, he protested the ban, arguing that Tanzanian artists depend on videos to sell concert tickets. He also put it to the minister that his mandate was to promote Tanzanian music, yet the ban was doing the opposite.

“The government has allocated a lot of money towards sports but it’s our filmmakers and musicians who are world-renowned,” Musukuma said. “What the government is doing will jeopardise our status as a country. Why do we ban our Tanzanian artists for indecency and allow foreign acts like Rihanna who displays the same kind of content?”

Musukuma went on to question the minister on the premise of the ban, challenging him to clarify just what standard of decency he had employed to justify it.

“In our traditional dances, women only cover their breast and hip area. Can the minister explain which traditions our artists have gone against to deserve this ban? Instead of banning them, maybe the ministry should educate our artists on what is expected.”

Bongo star and Mikumi MP Joseph Haule (Professor Jay) also took issue with the government and addressed the National Arts Council of Tanzania (BASATA) in Parliament.

He questioned why BASATA was using just 69% of its allocated budget. Haule said Tanzanian musicians had many deep-rooted issues that outweighed ‘indecent’ videos.

“Though it is supposed to promote music and culture, BASATA has become a tool of oppression,” he said. “Instead of educating artists and helping them improve, we are banning their videos and putting restrictions on them.

Our artists need issues like piracy, distribution and promotion addressed, but instead we ban their music, summon them to our offices to answer charges and take selfies with them.”

During an appearance on the Kaa Hapa TV show early this month, the Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Harrison Mwakyembe, defended the government’s position to censor musicians. He insisted that the government was not deliberately targeting Tanzanian artists but only trying to hedge against the erosion of culture by modernity.

“Diamond is one of the top 10 artists in the world. He doesn’t need to sell himself with indecent videos,” Mwakyembe said. “Only average artists resort to such cheap tactics to hide their inefficiency. Let other artists do these things but not our own. Our music must project our values and norms.”

Mwakyembe said the Tanzanian government was proud of the role artists played in building national pride. He went on to say that the government had sat down with all affected artists and reached an “amicable agreement”. It seems like Tanzanian musicians have scored a few political allies in the face of the government’s hard-line censorship policy. – Music In Africa

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