Why Tanzania now approximates– or dwarfs–DRC in popular music ratings

01Mar 2021
Michael Eneza
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Why Tanzania now approximates– or dwarfs–DRC in popular music ratings

THERE is an expression that one should not judge a book by its cover, but by another approach, it is quite true that a lot is learned about a book merely by looking at its cover, where a reasonably good impression can be made on its contents, as a summary.

Musician Nyoshi El Saadat

What that expression is saying is that one ought to hold his or her breath, take time to go through, not necessarily read all of it, before actually forming a ‘judgment’ – which actually wishes to say a solid opinion – on that book.

That opinion is solid not because someone shall live with it, but rather because it will be transmitted to others, as it takes place in a public discussion.

What that formulation all the same admits is that a solid impression – not a reliable opinion though – can be formed by looking at the cover of a book.

In like manner, if one hears a datum in entertainment pages that the most viewed pop song in Africa in the course of 2020 was a Tanzanian hip hop number, viewed by some 41.1m viewers around the continent, this is a premise to make some hasty conclusions, even if the wisdom from that expression suggests that this is hasty and perhaps unwarranted.

But there was an accompanying datum, that the next two best songs were from Ghana and Nigeria, not DRC, South Africa.

These countries can be mentioned with relative ease because their music numbers quite often trend in our local entertainment places, not discounting numbers from Uganda, Kenya and DRC among other areas.

The point is that the position that DRC music occupied in the country and seemingly in nearby countries as well has been on a steep decline for two decades, and arguably more so in the past decade.

Hardly is the current crop of young men and women with an inkling of music likely to be familiar with the retinue of what is being heard from Paris or Kinshasa in Congolese music, whereas in the past it was top news.

The major turning point came around 2000 when East Africa Television was introduced as a new product or service centre in IPP Media Group, and as it was in its early days, it did not seek to rush with a stream of interactive programmes; such innovations come around after a station has a wide audience.

The focus of its broadcasting at that time was US hip hop numbers, and as it was TV rather than audio cassettes as was the case earlier, local youths started learning the rhythms of how that music is conducted, and soon ‘Bongo flavor’ began to stand on its feet.

From that time to the present is a long period of innovation, etc.

Back to the book cover, to figure out if any judgment on the state of music in the eastern and central Africa region can be asserted merely by this achievement, if by this gesture of impact of one acclaimed song anything can be known about the state of music popularity in an around the region.

The answer is a  qualified yes, in the sense that actually knowing that situation requires painstaking research or survey of music popularity in various cities, looking at numbers aired by local FM radio stations and showing musicians who have a good following across the spectrum. But if one is viewed by 41.1m people, what does it say?

That means that there is indeed reason to be somewhat calm and not actually assert that Tanzanian hip hop music is the best in the region or sub-region, but the capacity to hit number 1 in the continent for at least one song is an indication that local hip hop stars have a good following elsewhere.

For one thing, despite that it is one artiste whose song reached astronomical heights of being viewed across the region or continent for that matter, neither himself nor his viewers would actually say the number was a work of genius or claim it was totally different from the quality of day to day production, by the artiste or others.

What is being suggested is that the hip hop number that struck number one viewing in Africa would at the local level have been just one good number like any other, whether it is within that music group or a range of similar groups.

There is something that in statistics is called a ‘mode,’ that is an image or rather tendency of how something looks like or behaves, where the data tends to converge on that image.

In that context any of the good local numbers can fetch upwards of ten million viewers across the region, to wit.

Definitely that isn’t an achievement which all countries in the region could claim, and this must be the case for a single rather normal song to be the most viewed in Africa.

That is the picture that one gets from looking at this statistic that a local hip hop song topped the charts in Africa. And it is likely to be reliable.

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