Music has always been a big part in many cultures and Swahili culture is not an exception. The power of music can be phenomenal because of its high level of accessibility and its wide diversity to cater to people with very different tastes. Pop/R&B/Hip-Hop music, as some of the most well-acknowledged music genres nowadays, influences billions of people on the planet every single day with all types of messages delivered through its production, musically, lyrically, visually and more. In Swahili speaking regions especially Tanzania, the unique music genre called Bongo Flava, plays an important role in people’s daily cultural lives.
Lady Jaydee is one of the most successful singers in east Africa who has been active in the industry for 20 years since her debut in 2000. Singers like Lady Jaydee can be very influential through their music as there are usually messages delivered intentionally or unintentionally through the lyrics and visuals. Expressions from a female perspective can be very interesting to see especially in a very male dominant society like Tanzania. However when you listen to or watch Lady Jaydee’s music and performances, you see a proud, strong and independent woman, which I believe subtly inspires many of her audience, no matter they are male or female.
An example I will use here is Yahaya, one of her biggest hits, which was first released in 2013. The song as well as the music video tells a very interesting story where a man named Yahaya got seriously suspected by the girls. Yahaya lies about his situation, telling the woman he’s dating that he has a nice job at the bank and lives in Kinondoni (a rather expensive district in Dar es Salaam). Even the name Yahaya turns out to be a fake one. The music video and the lyrics tell the story quite directly and it’s easy for the audience to feel the strong emotion and message delivered. Lady Jaydee, as the performer, in the first person, bravely questions this man and reveals all the lies he told. Over the years she has been making music with stronger and stronger feminist messages, making her a real Bongo Flava diva. As I was doing my research about her, I found an article by Imani Sanga who also took Lady Jaydee as an example and provided more details and theories to explain how music has been influencing the gender and sexuality equality in Tanzania. (Music and the regulatory regimes of gender and sexuality in Tanzania. Journal of Popular Music and Society 34(5): 351—368. by Imani Sanga)
Below I have attached the lyrics and music videos of two songs with my own translation by Lady Jaydee, Yahaya and I don’t care (released in 2019). As you read the lyrics I hope you feel the power she is delivering through her music. The quality of visual performance has also evolved a lot over the years. In the music video of I don’t care, you see a mature independent and confident woman bravely singing about her desire for love and not caring about what others think or say.
According to Michel Foucault (1926–1984), a French historian and philosopher, knowledge can create power and so can power re-create knowledge. With the power of Lady Jaydee’s music, new knowledge where women can be independent and confident is subtly re-created and empowered. I believe popular singers like Lady Jaydee have been not only an inspirational musical idol but also an influential feminist for millions of Swahili audience and more.
Yahaya unaishi wapi (Yahaya where do you live?)
Kwani jina lako halisi nani Yahaya eeehh (what’s your real name? Yahaya)
Oooh Yahaya, Oooh Yahaya, Oooh Yahaya
Maskani yako Kinondoni (your house is located in Kinondoni)
Nyumba namba haijulikani Yahaya eeeehh (your house number is unknown. Yahaya)
Oooh Yahaya, Oooh YahayaHuyu kijana mwenzetu, Kila siku tupo nae maskani (this young man of ours, we’re with him everyday at home)
Anakula ofa za watu, Anapoishi hata hapajulikani (he eats what people offer him, his whereabouts are unknown)
Tumetafuta, tumeuliza, hakuna ajuae (we have searched, we have asked, nobody knows him)
Anavyozuga, anavyopita (when he passes)
Si umdhaniae (we doubt about it)
Na hafananii kabisa, na fiksi anazofanya (he doesn’t look the same, he fixes his looks)
Akidanganya kwa kina (he lies deepy)
Unaingia kingi unafuata, kumbe hana helaaaa (you get into it more as you follow him, you realise that he has no money)
Longo longo nyingi (a lot of sadness)Kwa story za vilingeni, Utafikiri kweli yeye ndio bosi (you would think he really is a boss)Suruali zake na mashati, Anasema anafanya kazi benki (wearing the trousers and shirts, he says he works in a bank)Mara anasema usalama wa Taifa (every time when he talks about national security)Hakuna ajuae (nobody understands him)Uso mdhaniae (suspect on the face)
I don’t care
Watasemaje eee (what they will say)
Niko hapa (I am here) I’m looking for love
I don’t care
Watanionajee (what the will think)
Niko hapa (I am here) I’m searching for love
I don’t care watasemajee ((what they will say))
Niko hapa I’m looking for love
I don’t care watanionajee (what they will think)
Niko hapa I’m searching for love