Hip Hop from Zanzibar to the world

Saturday June 15 2019

Issa Abdulla alias Ison Mistari is flying

Issa Abdulla alias Ison Mistari is flying Tanzania’s flag up high in the hip hop genre. PHOTO | FILE 

By Salome Gregory

History has been written as Zanzibar, in an unprecedented move made it to the Castle Lite Unlock challenge. It is through the isle’s Hip Hop artiste Issa Abdulla alias Ison Mistari. On Sunday this week he will travel to South Africa ready for the challenge that will take place on June 17 and 18.

Ison, who’s an expert in rhythmic flow, a violin player, author and writer, has been at the center of Zanzibar’s milestone in the Hip Hop genre. He represents conscious and critical lyrics conveyed in the form of powerful messages.

Speaking to The Beat, the hip hop artiste says he started his music career while he was in grade V. he used to take part in free style battles, which gave him an opportunity to record for the first time after winning a contest that pitted him against 20 other participants.

However, coming from a conservative community that shuns on such acts as hip hop, he had to be discreet in his hip hop engagements. With time it all came out and the entire community knew. He went through stigma from members of society but he had the backing of his family.

Ison joins an elite but small group of Zanzibar stars molded at Stone Town Records, also known as a community studio.

The studio was formed four years ago in Zanzibar with the aim of grooming Zanzibar’s music and giving it a true identity to introduce Zanzibar to the rest of the World. Musicians recording under the studio get free access to record their work.


“Community studio has helped me in so many ways. Even with this gig, I had no idea about the hip hop contest, it was brought to my attention by Stone Town Records after the management saw an advert. I was at the studio at that time and so I had access to record at that particular moment and proceeded to submit my work for consideration in the hip hop challenge,” Ison explains.

Taking part in the challenge wasn’t very difficult, this is thanks to the brand management, which provided a link of the beat where we had to rap to it and post using their hashtags.

Proceeding further in the challenge, he expects to gain new connections due to the challenge’s positive platform for Hip Hop artiste across Africa and beyond. He will also use this opportunity to advertise Tanzanian music further to the world.

“In 2017 I won the Best Music Video at Zenj 255 awards and had a gig as guest performer during Sauti Za Busara 2018. My energetic live performances are highly appreciated and get the crowd going. This is a bonus to those fans missing out on live music performances. Now I’ve been given a chance to go show the world what my talent is all about.” says Ison..

With his new projects, the artiste is expanding his music portfolio to reach new spheres and heights. Fusing contemporary urban beats with traditional Zanzibari sounds, he is building bridges between ancient and modern sound spheres.

Kassim Omary, a musician and founder of Stone Town Records, says the studio has impacted the youth by igniting their interest in music as a career. [It] helps youth come together and inspire one another in music.

Commenting on the opportunity Ison has been given, Kassim says, Castle Lite Challenge is a forum for Hip Hop Africa so to him it is an opportunity to showcase what Zanzibar is all about in the music industry as well as sharing the various tourism opportunities available on the Island.

Adding to that he says, Ison’s trip to South Africa means a lot to the Hip Hop community in Zanzibar, this is because rapping in Kiswahili was introduced by a Zanzibari by the name of Saleh Jabir. It also means that Hip Hop started in Zanzibar a long time ago but somehow lost its footing along the way.

So this is to remind people that Zanzibar has more to offer in the music industry than just Taarab and Chakacha.

Ison has 10 singles released so far. He has two albums which are yet to be released. Some of his hits include My Talent, Monster and Tunaishi Nao.

The artist line up for the challenge on day one is set as a hip hop cultural movement. It will feature street culture, master classes, unforgettable performances, inspiring Cold Table Convos and street fashion, where Hip-Hop enthusiasts will congregate to share their love for all aspects of the culture.

US rap star Meek Mill will make an appearance. Day two will be filled with music as Nasty C, Rouge & Ricky Rick will share a stage with American artiste Post Malone.